Being taken for a ride

The case against horse-drawn vehicles for tourism


  • The introduction of horse-drawn vehicles might at first appear to be a romantic nostalgic journey to a bygone era when cars and buses were absent. However, such plans are actually fraught with potentially serious problems for both animal welfare and public safety. There are also major hurdles relating to first establishing and then properly enforcing an appropriate regulatory framework. In addition, substantial public liability risks are a key factor.
  • Because of the relative novelty in UK terms of horse-drawn vehicles for tourism, Animal Aid is concerned to ensure that those charged with making a decision on such matters, have sufficient information.
  • The information, expert opinion and American newspaper articles contained in, or referred to, in this report, will illustrate all too well the inherent dangers of mixing horse-drawn vehicles with pedestrians and/or motor traffic. Horses can easily be ‘spooked’ – no matter how well-trained they may be. This results in them acting unpredictably and sometimes running amok.
  • Our case is supported by leading equine experts in the U.S. – a country with a great deal of experience of the consequences of horse-drawn vehicles in an urban environment.
  • The evidence shows that injuries and fatalities resulting from collisions between cars and carriage horses have occurred in almost every city in the US that allows carriage horse rides. Apart from such accidents, these horses also suffer a high incidence of work-related disease and early mortality.
  • Even if a horse-drawn omnibus operator intends to confine rides to pedestrianised areas, horses can still ‘spook’ with potentially catastrophic consequences in such a setting. Additionally, the vehicles and horses will probably still need to access the vehicle-free areas via city streets crowded with motor traffic. All the accident risks detailed in this report therefore still apply.
  • Increasingly, authorities in the UK are learning from the problems in the US and rejecting proposals for horse-drawn vehicles. In 2001, major animal protection groups in the UK and the US, led by Animal Aid, joined forces to oppose a proposed byelaw to allow horse-drawn omnibuses on the streets of Oxford, England. After viewing the evidence provided by Animal Aid, councillors rejected the byelaw. (See below – ‘Oxford City Council say NO to horse-drawn vehicles’.)
  • Holly Cheever, D.V.M., is one of America’s foremost equine veterinarians and has been the primary adviser to 20 municipalities in the United States who have sought guidance on this subject. She states: ‘With its inevitable negative publicity and huge liability costs for any city, I always recommend maintaining a ban against these tourist attractions whenever possible.’

Horse welfare

Visible injuries

  • Even for healthy horses, drawing a vehicle carrying anything from two to nine people through city streets is not an easy task. As Holly Cheever D.V.M., a respected equine vet who has treated carriage horses in New York, points out, ‘Lameness and hoof deterioration are inevitable when a horse spends its life walking or jogging on the unnaturally concussive asphalt of city streets’. She notes that draft horses are especially difficult to keep well-shod.
  • But these are merely the visible consequences of requiring horses to pound the concrete and cobbled streets of towns and cities. There are far more serious outcomes that go beyond horses being unable to work – and, in fact, can result in their death.

Toxic pollution

  • It can be assumed that the demand for horse-drawn rides would usually peak during the summer months when the tourist trade is at its busiest. This is also the time of year when roads are most congested.
  • Air pollution, at any time of the year, has an adverse effect on horses’ respiratory systems. The effect of sunlight on pollution generated by vehicle exhausts can create toxic and irritant low-level ozone smog. This is particularly bad because in the hot summer weather, just when the surrounding air is at its most irritant, the hard-worked horses will be breathing most heavily to cool their bodies down. As a result, they will be drawing in huge lungfuls of toxins.
  • The leading medical journal, The Lancet, has noted that animals exposed to ozone pollution have suffered emphysema, cancer and accelerated ageing, stating that ‘in animals exposed to ozone the mortality from lung infections is increased’. (1)
  • U.S. Veterinarian Jeffie Roszel has studied the breathing problems experienced by horses used to draw vehicles in traffic. He found that the ‘tracheal washes and samples from respiratory secretions of these horses showed enormous lung damage, the same kind of damage you would expect from a heavy smoker’. Horses’ nostrils are usually only 3 to 3.5 feet above street level, so these animals are ‘truly… living a nose-to-tailpipe existence’. (2)

Heat stroke, dehydration…

  • Even if largely restricted to pedestrianised areas, the horses are still being exposed to the life-threatening risks of heat stroke and colic (a major cause of death in adult horses). David Freeman, a specialist equine vet at the University of Oklahoma, has warned that periods of intense exercise followed by periods when the horse is simply standing around, plus a limit on the horse’s access to small and infrequent amounts of water, increase the risks of heat stroke and colic.
  • During these summer months, horses suffering from dehydration or heat stress can die in just a few hours. Symptoms of heat prostration in horses include flared nostrils, brick-red mucus membranes, trembling, and a lack of sweat production on a hot day. Some U.S. regulations forbid horse-drawn vehicles when the temperature reaches a certain degree. A problem associated with such edicts is that official weather bureau readings do not accurately reflect the temperature on city streets. A study published by Cornell University found that the air temperature recorded by the weather bureau can be nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the actual asphalt temperature. And the New York City Department of Transportation found that asphalt surfaces can reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit. These discrepancies can be life threatening particularly for a large horse, like one of the draft breeds, as they are greatly challenged in their ability to dissipate body heat into an increasingly warm environment. The horse can lose 8-10 gallons of fluid with exercise, but if the air is damp, cooling by evaporation cannot occur. If dehydrated and unable to produce sweat, anhydrosis ensues and can kill.
  • The stop/go work pattern for horses is also likely to bring an increased risk of the highly dangerous condition equine myoglobinuria, or azoturia. Dr Tim O’Brien, a leading advisor to animal welfare organisations such as Compassion in World Farming, comments: ‘This presents itself when horses are worked, suddenly rested, then abruptly returned to work. It appears to be caused by the sudden liberation of large amounts of accumulated lactic acid when the animal is returned to work. The horse’s limbs become stiff. The hindquarter muscles are so rigid that they can feel like wood. Urine is sometimes retained, the bladder having to be relieved by the introduction of a catheter. Once the condition has developed, the horse is in severe danger.’
  • Of equine myoglobinuria, Black’s Veterinary Dictionary emphasises: ‘If the horse is walked for any distance, a fatal outcome is likely’. (3)

The feeding of horses

  • With reference to feeding horses during working hours, this is sometimes done by the use of a nosebag, which is suspended from the head of the horse.
  • However, Dr Tim O’Brien notes that the use of nosebags is a completely unnatural way for a horse to feed, and is well known to present increased risk of respiratory problems over a period of time, as a result of inhaling food dust from the bag.

The effect of cumulative welfare ‘insults’

  • The problems listed above – including respiratory disease, heat stroke, dehydration and lameness – tend to result from cumulative welfare ‘insults’. To deny their existence or the effect that pollution and stress have in accelerating them is to ignore authoritative published research on the subject. Holly Cheever D.V.M. is one such expert, having studied pathologists’ investigations into working horses. She stated in a submission to Oxford City council, which was considering, but later abandoned, plans to introduce horse-drawn vehicles: ‘I must politely disagree with any veterinarian who claims that there is no increase in respiratory diseases in horses worked for long periods in congested urban environments, compared to their rural environments.’
  • It is interesting to note that the average working life of a police horse in New York City is 15 years. This compares with less than four years for a carriage horse.

The risk of accidents

The deadly consequences of horses becoming ‘spooked’

  • ”Spooking’ can happen to even the best-trained and well-mannered horse… there is no such thing as an unspookable horse, nor can the average driver control it once it bolts.’ Holly Cheever D.V.M.
  • Horses and city traffic can be a deadly mix. Contrary to operators’ claims, most horses are not at all comfortable working among cars and lorries. Animals becoming ‘spooked’ in traffic have frequently caused accidents – both minor and fatal. Spooking is a term to describe a horse panicking and temporarily being out of the control of the vehicle’s driver. A car horn or something as minor as a pedestrian walking in front of the horse could trigger this. In the majority of cases, the cause of an incident can never be explained.
  • There are numerous documented cases of both animal and human injuries, sometimes fatal, after carriage horses have become ‘spooked’. A US survey of national carriage horse accidents revealed that:
    • 85% of all accidents were the result of an animal spooking
    • 70% of the time there was a human injury
    • 22% of the time there was a human death

    In New York City, which has the highest carriage horse accident rate in the country, 98 percent of the horses who ‘spooked’ became injured. (4)

  • Injuries and fatalities resulting from collisions between cars and carriage horses have occurred in almost every city that allows carriage horse rides.

A dossier of carnage and mayhem

  • Supporting this report is an expert submission by US equine vet Holly Cheever D.V.M, plus a dossier of various news cuttings that originate in the USA. Both are available on request. A sample of the US headlines is as follows:
  • The following incident documented in the Boston Herald, highlights how a minor traffic incident can become a scene of carnage when a highly-strung animal is involved. Every morning, Daryl Zipp, owner of the Bridal Carriage Co, would drive his horse, called Chief, and carriage into the city centre of Boston where he would transport tourists around the city’s historic sites. One morning, whilst waiting at traffic lights, a truck jolted forward and struck the back of the carriage. Chief bolted. One woman was ‘hit by a flying hoof’ as the terrified horse mounted the sidewalk sending pedestrians running. The carriage hit the curb, throwing Zipp to the ground and breaking his ankle. As Chief stumbled, his body was punctured by shattered wooden shafts – one of which speared eight inches into his chest. A front leg was also shattered. Chief lay half on the sidewalk, half on the street, kicking his hoofs wildly as police cars and ambulances gathered around the wreckage.

    Although five police officers held the horse close to the ground, ‘the muscular gelding kicked frantically’. A paramedic pumped six massive doses of Valium into Chief to settle him down. But he still struggled to get off the ground. It was not until some two hours later that a vet was able to attend and put Chief out of his misery.

    A worker at the Bridal Carriage Co commented to reporters: ‘He pulled the carriage for three years and he was always calm no matter what.’

  • There is nothing about this ‘accident’ or the headlines above that make them unique to the United States.

The use of blinkers

  • The use of blinkers does not eliminate the risk of accidents. Blinkers are often used in an effort to help maintain the animals’ concentration, and yet they can actually have the opposite effect. If horses are startled – for instance, by a noise or by being touched – they may panic and yet are further disturbed by being unable to see what is happening around them. Even in horse racing, where the distractions from other runners are routine and familiar, the use of blinkers is being debated. During the 2001 Grand National, Paddy’s Return created havoc at Canal Turn bringing down several horses. Racing authorities believe that the use of blinkers could have contributed to the accident.


  • Most urban areas that allow horse-drawn vehicles have minimal regulations governing the working conditions for horses. Even if the regulations are theoretically adequate, a key problem is that they are rarely enforced.

The cost of enforcement

  • Few local authorities appreciate that considerable resources are needed to monitor adequately the welfare of the horses involved. This task of monitoring is not a weekday, office hours operation but is required also during weekends and public holidays. Resources aside, the task of determining that maximum work schedules are not exceeded is a logistically demanding exercise. For this reason, responsibility for horse welfare is typically handed over to the operator. In other words, the company that makes its money from selling rides is taken on trust when it asserts that horses are being rested regularly, watered and fed.
  • In Animal Aid’s view, this is an entirely unacceptable situation and a negation of the duty incumbent upon the local authorities involved.

Price to the council

  • Notwithstanding the above, any palpable failings and complaints will ultimately fall at the door of the local authority, not the operator of the horse-drawn vehicles.


  • The presence and disposal of manure is an easily neglected problem.
  • New York City faced protests and calls for compensation from restaurant and café owners who said that tourists were complaining of the smell. It was reported that carriage horse drivers responded by withholding food and water from horses during working hours – the purpose being to avoid ‘unsightly pools of urine and faeces’.

Injured and retired horses

  • Animal Aid has collated evidence demonstrating that a large number of racehorses in the UK are simply discarded or killed for pet food once their racing days are over. In the US this is also the fate of horses when they can no longer pull heavy carriages. We would therefore be concerned about the fate of any injured or worn-out omnibus horses, once they were no longer commercially useful.

The impact on the tourist trade

  • Some people argue that the presence of horse-drawn vehicles can act as a lure to tourists. The reality is that the majority of people visit a town or city because of its amenities, ambience, history and architecture. Greta Bunting, author of ‘The Horse: The Most Abused Domestic Animal’ has commented: ‘Out of ignorance of the abuse, tourists may ride in a carriage when [visiting a city], but that is not their purpose in going.’
  • In fact, far from attracting tourists, many people quite rightly find the sight of horses in modern traffic upsetting and distressing. Some tourists could even make a conscious decision to avoid re-visiting a town or city because of their experience.

Plaudits for saying ‘no’ to horse traffic

  • In 1994, Biloxi City Council in Mississippi passed an ordinance forbidding horse and carriage businesses in the city. ‘It’s not healthy for horses and it’s not good for traffic’, said Council member Jim Compton. All of the council members voted in favour. For a town that is famous for Mississippi Beach and its casinos, the council was surprised at the reaction to their decision. It was inundated with thousands of cards, notes and letters commending the decision. Council member Dianne Harenski said, ‘I didn’t know it was that hot an issue, but we have literally gotten mail from every place imaginable’. The local newspaper, The Sun Herald, commented: ‘The city’s horse ordinance just goes to show that sometimes the simplest, most humane things appeal to some people the most’.
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico also took a stance on humane grounds, rejecting a proposal for horse-drawn carriages. The Mayor’s office issued a statement saying: ‘I felt the city council should not advocate any type of operation which could result in the abuse of horses, such as heat exhaustion and injury from traffic accidents’.

London, Paris and Toronto say ‘no’

  • Among the major cities that have imposed a prohibition on the use of horse-drawn vehicles for tourism – either for humane or congestion reasons – are London, Paris, Toronto and Beijing. In the US, bans have arisen directly from protests by residents. Palm Beach and Las Vegas, as well as Biloxi and Santa Fe are among the affected cities.

Animal rights opposition

  • Cities that have allowed this outdated form of transport face the prospect of co-ordinated opposition from animal rights campaigners. Actions have included protests outside town halls and in city centres, leafleting of tourists and the public exposure of the governing authorities’ inability to regulate adequately the horse-drawn vehicle trade. (See Oxford City Council say NO to horse-drawn vehicle, below, for an account of Animal Aid’s successful campaign to persuade the local authority to reject a horse-drawn omnibus proposal.)
  • The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is the world’s largest animal welfare organisation. It has seven million members and it is estimated that one in every 50 Americans supports its work. Commented Ellen Buck, D.V.M., the Society’s Director of Equine Protection:’We are opposed to the operation of horse-drawn carriages or omnibuses in urban areas. The health risks to the horses are too severe. These include leg-damaging work on hard, paved streets, the very real threat of collisions with motorised vehicles, and stress due to extreme heat or cold outdoor temperatures. In addition, accidents involving horse-drawn carriages in cities have resulted in some serious, even fatal, injuries to carriage drivers or passengers.’

The merits of full and open consultation

  • It is important that, when a proposal for horse-drawn vehicles is being considered, local residents and traders are made fully aware of the plans and have an opportunity to make their own informed judgement.Such a judgement would take into account the following:
    • i) plans for welfare and safety monitoring and the extent of public liability coverage
    • ii) the suitability of any prospective operator based on its specific plans, including details of vehicles, maximum passenger loads, the qualifications required of drivers, routes worked, operating hours, details of where and how frequently horses will be fed, watered and rested during operating hours, details of stabling, plus breeds of horses intended to be used – with particular reference to their carrying capacity.


  • As this report has documented, the introduction of horse-drawn vehicles is anything but a cost-free enterprise. Such an initiative would expose horses to unnecessary welfare risks, and the council to public criticism when the first regulatory failure and/or accident is exposed.
  • Animal Aid, and the signatories to this report, understand that it is the duty of councillors to work with tourist authorities to promote their town/city and explore all avenues that serve to make a visit both enjoyable and unique. By rejecting any proposal for horse-drawn vehicles, a clear message is being sent that the council is not prepared to compromise the safety of visitors, residents, or animals for a tourist gimmick.
  • However, if approval were to be given for horse-drawn vehicles, there would be immense controversy when the first horse collapses, is injured, or dies. It hardly needs saying that any injury to a member of the public will not go unnoticed either.
  • Not only would any such incident reflect poorly on the local authority’s ability to regulate vehicle operators but it could also result in a financial penalty being incurred by the town/city.
  • Furthermore, whatever the legal position, it is the local authority that will be held responsible in the eyes of the public, the media and animal advocates.
  • Furthermore, whatever the legal position, it is the local authority that will be held responsible in the eyes of the public, the media and animal advocates.


  1. The Lancet, November 29th, 1975
  2. King, Marcia, ‘Focus on Reality,’ Advocate, Summer 1992
  3. Black’s Veterinary Dictionary. Ed. Edward Boden. Pub. A&C Black, London; 1998. Page 169.
  4. King, Marcia, ‘Focus on Reality,’ Advocate, Summer 1992

Opposition to horse-drawn vehicles has been registered by:

Animal Aid

The UK’s largest animal rights group

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The world’s largest animal rights group.

Wendy Turner Webster

Television presenter Channel 4’s Pet Rescue

Captive Animals Protection Society

Campaigns on issues relating to the use of animals in entertainment

Advocates for Animals

National animal protection organisation

Animal Rights Coalition (ARC)

UK’s largest grassroots animal rights information service

Holly Cheever, D.V.M.

US Veterinarian
Deals first-hand with the consequences of horses on city streets

The Humane Society of the United States

The world’s largest animal welfare group

Oxford City Council say NO to horse-drawn vehicles

In Spring 2001, Animal Aid were contacted by a councillor with Oxford City Council. He was concerned that the Highways and Traffic committee were pressing ahead with the introduction of a byelaw that would allow a horse-drawn omnibus service for tourists without due consideration to animal welfare.

The proposed omnibus measured 25ft long by 6ft wide and was to be drawn by two shire horses. The prospective operator’s planned route involved mainly pedestrianised areas. However, these would be accessed via busy streets congested with traffic. The service would operate during the summer months when the tourist season is at its busiest.

Animal Aid wrote to Oxford City Council and registered its initial objections to the proposed scheme. Research then began. This involved contact with equine experts, local authorities and welfare groups in the UK and overseas. A good deal of evidence was assembled. A flyer was then produced, featuring celebrity support and urging the public to register their opposition to the plan with Oxford City Council. An online email petition was also posted on Animal Aid’s website, giving site visitors the chance to email the council direct. It was reported by the council itself that, in just one working week, it received more than 1,000 protest emails and letters. A further 2,000 followed in the subsequent month.

At a meeting of the Highways and Traffic Committee, the prospective operator and a representative of Animal Aid both addressed councillors. The proposal was rejected by an overwhelming majority. One of the few dissenters referred the matter to a full council meeting, where the byelaw proposal was formally and finally rejected.