CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Horses and history: an industry that goes hand-in-hand in the Holy City. Carriage tours have rolled along the streets of Charleston since the 1940s.
But recently after a video of a horse lying on the streets downtown came to light, there have been questions surrounding the industry and if the animals are equipped to handle the growing city.
"I couldn't imagine them not being here because they've always been here," Tamara Brown said. Brown has lived in the Summerville area nearly her entire life and has been around horses since she can remember.
"I decided it had been like 20 years since I had been on a carriage tour and I wanted to see what it was about. And see if there was any foundation for what was being stirred," Brown added. "Was there any reason these horses needed a study or should people think they're being abused or starved like we've seen on social media?"
Brown is talking about comments like these on social media to a post from a Charleston carriage horse advocacy group's account:
A reason she went to the Old South Carriage Company's 65-acre plantation, Sugah Cain, on Johns Island, 10 miles from their stable downtown. The horses are consistently rotated to Sugah Cain where they stay from one to several days. Workers say it depends on what the animals need.
"It's really personalized to that horse and kind of the situation that he's in and that also has to do with shoes and things like that with what they need worked on them and so it just depends," Derek Evenhouse, Old South's Operations Manager, said.
Old South has 30 horses and up to 10 can be kept downtown overnight. In winter, when there are fewer tours, the horses may spend more time at the plantation. But spring is one of the busiest seasons.
"We're still trying to keep these guys to around five days. They can be six. But even on those days, a horse can spend it's morning out here with feed, hay, grass – things like that," Evenhouse said. "They go in the morning and then at 5 or 6 p.m., they have their evening out here. The horses that are going to stay downtown for that night, those are still rotating. It's very situational."
Most of Old South's horses come from Amish working farms in Ohio. Evenhouse said they would pull plows and big wagons, through dirt, all day long – very different from the cobblestones and asphalt streets of downtown Charleston. In addition to a getaway, the plantation is where Old South trains their horses. That includes training them to handle noises or situations that could scare the animals, a big concern for Charleston Animal Society.
"The prevalence of these horses being spooked, it's really an unknown," Joe Elmore, Charleston Animal Society's CEO, said.
Like surveillance video from a few years ago which showed a spooked horse running down the street. He stopped when he crashed into the market. Two years ago, one of Old South's horses was spooked by a cement truck and fell down on East Bay Street. In February, a horse was spooked by bagpipers at King and Queen streets. All situations Old South prepares its horses for before they leave the farm.
"In terms of driving these guys around, taking them past things like construction equipment, dogs, other horses, people, loud noises – things that could be as scary as a plastic bag on the road. We kind of have that out here or try to get them past that," Evenhouse said.
And when they're not fazed by loud noises, they're ready, and out to the streets they go. Between tours, horses at Old South Barn near the market, get at least a 15-minute break with water. There are large fans throughout the barn to keep the air cool. The horses' temperature is taken before and after each tour, regardless of the temperature outside.
In fact, on April 29, on the second tour of the day, the internal temp of a horse named Sammy reached more than 103 degrees. Workers gave him a cooling blanket and hosed him off to bring his temperature down. He was also pulled from duty for the rest of the day. This coincides with the City of Charleston's heat ordinance regarding carriage animals.
Last month, the city made an amendment to a part of that ordinance involving the temperatures the animals can be out in. They must go in when the temp reaches 95 degrees outside or when the heat index rises to 110 degrees.
The Charleston Animal Society is calling for an independent study to measure how Charleston carriage animals are treated and if the regulations in place are best for the animals.
"It's not just about the heat, it's about all of those stressors and how they interrelate to each other," Elmore said. "Rest periods is a big one. Nourishment. Heat. Load. Congestion. All of those things create stressors and that's why a scientific study would really address this once and for all."
The Charleston Animal Society proposed the study to the City of Charleston's Department of Livability and Tourism in late April. That's the department that oversees the tourism industry, including the carriage companies. But, the commission concluded the proposed research was not specific enough and the chair stated he would have liked for the society to give a better understanding of the legal, financial and operation impact the study would have. This is not something that must be approved by council, however, in order for it to happen.
The organization can conduct the study anytime they want, and the carriage companies agreed to the study, but will not let their animals be tested. The animal society insists that's the only way the test can be done in order for accurate results.
As for the heavy load, Old South's Operations Manager said these horses can handle it.
"No matter what the weight is on the carriage, that weight isn't on the horse at all," Evenhouse said. "To get it moving the more weight you have back there – the more it does take to get it moving and slow it down. But relative to their body size and relative – how much force it actually takes to get that carriage moving – is low."
A veterinarian also confirmed that, because these horses roughly weigh 2,000 pounds, moving a carriage is fairly easy.
"For those horses – that is nothing. It really is very easy for them. And those carriages, even though they look big and heavy, they're moved around by the barn workers. They're actually very light, they roll very easy. And even loaded down with tourists, it's easy work for them," Justin Miller, with Charleston Equine Clinic, said.
The carriage industry maintains its open-door policy.
"I just walked into the barn one day and said, 'Hi, I'm Tamara Brown and I'm signed up for a tour, and can I see your barn?' And they just embraced me because they love people who can appreciate their love for what they do," she said.
Brown encourages everyone to take advantage of seeing behind the scenes of an industry that helps make up the ambiance of our historic city.
Click here for more on the rules the city has for the care of the animals and the industry.
Below is a list of incident reports from last year:
- March 16, 2016: Carriage driver was going North on Meeting Street – the return route for a Zone 2 tour. After crossing Tradd, the driver pulled over to allow cars to pass. Just after pulling back onto Meeting Street “something agitated the animals. They broke into a trot and then at St. Michael’s Alley they broke into a run. Traffic was light.” The report states there was only one other vehicle traveling North on Meeting, a pickup truck was waiting at a red light at the intersection of Broad. The carriage hit the tailgate of the truck and the center pole absorbed the impact. The driver checked on the well-being of the passengers. No one was hurt. After getting everyone off the carriage, the driver got head ropes on the horses and checked them for injuries. Each was standing firmly, were unshaken, and the driver only saw superficial abrasions. The driver unlocked the animals, with the help from barn hands who arrived quickly after the incident. The horses stood calmly while te area was being cleared. At the request of the city, a vet was called.
- March 20, 2016: Tour Guide was driving the carriage into the barn, Elisabeth was at the Barn Desk getting a thermometer to take the horses’ temperature. It was at that point the carriage entered the barn and pinned Elisabeth against the large tool box. Elisabeth was taken upstairs and the owner’s wife took her to the Hospital. She was examined and had two hairline fractures to her pelvis. She was released.
- March 23, 2016: On Archdale Street in front of St. John’s Lutheran Church the driver got too close to a parked car and caught the steps in the wheel well (rear) of a car and bent the steps back. No animals touched, just the steps. The driver called the barn and remained there until a manager arrived and was advised after reporting to them to continue the tour.
- March 30, 2016: Construction crew had the entire eastbound lane blocked with their trailers and equipment, including a mini-excavator, steel plates, FEL and two large 6’x6’ deep holes with people in them. The road should have been closed to carriage traffic, however, no notice was given that the project was happening. The TEOs, who normally re-route the tours in these cases, were given no information that the road was nearly impassable. Therefore, they were as surprised as the tour guides were when they saw the street. Once the carriage crossed King Street, and the project became visible, there was nowhere for the carriage to go and the horse would not go past the deep holes that had been dug (and were being dug) in the eastbound lane. The horse backed up and the carriage damaged the hood and bumper of a vehicle.
- April 19, 2016: A Volvo station wagon attempted to pass the carriage with oncoming traffic on East Bay Street between Elliot and Tradd streets. The car clipped the rear of the carriage with their side mirror.
- May 6, 2016: The carriage driver pulled over on Tradd Street just after crossing Greenhill. As the driver pulled back into the street, the roof clipped a limb that hung out over the street. The roof came off straight to the rear and ended up resting against the back of the carriage. Neither passengers nor the horse was hurt. A volunteer attached the head rope, then got everyone safely off the carriage.
- May 12, 2016: The carriage tour was heading down South Battery after turning left off King Street. There were cars parked on both sides with traffic coming towards the carriage. Driver states it was a “very tight spot.” The driver did not realize she had clipped the car until she was informed. It looked like the back right hub of the carriage caught the driver’s back left side of his vehicle.
- July 3, 2016: The carriage driver was driving down East Battery when a man in his car slightly opened his door. Everyone in the carriage gasped but it did not hit the carriage. However, he opened his door further to make contact with the rear hub.
- July 8, 2016: A late model gold/silver Camaro tried to pass the carriage on Horelbeck Alley and he hit the left side of the carriage, then back up taking off his mirror. The driver of the car back down Horelbeck without stopping.
- July 18, 2016: The carriage driver turned left onto Tradd Street and the rubber of the front left wheel came off. The noise spooked the mules, which began to run. With great effort, the driver was able to stop the animals, which then began to back up. The carriage’s back left wheel went onto the sidewalk, which tilted the carriage. The passengers felt like the carriage was about to tip and began to jump off. The driver was torn between mules and passengers. The driver told the passengers to stay seated, but once the first few jumped off the rest followed. The mules began to jack-knife the carriage into part of a brick wall and into a fire hydrant. One passenger that jumped off the carriage was a woman, in her 50s or 60s, who said she injured her ankle upon jumping down. The driver believed control of the carriage could have been taken without anyone jumping off.
- July 23, 2016: A horse was returning from a tour and making the turn from Anson to Guignard when the carriage struck a van’s side mirror. The van was improperly parked, but the driver did not realize he was close.
- July 25, 2016: A horse was waiting on Guignard Street to pull into the barn, the carriage’s back end was sticking out. Another carriage tried passing but got caught on the back end.
- Aug. 4, 2016: As the carriage approached the circular church, a group of more than a dozen children who were on the sidewalk in front of the gate opening began playing violins and guitars. This caused the horse to stop in place, as they were playing up to the edge of the street. A Sprinter Tour van pulled up beside the carriage in the left land and stopped. The carriage driver tried to get the animal to go forward, the horse took a step back and then another one, at which time the carriage bumper went up into the hood of a car that was close behind. They pulled into the parking lot next door, while they waited for the police and then horse and carriage were driven back to the stable. There were no injuries to people or the horse.
- Aug. 26, 2016: The carriage driver tried to pull the horse over to let traffic pass. He began to back up as the driver drove him forward – deciding to go the opposite direction and U-turned. He then led the carriage into a vehicle. The driver left the horse in the “jack-knifed” position until help arrived. A gentleman on the street used the lead rope to hold the horse steady while they waited for the manager to arrive. A car had pulled out and cut the carriage off about a quarter of a mile or so prior to this accident. Driver was on her phone and the carriage driver had to jerk the horse back to keep from the car from running into them. This had the horse a little more jumpy and when the carriage driver tried to pull him out of the way of traffic, he was fighting the driver pulling him to the right. The carriage driver managed to get him into the spot on the side of the road for a moment but then the horse started to back up, which would have run them into the same track they eventually hit. The driver used the whip to drive him forward and that’s when the horse u-turned and backed them into the truck. Nothing spooked the horse. They discovered later as they drove the horse that his driving lines were attached to a spot on the bit which was too sensitive for him. They adjusted the bit.
- Sept. 5, 2016: The carriage driver was going down East Bay Street (south) as a motorcycle approached from the oncoming lane. The animals moved slightly right, hitting the bumper of a BMW. The driver called the manager on duty and waited for his arrival.
- Sept. 15, 2016: The carriage driver was headed down Church Street and a van was heading South. The carriage driver stopped after seeing the van because parked trucks had narrowed the street so they both could not pass. No turn in spot was available for the carriage, forward or behind for many car lengths. The carriage driver tried to signal the van driver – but she was looking to her right. By the time she stopped, it was impossible for the carriage to move forward or backward to pull over or make a U-turn. Before the two drivers could exchange words, the driver of the van tried to squeeze through. Eventually, they heard a scraping noise and the horse lurched forward. The van passed and the driver of the carriage settled the horse, stopped and visually inspected the damage and found it was superficial. The plastic bumper end on the driver’s side of the van had popped off.
- Sept. 16, 2016: The carriage driver was pulling over on Legare Street and misjudged the front end of a parked car – resulting in damage, front bumper was pulled off.
- Sept. 26, 2016: The carriage driver was leaving the back of the barn with two horses and a loaded carriage. Upon getting halfway out into Pinckney Street, the team noticed a water heater sitting across the street. One of the horses stutter-stepped and started backing up to the right, backing the corner of the right running board into one side of the back fence. The driver tried whipping the horses to move forward, but they broke further right and began turning towards East Bay Street. They pulled the front right corner of the running board and the single tree on the other horse’s side into the front passenger side bumper of the car parked there. By now, the supervisor on duty had run over and grabbed the horses by their bridles. They had to be backed out of the hole in the bumper and the tree ripped the bumper open more. The supervisor pulled the horses back into the right direction and followed along with the carriage to Anson. No one was injured, animal or human, but the front bumper of the car was heavily damaged. The team drove fine the rest of the tour and showed no lingering effects.
- Sept. 28, 2016: The carriage driver was pulling over to get out of traffic but cut the turn too soon and the back wheel of the carriage popped the bumper off the front of a parked truck on the side of the road. The horse was unfazed and had no idea that an accident occurred. There was no damage done to the carriage. The manager stayed behind with the vehicle and the tour continued. After the carriage driver got back to the barn, they spoke with a TEO and a police officer.
- Sept. 29, 2016: The carriage driver was getting ready to turn right onto Queen Street from Meeting Street at the red light. When the light turned green, the horses moved forward and broke the yoke pole. The carriage moved forward and hit the horses on the backs of their legs. The horses stopped after 30-40 feet. The carriage was unloaded and passengers were put on another carriage.
- Oct. 20, 2016: The carriage driver hit a tree with the roof of the carriage in front of Institute Hall on Meeting Street. The roof was torn off. The horses were not injured in any way, nor was any property damaged other than the carriage itself. A couple of guests were hit on the head with the roof but refused medical assistance. Cleared to go back to the barn. Once back, the supervisor on duty spoke with the passengers who were injured and took their names and numbers.
- Oct. 31, 2016: The carriage driver was driving a mule team and stopped at a light at the corner of Meeting Street and Queen Street. They were in the far right land heading North. While stopped, the driver was facing the passengers when a young lady on a bike, heading North on Meeting, tried to get between the carriage in the right lane and a car in the left lane. Before she got to the end of the carriage, she lost control of the bike and started weaving between the car and the carriage. The bike hit one of the mules – which began kicking in all directions and took off running. The driver was able to calm the mules down and stopped in front of Eli’s Table. The mules took off running again, and again the driver was able to get them stopped. They trotted to Cumberland Street where the driver made a right turn and they began running again. With the assistance of a couple of passengers on the carriage – they were able to stop the mules on the East side of the Powder Magazine. They trotted through the next intersection where the carriage made a left onto Church Street. The mules came to a complete stop in front of Tommy Condon’s. The driver called the manager and was able to get reinforcements. They slowly walked the mules to the barn, avoiding any and all pedestrians and vehicles in the path during this time.
- Dec. 10, 2016: Carriage driver took Anson to George Street and went right. The driver lost the right front tire in front of the Gaillard. The noise of metal on asphalt spooked the mules and they bolted down George Street and through the red light on East Bay. The carriage hit a postal van with the center pole in the intersection, turned right and slowed. They carriage came to a stop behind the van at East Bay Street and Laurens. Two adults got off to pet and calm the mules and the postman helped the children on board off safely. No one was injured. Management responded with additional help. The mules were unhitched and walked back to the barn safely. The police and TEO responded. No injuries to the mules.
Websites for area carriage companies and the Charleston Animal Society:
Old South Carriage Company: https://www.oldsouthcarriage.com
Palmetto Carriage Works: https://palmettocarriage.com
Carolina Polo and Carriage Company: https://cpcc.com
Charleston Carriage Works: https://mycharlestoncarriage.com
Classic Carriage Works: http://www.classiccarriage.com
Charleston Animal Society: https://www.charlestonanimalsociety.org