CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Charleston carriage horse's hoof injury Sunday afternoon sparked concern and another round of debate over the carriage industry on social media.
Photos of a horse's bleeding hoof apparently taken Sunday afternoon at the corner of Meeting and South Market Streets posted to Facebook raised concerns about the safety of the animals.
An eyewitness, Zoe Bergmann, posted photos of the aftermath of the incident and wrote that the horse "was bleeding with a detached shoe from King Street all the way down to Meeting" and claimed the driver and passengers paid no attention to the injured horse.
In her Facebook post, which has since been shared more than 5,000 times, Bergmann said a woman ran down Market Street screaming for them to stop.
"The men surrounding the horse then proceeded to try and quickly rip off the shoe with no tools or compassion," Bergmann wrote in the Facebook post. "There was blood from his injury on the streets all the way up to King Street."
Bergmann claimed the animal was "extremely distressed and visibly in pain" and said when the shoe was ripped off, "a large chunk" of the horse's hoof came off with it.
The general manager of Classic Carriage Works disputes that account. Tim Manley said what witnesses saw come off when the shoe was removed was oakum, a form of padding that goes between the horse's hoof and a rubber pad custom made for each horse that he compared to a Dr. Sholl's shoe insert.
Farrier Charley Bunyea described oakum as a substance that protects the bottom of the hoof and helps prevent sand and rocks from getting between the hoof and pad.
"Even if a chunk of hoof came off, nine times out of ten, it doesn't hurt the horse," Bunyea, a professional farrier who works out of North Carolina, said. But he says the presence of oakum speaks well about the care given to the horse, since oakum and the rubber pads in between the metal shoe and the hoof would act as shock absorbers and be easier on the animal's joints.
Bunyea said it not very common for a horse's shoe to come off, but says it can happen if the horse missteps and one foot catches another.
According to the incident report filed by the carriage company, the 12-year-old horse, Berry, had a misstep on the brick street across from the Riviera Theater.
"This misstep caused the shoe to loosen and move past its normal sitting position," the report states. The carriage tour guide stated he immediately called the barn to inform them that he may need them to meet him before getting back to the barn.
The tour guide said he determined the safest thing would be to get the carriage to the "closest position where employees of Classic Carriage would be able to safely unload passengers and unhitch the horse out of traffic's way."
Carriage riders were unloaded and the tour guide then unhitched the horse and attempted to remove the shoe, but it came off on its own, the report states.
A front toe clip, a device that helps hold the shoe in place, however, had gotten under the horse's hoof, puncturing it about two centimeters in, the report states. The portion of the hoof that was punctured was compared in the report to the quick of a human fingernail. When he removed the shoe the bleeding from the puncture stopped, the report states.
Manley said there is a great deal of blood flow in a horse's legs and hooves to keep circulation strong, and that because of this, even a small cut like the one Berry suffered could produce more blood than might be expected.
In the report, the guide stated he then walked the horse back to the barn.
The tour guide noted in the report there were "several known anti-carriage market vendors video taping via a mobile device while we were handling the scenario in the safest possible manner."
Meanwhile, Berry is doing well, Manley says. The company is awaiting an assessment from a veterinarian and farrier.
Classic Carriage Works posted a Facebook video showing Berry standing in stocks, which are used when horses are being shoed because it means less stress on the horse and those performing the work.
A barnhand shows the shoe and the oakum material she said was being mistaken as a "chunk" of Berry's hoof on social media. A second barnhand removes a wrap placed on the hoof to protect it. When the wrap is removed, there is no blood visible.
Manley says he expects Berry to take a few days off before returning to work, but insists he will receive the best possible care as always.
In a worst-case scenario, if Berry is found to be unable to return to work, he will be kept at the company's farm or adopted.
After receiving the images of the incident, the Charleston Animal Society issued a statement Monday morning stating it was looking into what happened.
"We are not making any accusations," CEO Joe Elmore said. "We want to make sure the system is being enforced and complied with."
Elmore says the Charleston Animal Society is examining the system of oversight of the carriage industry.
"Was everything in compliance?" he said. "When was the horse last shot? When was it last inspected?"
Elmore said Sunday's incident was the second involving a carriage horse in three days. On Friday, he said, a carriage horse with another company backed into a vehicle downtown. According to a report filed in that incident, as a tour guide attempted to pull a horse over to allow traffic to pass, the horse did a U-turn in the street and backed into a parked vehicle. The guide reported that shortly before the incident, a car had pulled out and cut off the carriage, forcing the tour guide to jerk the horse back to keep the car from running into them, which resulted in the horse being "jumpy."
The report also stated the guide later discovered the driving lines were attached to a spot on the horse's bit that was too sensitive for him and stated that had since been adjusted.
"We're not against the carriage industry," Elmore said. "We just want it humane."
Manley says he understands the concern from those who have seen the photos on social media.
"But it's the real world and accidents are going to happen," he said. "A horse could get cut in the city, a horse could get cut on a farm as well."
But he insists carriage horses have the best health and dental care, the best quality feed and even vacation where they spend time on a pasture.
"Everything they need is being taken care of," he said.
Bunyea said people who aren't familiar with horses assume that using steel shoes and nailing them to a horse's hooves must be painful. But he said it is fine if a farrier is properly trained.
"If you know what you're doing the nail does not hurt the horse," Bunyea said.
Manley adds not one of the people he has seen complaining about the horse's injury has actually come to their barn to see the horse.
"If they're genuinely concerned with the animal's welfare, they can come see the horses. We have an open door policy," he said.