Animal Aid

Victory: Oxford City Council says 'no' to carriage horses!

Posted 20 December 2011

At a packed meeting last night (19 December 2011), Oxford councillors voted against plans to introduce a bylaw that would allow companies to operate horse-drawn carriages in the city centre.

The vote - 27 against the proposal and 16 in favour of it - followed a powerful and passionate speech by Animal Aid’s Horse Consultant, Dene Stansall, where he outlined the potential dangers to horses and the public should the scheme go ahead.

A representative of the firm that would operate the carriage horse scheme then addressed council, but councillors still voted overwhelmingly against the proposal even though the General Purposes Licensing Committee and the Head of Environmental Development had approved it. Dene’s speech followed a concerted campaign by Animal Aid in the weeks running up to the vote. We sent a series of briefings to every council member and we established links with sympathetic councillors.

On the day of the vote itself, Animal Aid’s Director, Andrew Tyler and campaigner Fiona Pereira joined Dene in briefing councillors at the Town Hall, where we explained our concerns regarding animal welfare and public safety (see Carriage Horses in Oxford: The case against - below).

This is the second time that Animal Aid has been instrumental in persuading Oxford’s councillors that the city centre is no place for horses. In 2001, we succeeded in halting a plan to establish a horse-drawn omnibus.

A big thank you to all campaigners and groups who have helped in persuading Oxford City Council to once again say ‘no’ to using carriage horses in its City.

Homepage photo was taken at Oxford Town Hall on the night of the vote. From left to right: Andrew Tyler, Fiona Pereira and Dene Stansall.

Carriage Horses in Oxford:
The case against

Horse welfare:

The question of horse welfare - as well as the proposed new bylaws - does not appear to have been considered in an adequate or independent manner. The General Licensing Purposes Committee accepted that the welfare conditions were satisfactory based on the recommendations of the Public Health Team Leader in Environmental Development. But it is unclear how the Team Leader came to his or her decision and whether an independent expert was consulted. Below we set out a number of concerns relating to horse welfare:

  • The cobbled streets and tarmac roads will have a negative impact on the legs, feet and backs of the horses.
  • The high action (gait) of Friesian horses means more steps must be taken to cover the ground, which can result in a greater physical impact on the feet and legs.
  • The stop-go pattern raises the risk of equine myoglobinuria - a potentially fatal condition.
  • The horses will be shod. This will negatively affect grip on a wet, cobbled surface.
  • The weight of the carriages the horses are required to pull is considerable. They will have to do so over prolonged periods of time, in challenging conditions and in different temperatures and weathers.
  • If the horses are made to trot the route at 7 mph (rather than walk at a slower pace) the duration of the route will not be 30 minutes but 36 minutes. When multiplied by four runs, each work session will be closer to two-and-a-half hours than two hours. The consequences will be less rest between working sessions or an increase overall in the working day.
  • The horses are black in colour, and so their coats absorb heat. This leads to heat stress. They will also take longer to cool down. They need to do this not by standing still but by being walked round without harnesses - impossible in the city centre. The lack of shelter in hot weather or rain is also of serious concern.
  • An annual veterinary certificate is an insufficient way to monitor the ongoing health of an animal. There is no structure in place for independent monitoring. Neither is there an emergency plan should a horse fall or take ill suddenly in the city centre.
  • In the last two months, in New York, one carriage horse has died, two have collapsed and another bolted.

Pollution:

  • Horses may well be standing amongst cars with engines running, in heavy traffic, which will have a damaging effect on their respiratory systems.
  • Pollution is a very real concern in the city centre. Oxford’s pollution levels have recently exceeded the EU limit during hot weather.

Congestion:

The Route:

  • Large sections of the route (about two-thirds) are cobbled. This will affect the feet, legs and backs of the horses, and also cause painful, bruised soles. (Please visit the following YouTube link which shows the 0.28 km cobbled section of Merton Street: http://youtu.be/91NgS2eEo_c )
  • Many road surfaces are in poor repair. (View the video of Merton Street - http://youtu.be/91NgS2eEo_c )
  • Inclines add extra stress to the horses.
  • Narrow roads/passages are potentially dangerous to horses.
  • The proposed route involves the carriage going the entire way around the Plain roundabout at the end of Magdalen Bridge and back over Magdalen Bridge. The Plain has five roads coming off it, and is very busy throughout the day. This poses a danger to the horses. At peak times it is frequently blocked with polluting traffic. (Please see the YouTube video of the roundabout and traffic at: http://youtu.be/FmHOZdHKTzo )

Public safety:

  • We are not aware of any risk assessment having been carried out for the narrower parts of the route, in relation to public safety for passengers and pedestrians, should a carriage collide with a bollard, shop front or pedestrian.
  • The proposer of the scheme has asserted that the horses will not bolt. But this is not an adequate health and safety assessment. The council needs to be sure that, should a horse bolt, fall or become uncontrollable, public safety will not be compromised.

Other issues:

  • There does not appear to have been a proper consultation with the owners of the shops and businesses around the route, regarding the proximity or frequency of carriages driving past, and the knock-on effects of crowding, potential accidents and mess.
  • We do not consider the online public consultation by Oxford Council to be adequate for a proposal that will affect the businesses and people who live and work in Oxford. The consultation did not ask whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the plans - merely if they had a comment about the proposal and introduction of new Byelaws.
  • The results of the consultation - including a very strong objection from the Taxi Drivers Association - appear to have been disregarded, without explanation.

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