Originally Published in: Dallas News
Published on:January 2024
Written By: Everton Bailey Jr.
Animal welfare and traffic concerns are among reasons officials are considering a ban, but the city’s lone permitted operator says updated rules are the solution.
Horse on Dallas street in front of Adolphus Hotel. scontent-dfw5-1.xx.fbcdn.net
Horse-drawn carriage rides through downtown Dallas and other parts of the city could end soon if some elected officials and animal rights activists get their way against the owner of the city’s only permitted carriage company, who says he’s providing an in-demand service in a safe and humane way.
City Council members began publicly discussing a possible ban on horse-powered carriage rides in early December and will continue deliberating this year. A ban would put Dallas among the largest cities in the country to outlaw the rides, joining Chicago; Salt Lake City; Biloxi, Miss.; and other areas.
San Antonio, Philadelphia and New York City are among other cities where officials have recently proposed similar bans. The sight of a carriage horse collapsing on a Manhattan street in August 2022 and being hosed by police officers to cool down renewed calls for reforms in New York.
Dallas City Council member Adam Bazaldua, who chairs the council’s quality of life committee, said he supports an overall ban on horse-drawn carriages, citing concerns about street safety and the treatment of horses.
“I don’t think we should have a place for horses on our streets,” Bazaldua told The Dallas Morning News. “I think it’s inhumane for the animal. I think it’s overall dangerous for having safer streets.”
Bazaldua, who said his committee took up the issue after hearing concerns from residents, acknowledged that even if City Council ultimately adopts a ban, it is unclear how effectively Dallas could enforce it. He said he believes some carriages are operating without city-approved permits.
Others say an outright ban in Dallas would be too harsh and not reflective of working for the animals in the city. They say horse carriage rides have been in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since at least the 1980s to help commemorate events like weddings, funerals, parades and proms, and they provide a nostalgic charm that isn’t available all over the country.
Brian High, the owner of North Star Carriage, disputed claims that his horses are mistreated. He pointed to a series of city rules operators have to follow to ensure equine safety like eight-hour work limits and at least 12 hours rest for the horses, not working when the temperature is above 99 degrees, mandatory water breaks at least every two hours and examinations at least once every six months by a state- licensed veterinarian.
High said he’d rather work with the city to help update regulations, like lowering the temperature limit.
“A ban would put us out of business. Bottom line,” said High, who has overseen his business since 1996. His family owns and runs a ranch in Krum, more than 35 miles northwest of Dallas. He said he employs up to 40 people during Christmastime, the business’ busiest season, and uses a rotation of at least 10 horses.
“There are people who depend on these jobs, it’s an important part of their yearly income, and I hope that means something,” he said.
High said his horses and operators typically work five or six hours on the weekends and around three hours on weekdays.
“I know that people think that we work [the horses] forever, but that’s just inaccurate and wrong,” High said. “If we’re out four hours during the week, it’s been a busy, busy weeknight.”
High estimated his business takes part in around 300 engagements a year and about 150 weddings. He said people also hire the carriages for funerals along with making reservations and walk-up appointments in places like Dallas’ West End and the Klyde Warren Park area. He said they also operate in Highland Park and Plano.
Dallas’ aviation department oversees the regulation and enforcement of horse-drawn carriages, taxis, limos and other transportation-for-hire businesses. Patrick Carreno, the department’s director, said inspectors are proactive in enforcing city rules and estimates his office will update the City Council with more information on how the industry is
regulated as well as a plan to get community feedback on a possible ban in April.
“If this stays and is found to be of value to the city, we’ll make sure it’s regulated properly,” Carreno told The News. “Whether it does stay, that’s not a question for our department to answer. It’s more of what direction the City Council wants to go.”
Carreno told council members during a Dec. 5 quality of life committee meeting that his office knew of no record of any accidents involving North Star Carriage.
“We haven’t had any significant findings from the inspectors or complaints that have shown any significant violations at this time,” the aviation department director said during the meeting.
He said the city in the future may consider moving enforcement to the transportation department. Dallas’ aviation office took over transportation regulation from the code compliance office in 2016.
Gloria Carbajal, lead organizer for advocacy group Ban Horse Carriages Dallas, said she believes the city should enforce a ban sooner rather than later. She said she saw horses working in temperatures above 99 degrees this past summer and has seen carriages going up and down bike lanes.
Although she didn’t know of any incidents in Dallas leading to a horse or person being injured or killed, Carbajal said a ban would guarantee that doesn’t happen in the future.
“It’s just a tragedy waiting to happen,” said Carbajal. “These are animals working in unnatural conditions and surroundings, and I would think that is a liability for the city and the public.”
Jodie Wiederkehr, a Chicago-based animal rights activist who helped campaign to get horse-drawn carriages banned in Chicago and is aiding Carbajal’s group, said she doesn’t believe improved regulations will prevent any person or animal from getting hurt. She is also against any arguments that city tourism would take a hit from horse-drawn carriage rides going away.
“Nobody is coming to Chicago or Dallas specifically to ride a horse carriage,” said Wiederkehr, executive director of the Partnership to Ban Horse Carriages Worldwide. “We have no desire to put people out of jobs. We just want to end a cruel and outdated activity.”
She said she hopes if a ban happens the city would work with any impacted businesses to offer incentives to displaced workers or help them transition to other tourism- related jobs. Wiederkehr said she helped reach out to horse rescues and sanctuaries in Chicago to secure new homes for animals after officials in that city approved a ban in 2020. She said she didn’t know of any of the three companies that were operating in Chicago at the time deciding to give up their horses to those groups.
“Only the owners of the horses have the ultimate say in what happens to them,” Wiederkehr said.
During the December quality of life committee meeting, some expressed skepticism about keeping horse carriage rides. They said they wanted more clarity on what benefit the activity provides the city, if alternatives like electric carriages should be considered instead and what the city is doing to make sure operators approved to work in places like Highland Park aren’t also drifting onto Dallas streets.
“I would say that I just think as a society, it may be time to just move beyond this,” said council member Gay Donnell Willis during the Dec. 5 meeting.
Council member Paul Ridley said he was opposed to a ban, saying he believed it added to the character and atmosphere of areas the carriages operate in and expressing concerns about the future of the horses if the businesses were outlawed.
“These horses have a purpose in life and that’s to work,” Ridley said during the meeting. “If we ban this operation, what’s going to happen to those horses? They’re probably going to be put down because they are expensive to maintain, and if they don’t generate income, there’s no motivation to keep them around.”
High said he wasn’t sure how likely a Dallas ban would be, but hoped his business had a chance to make its case for why it should stay on city streets.
“We bring a lot of benefits to this city like educating locals and nonlocals alike on Dallas’ history,” he said, “and all of that tradition goes away if you ban us.”