City code regulating animal-drawn carriages

Charleston city code states the following regulations regarding carriage horses:

Must be in good health and cannot have open wounds.

Must receive water immediately after a tour and must rest 15 minutes between tours.

Cannot work more than six days in a week.

Must be at least 3 years old and 950 pounds.

Must have their temperatures taken after each tour when the weather outside reaches 90 degrees or higher.

Cannot work when the temperature outside reaches 98 degrees or the heat index reaches 125 degrees.

Must receive three veterinary inspections each year, one from a city veterinarian and two from the company's veterinarian.

Must return to pasture for at least two weeks every four months, unless a veterinarian directs otherwise.

The most recent case of a carriage horse bolting on peninsular Charleston, this time ramming into a woman's home, renewed some residents' cries to ban the animals from toiling on the city's congested streets.

Thursday's carriage wreck at 150 Tradd St. resulted in minor injuries to the horse, driver and a passenger, interrupting a Charleston Carriage Works tour that had just rounded off of the Battery when the ride took a turn for the worse.

The home's owner, Jessica Buchanan, said she heard what sounded like galloping shortly before the horse and carriage crashed into her home, shaking the entire house.

She ran outside to find two of five passengers on the ground.

The incident came a day before the company's owner, Broderick Christoff, appeared in court, officials said, accused of violating a city ordinance requiring all harnesses and bridles to be properly fitted and in good condition to prevent any harm to the animals.

The citation was issued following a wreck April 22 involving one of his carriage horses crashing into a building on the City Market and overturning. Three passengers received minor injuries, Charleston police reported.

Christoff entered a plea of no contest on the citation, according to Tourism Management Director Vanessa Turner Maybank.

Christoff did not return a phone call seeking comment. Employees at the business declined to speak Friday.

Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said Thursday's wreck was still under investigation. No additional citations had been issued against the company Friday afternoon, he said.

When asked for a list of horse-related incidents on the peninsula since January, Francis provided reports detailing four occurrences that were connected to three of the city's five carriage-tour companies.

Three of the reports occurred in April, including a runaway carriage and a hit-and-run wreck that damaged another. Those incidents were respectively connected to Carolina Polo and Carriage Company, and Palmetto Carriage Works.

Carol Herard, one of about 40 people in the newly formed group known as Citizens for a Carriage Free Charleston, said it's only a matter of time before a horse or a human is killed. The group's Facebook page, Stop Charleston Carriage Rides, had 201 "likes" Friday.

"Horses get spooked. You can't prevent it and you can't plan it; a horse is a horse," Herard said. "Someone could die if this continues. Do we just wait for that to happen? No, we can't wait for that to happen. We have to do something."

In April, Mayor Joe Riley announced a moratorium on issuing licenses for new carriages as the city started the process of updating its tourism plan. The moratorium was to help address complaints of overcrowded streets caused, in part, from buggies and tour buses.

Charleston tightly regulates how many tour vehicles can be out on its surface streets. For instance, no more than 20 animal-drawn carriages are allowed to be circulating at any one time. And animals are removed from the street when the ambient temperature reaches 98 degrees.

There are about 80 carriages owned and operated by five different companies.

A letter sent to Riley and the Charleston City Council in 2009 from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urged the city to "make the compassionate decision to protect Charleston's many residents, tourists, and horses by banning horse-drawn carriages before another tragedy strikes."

Riley at the time responded to the letter by saying the group's concerns were noted, but that their anxiety wasn't warranted.

Benjamin Doyle, operations manager at Palmetto Carriage Works, maintained a similar sentiment when he said carriage wrecks and other such incidents are few and far between, compared to the 60 to 80 tours Palmetto Carriage Works completes every day during the busy season.

He insisted that the city's carriage horses are well cared for by people who are passionate about the work. Those who disagree are welcome to their opinions, he said.

"Some people have really raised the animal care standard to an almost humanistic level. When they look at a horse in town they think, 'Man, I would hate to pull that carriage around all day, so the horse must hate to do it too.' They almost turn it into a scenario where you're a bad person if you agree with keeping the carriages here," Doyle said. "People come here to see downtown and the houses and the history. The carriages are a part of that."

Herard said that she would love to see all of the horses set free to pasture. But if the horses have to work, she said, officials should limit the carriages to touring area plantations instead of busy city streets.

"These horses are breathing exhaust fumes day in and day out. It makes me sad when I come downtown and I see a horse and it's pulling this carriage full of tourists all over town," Herard said. "People bring up the charm and tradition of it all, but when we started this we didn't have the traffic that we do now. We have to change with the times. Charleston is a beautiful walking city. People can come to Charleston and walk."

Doyle said his company offers carriage rides at plantations when asked, but that doing so wouldn't be sustainable year round.

"We'd be walking away from the meat of our business if we did that," he said.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.