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Horse and carriage critics short on facts, belittle operators: by Emily May for the Vancouver Sun

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Horse and carriage critics short on facts, belittle operators: by Emily May for The Vancouver Sun
January 19, 2018

After almost ten years working in the Victoria horse and carriage industry, I know its operators are caring, compassionate and completely committed to the health and well-being of their animals.

So it saddens me when false statements are made on radio, in print and over the internet claiming the industry should be closed. In fact it’s because I love horses and care for their health that I say the industry needs your support.

It’s a different model from the one most downtown businesses know. Most retailers, rental outlets and service-providers close their doors between the end of their shift and the start of the new day. They kick back, hang out with family, spend time on leisure, and get a good night’s rest before heading back to work at a reasonable hour.

That’s not always the case for Victoria’s iconic horse and carriage industry. Each morning around 4 or 5, owner-operators rise and head straight for the paddock to start the daily routine of checking their horses for fitness and well-being. These beautiful animals need constant stewardship.

Providing proper shelter, consistent veterinary care and nutritious feed all form a standard part of a Victoria operator’s round-the-clock program.

These operators and drivers, the vast majority of whom are confident women in an industry that requires a deep understanding of animal care, are laser-focussed on the horses’ condition and on ensuring horse health and safety.

My experience is pretty typical. At the start of my carriage-driving career, I worked every summer as I saved my pay and put myself through an undergraduate degree at UVic. With the continued support of my horse-drawn carriage employer, I then entered graduate school where I completed a Masters degree in counselling psychology.

It’s no coincidence my future plans are to complete my certification as a horse-assisted psychotherapist, working with these amazing animals to support military veterans and first responders in addressing PTSD.

So when an activist group ramps up a campaign of misinformation and gross exaggeration targeting a small industry that makes enormous efforts to exceed city and national regulations and standards for horse health, I have to speak out.

Here are some points activists need to consider, all of them easily verifiable.

• The safety record of carriages in Victoria is outstanding. In the last 20 years, with more than 1.3 million horse hours on the streets, there have only been a handful of incidents (.00001%).

• The two main carriage operators adhere strictly to comprehensive City of Victoria operating regulations, their horses are subjected to regular BC SPCA herd and farm inspections, and every horse is provided a veterinary examination before it’s approved for work. Further, these operators adhere to Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (best practice standards of the National Farm Animal Care Council).

• They’re a much-loved contributor to Victoria’s $1.9 billion tourism economy. Carriage operators spend $1 million annually on feed, veterinary, farrier and housing costs directly, supporting local suppliers and producers. The operators employ more than 70 people including a great many students – predominantly young women – studying in related fields, and hundreds of indirect employment opportunities also result from their activities.

My concern stems from seeing activist pamphlets around the city falsely claiming the industry provides inadequate veterinary care, inaccurately stating horses are housed in a parking lot, or that horses are not provided care after retirement – all of these patently incorrect.

My stories of extreme care and attention to the horses by carriage operators and drivers far outnumber these examples of misinformation. But I’m unlikely to make much of a dent in an organized misinformation campaign by activists.

So I make the following offer: if you like us, let Victoria city hall know; if you don’t, let’s talk. I’d love to discuss how my decade involvement in the industry has always been driven by respect of the horses themselves even more than by our important tourism sector.

This industry is too important to ignore – for the women owners and drivers who form its majority, for the university students who advance their education with its paycheques, for our local tourist industry – and for the horses themselves who, under strict and caring controls are able to participate as they have done for millennia.

Emily May financed her university undergraduate and graduate studies by working in Victoria’s horse-drawn carriage industry. She plans to use her Master’s degree in counselling psychology to provide support to victims of PTSD through horse-based psychotherapy.

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