Since I was a young girl, the carriage horses were one of my favorite parts of Charleston. Hearing the clop, clop, clop of the hooves and looking up to see a beautiful carriage pass by really set the historical scene that Charleston is so fondly known for. In a city as perfectly preserved as Charleston, horse-drawn carriages seem such a natural and perfect fit.
New York City carriage driver, Frank, loves on his horse, Phineas, near 6th Ave. © Nina Galicheva
However, as of late, this facet of Charleston life is being threatened. The fuss started in New York with Mayor Bill de Blasio threatening to shut down the Central Park carriages before the end of the year and replace them with vintage-replica electric cars. With fuel from animal rights activists, the fire of the carriage industry argument has spread in a Sherman-esque style, threatening to impact the lives of carriage horses and drivers in cities throughout the country. A few weeks ago, the fight came to Charleston.
When a Charleston Carriage Works horse slipped out of his bridle during the passenger loading process, he darted down Anson Street and crashed into the side of the city market with four passengers and the driver in tow. Luckily, the animal, driver, passengers, and onlookers were all okay, and no one sustained any serious injuries. Emergency medical personnel responded within minutes, and fellow carriage company employees helped to calm the horse and passengers. The carriage was wrecked pretty badly, however, and the emergency vehicles brought a lot of attention to the city’s already crowded market hub. Naturally, the arguments of carriage horse abuse, animal cruelty, and the danger imposed on Charleston drivers arose. A Facebook group rallying to stop Charleston carriage rides emerged to gain support for banning carriage horses downtown.
The administrator of this social media group, Debbie Hall, told a local news station, ““I wouldn't have a problem if they took these horses and carriages out to Middleton Place and did carriage rides out there on soft ground, not in 98 degree weather. But downtown, the urban setting and the extreme temperatures are an issue.”
The misting station in the equine "break room" at Palmetto Carriage Tours keeps animals cool.
I would like to debunk a few of these beliefs and statements about the carriage industry as a whole by sharing my personal experience. Although I write this blog and work as an intern for Traveling Ink, my full-time job is with Palmetto Carriage Works, the oldest and largest carriage company in Charleston. I have been at Palmetto Carriage for almost a year now, and it has been an overwhelmingly positive, educational, and influential experience. Before I took this job, I had almost no prior experience working with or even being around horses. My great-grandfather rode his horse and waved the American flag in the opening ceremony of our local rodeo in Louisiana when I was four-years-old, and he let me sit in front of him in the saddle. The horse’s name was Blaze, and that’s about as much as I ever knew about equine animals.
You can imagine that working in a horse barn was quite a change for me at first. We’ve discussed my girly-girl-ness in previous blogs. Yes, it took me a while to get used to sweeping manure off of the barn floor and emptying horse diapers- yes, diapers. But those chores just scratch the surface of what we do to keep our animals clean, happy, and healthy, not just at Palmetto Carriage, but in the industry as a whole.
The Palmetto staff goes above and beyond to educate new employees and customers on what it takes to provide for carriage animals. Most people don’t know that our horses and mules see a veterinarian three times a year, or that they receive dental check ups once a year, or that the farrier visits our facilities three times a week to replace our animals’ shoes. People with concerns like Debbie Hall’s don’t know that we provide special rubber shoes for our animals to protect their hooves from the pavement, or that all carriage operators in the city actually shut down tours completely when the temperature reaches 98 degrees. Most people have never taken an animal’s temperature rectally, and they certainly haven’t done it once an hour for 10 hours straight. I, however, have done that, and I’m very proud to claim it. As a Palmetto employee and someone who now cares deeply about these animals, I do that to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the horses and mules are maintaining a healthy, comfortable temperature.
All of these things are part of the protocol used in the Charleston carriage industry to take the best possible care of our animals. We muck their stalls every day. We take their temperature after each and every tour whether it’s January or July. We pull them from service if their temperature exceeds three degrees of their normal temperature. We make sure they have at least fifteen minutes between tours in front of water, and that they never do more than eight tours a day. We rotate our animals in and out of the city to our farm on John’s Island where they get plenty of rest and pasture time. We give them electrolytes in their food and monitor their diets closely to help prevent colic, a naturally occurring equine disease. This list could go on for days. These are all animal care policies that I can personally and professionally vouch for. The Charleston carriage industry is heavily regulated by the City to ensure the best treatment for all carriage animals, and the carriage operators do their part to make sure they are providing that treatment.
A beautiful day on the Classic Carriage Work's farm.
Does this mean that accidents never happen? No, of course not. The carriage crashing into the market was terrible and scary for everyone involved. I was there when it happened. I heard the crash, and I ran to help in any way that I could. It shook me to my core. But this reaction is no different than the reaction I would have had if I had witnessed a car crash, plane crash, boat crash, or a train crash.
Accidents happen in every single form of transportation because there are factors that we can’t always control. Working with animals can be unpredictable at times, and there’s no denying that. But we take all possible precautions to prevent accidents like these, and overall we do a phenomenal job.
Palmetto Carriage sends out, on average, about 50 tours a day in peak season. We operate every day of the week, and we are only closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Throughout all those tours, an accident like the market crash almost never happens. In fact, PETA compiled a list of carriage accidents in cities throughout the entire United States that have occurred since 1985. The document that records accidents for the past 29 years is thirteen pages long. In those thirteen pages, only a handful of incidents resulted in serious injury to either horse or passenger. Part of this has to do with the skill of the drivers on these carriages as well as the fact that the rate of speed on a carriage is usually very slow. Can you imagine if we tried to compile a list of car accidents in the entire country since 1985?
Charleston carriage guides love the animals they work with. This is Whitni with Dennis the horse.
I realize that people are going to have different opinions on the matter. Some people just simply do not believe that animals should work for people, and that’s totally okay with me. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions and feelings. What irks me is the fact that many people base their opinions on rumors, hearsay, and judgments rather than educating themselves on the issues they argue about. Palmetto Carriage Works, like many carriage companies, has an open barn policy. This means that at any time during our operating hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily), any person can come into our barn, take a look around, ask questions, and experience the way we care for our animals without ever purchasing a ticket. We would like residents and visitors alike to engage with our barn hands and other staff to learn more about our animal protocol and devotion to these animals. That way they can form an opinion on the carriage industry with facts and experience.
Animals get hair cuts in the summer just like people. This cut will help keep this mule cool.
Thankfully, more support has been thrown in the direction of carriage tours in Charleston in the form of blogs and supportive Equine Facebook Pages. For anyone that has doubts about carriage animal care in the City of Charleston, I invite you to come take a tour of the Palmetto Carriage Works barn and to ask our staff any questions that you like. If you spent a day with our animals, I think you would see that they are indeed happy, healthy, and very well cared for. Once you see our facilities and our team in action, I invite you to go a step further and take a carriage tour with one of our teams. You'll be in the company of thousands of school children, locals, and visitors that tour each year, and I think you'll find it to be one of the more informative and enjoyable ways to experience the city.
Daily bathtime at Palmetto Carriage Tours, just another way tour guides care for the animals.
Accidents happen. Horses sometimes fall down or get sick, just like people do. Carriages are sometimes involved in accidents, just like cars. But for the most part, the Charleston carriage industry is a beautiful component of our historic and pristinely preserved city. To take that away would not only be a disservice to the thousands of people who come here to see our city via carriage, but it would deprive hundreds of people of their livelihood, and it would leave our horses and mules without homes or the funds they need to be properly cared for.
Charleston tour guide, Bubba, gives a private carriage tour of the Battery.
Preserve Charleston. Keep the carriages. Love the horses, just like we do.
Lea Anna is a Louisiana native with an undeniable accent. Raised in a small town, she learned the rules of football and the words to "Amazing Grace" before she could spell her own name. Speaking of the name, she hates being called Leah or Leanne. It’s Lea, like sweet tea, add the Anna. These days, you can find her under the "big city" lights in Charleston, SC, chasing dreams she never knew she had. Like becoming a writer, getting a Master’s degree, and exploring life on the east coast. She hopes you leave this blog with a little insight, and a big smile. So, in the words of a Louisianan, “laissez les bons temps rouler.” Let the good times roll.