Blondie the Horse’s Accident Raises Moral Questions about the Carriage Tour Industry

as published in The Charleston City Paper

Horse Ethics

Meet Blondie. He’s a quiet, well-mannered Belgian horse who spent most of his first 12 years working in the fields of Ohio Amish country. Human employees of his current owner, Old South Carriage Company in downtown Charleston, say they see him as a coworker.

Blondie's accident left him on the pavement for nearly two hours before a crane righted him - COURTESY OF CHARLESTON ANIMAL SOCIETY

Blondie’s accident left him on the pavement for nearly two hours before a crane righted him – COURTESY OF CHARLESTON ANIMAL SOCIETY

Blondie had only been in Charleston about 70 days when he fell down in the intersection of East Bay Street and North Adgers Wharf on his first tour of the day around 9:30 a.m. on Fri. July 17. The driver told police that noise from a nearby cement truck spooked Blondie and caused him to back up into the carriage. When he fell, he remained on the ground for at least two hours before a forklift was brought in to help him back to his feet.

Blondie’s accident has prompted yet another round of a familiar debate in Charleston: What to do about carriage horses? Some protesters gathered in the street last week calling for the tours to be banned, as they have in some other Southern cities. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released the following statement after the accident:

“Busy city streets are no place for horses, who are easily spooked by loud noises and commotion, so it should come as no surprise that Blondie’s collapse reportedly followed a scare. As temperatures in Charleston soared into the high 80s, temperatures where hoof meets pavement likely rose above 100 degrees. Blondie languished on that pavement for more than an hour before a crane was called in to lift him to his feet. This incident is yet another testament to the cruelty inherent in the horse-drawn carriage industry.”

The Charleston Animal Society, meanwhile, stopped short of calling for an end to the industry altogether, but it did successfully lobby the Mayor’s Office last week to order an independent veterinary review of the accident.

The moral questions of how humans ought to relate to horses hinges on some fundamental assumptions about the nature of the relationship between man and beast. Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University with expertise in human-animal interactions, says horses are a prime example of what he calls “the moral confusion that we have about animals generally.” Herzog dealt with this confusion in his book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

Historically, horses fit into the category of livestock or working animals. In some cultures, they were even treated as meat animals. But today, with animal labor no longer playing a central role in transportation or production in urban areas of the developed world, Herzog says their category is shifting.

“Horses are now what are sometimes referred to as a boundary species, and that’s the problem. In some ways they’re working animals and we see them as working animals, and in other ways we see them as pets,” says Herzog.

Add to that moral confusion the anachronistic appearance of a beast of burden lumbering down a modern city street, and Herzog says it’s no wonder that a diversity of opinions exists on how the horses ought to be treated.

“The degree to which we anthropomorphize animals partly depends on the category they’re in,” Herzog says. “So we’re more likely to anthropomorphize a horse than we would, let’s say, a cow.”

The welfare of horses is not a new cause for animal-rights activists. At its founding in New York City in 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals made the protection of horses one of its first concerns, campaigning against city-sanctioned practices that overburdened carriage horses and even creating the first ambulance for injured horses.

Today, according to Charleston Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore, the city of Charleston could do more to ensure the safety of horses on hot summer streets. “We all know the carriage horse industry is controversial. Everybody in Charleston knows that,” Elmore says. “We’re focused on the accident and what can be learned from that to prevent this from happening again.”

Elmore, who has asked that the Charleston Animal Society be allowed to participate in the accident review, says the initial report from police raised several questions in his mind, both for the carriage company and the city.

“If what was stated is true and the horse reacted to the cement mixer truck, how are the horses operating now? Are they still going by that cement mixer truck each day?” Elmore says.

“The other thing was, in the police report, there were 10 passengers. Why weren’t any of their statements recorded to corroborate what the carriage horse operator said? I mean that’s just basic … If a Delta Airlines plane were to go down, you know you’d have the NTSB, which is an independent group, really investigating it. You wouldn’t have the airport or the airline providing the information.”

Elmore says he’d also like to see a review of city policies meant to keep carriage horses from overheating in the summer months. An ordinance currently requires tour companies to pull their carriages off the streets when the ambient temperature reaches 98 degrees or the heat index reaches 125, but Elmore says the city should reconsider the location for its official thermometer, which is currently several blocks north of the Market on Calhoun Street and affixed to a three-story building.

Shawn Matticks, a manager at Old South Carriage Company, says he doesn’t have a problem with submitting to an independent investigation, but he doesn’t see the need.

“If that floats their boat, let them do it,” Matticks says. “I don’t think there’s a need to because it’s pretty straightforward. I don’t know what else they’re going to find that is going to be contrary to what happened. They can come look at our records, they can talk to the police officer on the scene. It doesn’t change the narrative.”

Last Tuesday, with the heat index around 115 degrees in the afternoon, Old South made the decision to bring its horses in from the heat, despite the fact that city ordinances would have allowed them to keep working. Matticks says the company lost money because of the decision, but they decided it was best for the horses.

According to Matticks, on the day of Blondie’s accident, he got a call from his driver and ran the half-mile to the scene to help. He says he, his staff, and a veterinarian tried using water, ice, and even intravenous steroids to help coax Blondie back onto his feet, but they determined that the horse had lost blood circulation to two feet from lying on his side. His feet had fallen asleep, essentially.

Matticks says the company’s veterinarian determined that Blondie’s body temperature, breathing, heart rate, and hydration were all fine. Blondie is resting at the company’s pasture on Johns Island now, but he says the horse’s only injury from the accident was some abrasion to his legs from the asphalt.

On the day of the accident, Matticks says he wasn’t thinking about business. He says he was thinking about a coworker.

“When I came up on the scene and saw Blondie laying there, I didn’t see Blondie the horse or ‘Oh my God, my people aren’t going to finish their tour,'” Matticks says. “I saw my coworker laying there on the ground, and I was trying to get him back up.”

9 comments on “Blondie the Horse’s Accident Raises Moral Questions about the Carriage Tour Industry

  1. To hoarding kill buyers and overproduced and hardened ranchers their livestock. To Every real rancher and ethical person around the World they are so much more….more than pets…more than coworkers….more than therapy….

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  2. Please boycott carriage horse drawn rides. These horses work far too long in hours and days and forced to carry over the weight limit,when so many people are not healthy and fit. It’s a money hungry business with little regard to the helpless animals!

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  3. It’s sad that a 12 yr old Amish working horse, that probably never worked on pavement in the city traffic a day in its 12 yrs was expected to put up with city traffic noise AND slippery pavement. If they want an Amish trained ROAD carriage horse, go to the Amish and buy a younger road/ traffic trained horse. Instead they buy from auctions. An auction buy is great if one is rescuing the horse. The carriage company management are their own worse enemy, when they cut corners and try to change an aged sweet farm horse into a city carriage horse. They’re lucky the new horse didn’t spook much more violently. poor horses always gets the worse end of the deal.

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    • Not weighing in on this particular case since I don’t know much about it but can say I spent many years in Amish country and bought a few horses from them and of course, saw them everywhere on the highways. In my experience at least, their horses spend a lot of time on the roads and are not the least bit coddled regarding getting used to traffic.
      And while a 12 year old is really just in his prime if he’s had good care, since horses easily make 25-30 years old these days. I can also share that one horse I bought from an Amish farmer was an 8 year old mare who he sold at an auction because she was “too old.” She was a fine healthy mare.
      Sometimes a good draft horse like Blondie ends up at an auction if his partner dies etc., too, since it’s difficult sometimes to match pairs effectively.
      So it’s not always so clear what’s going on. Auctions are places where horses have been and are traded for many other reasons than slaughter. It makes sense to me people looking for a well-broke carriage horse would look for Amish castoffs that were sound, not especially spooky, and in the prime of their lives. If all Blondie did was back up at a cement truck and essentially sit down uninjured, I would not call that spooky, especially after 70 days on the streets without incident. One wonders what the cement truck driver was doing.
      The Amish don’t usually care who buys them, or for what purpose, so Blondie probably was in reality a “rescue” who would have otherwise been sold for slaughter. The vets in my area were unhappy to get called by Amish people about their carriage horses since they more often than not would be called when the horse was down on the highway, in the traces, and dying. Perhaps Blondie was sold because he learned to “just say no” by lying down, too. No way to be sure but if he’s healthy and otherwise unharmed one has to look at behavioral components.

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  4. More than just being an advocate, I want to be an honest advocate. If I see something wrong, I’m going to state so. However, I am not going to say something that’s simply going to please others. I cannot be a good advocate by lying.

    I will admit that I have a very good deal of concern about horses pulling carriages in overcrowded cities such as NYC. Considering the amount of traffic, noise, and that they don’t get access to pastures except once a year — please correct me if I’m wrong — I feel that the ends don’t justify the means in this particular aspect.

    On the other hand, I cannot say that it’s the same for Charleston, SC. My parents and I went there back in June. Because I wanted to be a good advocate and get BOTH sides of the story, I took the initiative to visit a couple of the carriage barns NOT to go for a ride, but to examine the horses and their conditions.

    I can’t remember for sure, but if I’m not mistaken, we dropped by Old South Carriage Company’s barn. One of the horses we saw at the barn looked very much like Blondie; he was a Belgian with the same color and a white blaze — however, there’s no telling whether he was the same exact horse or not. To be honest, they seemed to be well taken care of. They were well-groomed and the workers seemed to handle them correctly. I personally did not see any behavior that could be deemed as abusive. The only negative thing that stood out is that one of the horses in particular (not the Belgian) was having more trouble handling the heat than the other horses. But that is something that could only be helped so much. For example, my dad handles the humidity just fine even when it’s 94 degrees outside, but my mom would drop like a fly in that kind of weather. Plus, the horse was in his stall, not working. Otherwise, everything looked acceptable.

    Now, on to the case. The fact that Shawn Mattocks is okay with an investigation tells me one thing: he has nothing to hide. I WISH that the BLM, rodeos, and the horse racing industry would be as transparent. If it turns out that Blondie’s accident was indeed the result of abuse, it will be a huge blow to the carriage horse industry. Until the information is released, I’m just going to wait.

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  5. There’s are two things that have to be addressed:

    There needs to be a place for them where they can get out of their stalls, eat grass, roll and just be a Horse. Every Horse needs that.

    The other thing is…what happens when they are too old to pull a carriage. Where do they end up?

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  6. Clip Clop: Central Park Horse Carriages Move to Sag Harbor
    http://www.danspapers.com/2014/05/clip-clop-central-park-horse-carriages-move-to-sag-harbor/

    Last week, as his last act before leaving office, Sag Harbor Town Mayor Robert Bujois announced that he had made an arrangement with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to buy the 32 horse carriages that take visitors around Central Park from in front of the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue and use them for the tourists in Sag Harbor. De Blasio is looking to phase out the horse carriages and replace them with electric cars for those rides.

    “I just felt so bad for those poor horses that now might have nothing to do,” Mayor Bujois said at a press conference yesterday. “And all those coachmen out of a job. And then I thought that sometimes opportunity just comes knocking. When it does, seize it.”

    All 32 horses and carriages will line up for muster on Long Wharf in the morning, and they will be leaving at 15-minute intervals to head out on the routes. At the end of the day, all the horses will trot over to one of the prominent horse farms in nearby Bridgehampton, where it is expected that either Matt Lauer or Madonna, who both own horse farms there, will provide stalls and stables. All the carriages will be lined up side-by-side on Long Wharf, 16 on each side, every night. That alone will be quite something, and most certainly a photo op.

    “We did make a change in that third route,” the mayor said. “Originally we had it going up one side of Mount Misery and down the other, but as some of my colleagues pointed out who are familiar with horses, this would be too hard a pull.”

    This reporter interviewed one of the carriage drivers, Carlos Masomenos. “Each of the three routes is very pretty,” he said. “I’m glad they decided against Mount Misery. And of course I am very glad we will be able to continue offering our services to the general public.”

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  7. Ronnie, it seems that as long as people continue to use the service, It will continue. Consumer demand does drive the market, so it’s up to the people to decide where to place their money. It only takes 5% to tip the market.
    I’ve wondered why the Horses couldn’t be moved to the parks and get them out of the traffic and off the pavement. A carriage ride would be much more enjoyable there.
    All work Horses should have a 401K Retirement account in place…funded by some of the revenue that they help generate. A lot could be done for them with that money invested wisely.

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