An online petition is asking the City of Austin to ban horse-drawn carriages in the downtown area. Close to 20,000 people have already signed the petition and if 20,000 qualified Austin voters sign on, City Council will have to call an election on the matter.
The Austin Transportation Department has several requirements for horse-drawn-carriage drivers.
City code mandates that the horses and their housing be well maintained, horses also must have horseshoes, be given rest periods and work fewer hours when temperatures climb above 90 degrees, but thousands of people are concerned that city stipulations aren't enough and they want the carriages removed from downtown altogether.
When Cara Fain started driving horse drawn carriages five years ago she was already familiar with the majestic animals.
“They're going to have their good days and their bad days. If he doesn't feel good, he goes home. I can't run a business on an animal that doesn't perform his best,” Fain said.
It makes fain happy that so many people are concerned about horses, but she feels that thousands petitioning for horse-drawn carriages to be removed from Austin’s downtown area are somewhat misinformed.
“They're not overworked, they're not hot, it's nighttime. Do they have water? Yes, we have access to water,” said Fain.
In the petition a point is made that the horses are working in soaring temperatures, but drivers at Austin Carriage said they don't offer rides downtown in the summer until after 8 p.m. That way the horses don't have to work in the heat of the day.
“If you run a business with animals, you want them to be at their best and they're not going to do that if they're boiling hot and sweaty,” Fain said.
Animal rights author James McWilliams said he has not signed the petition, but he is apprehensive about the need for horse-drawn carriages downtown.
“The major concern is that horses that work in that industry really have very few opportunities to engage in their natural behaviors and there are also the problems of their working conditions,” McWilliams said.
Fain said the draft horses she works with were bred to pull heavy cargo, much heavier than the carriages she uses, and every consideration is given to make sure they are not uncomfortable, including foot protection.
Another fear of petitioner’s is road congestion where the carriages operate.
“My feeling is simply that this is just not an activity that we really need in Austin given the welfare concerns and also given the fact that it just intensifies our traffic problems,” McWilliams said.
“Well, for the people who are concerned about traffic, we don't first of all go on heavily congested areas. Traffic is going to be slow downtown no matter what because you're in a city,” said Fain.
The person who started the petition did not return requests for comment.
The City of Austin Transportation Department said staff cannot comment on the petition until it is made official by the City Clerk’s office. To learn more about the petition, click here.