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City leaders propose ban on horse-drawn carriages, citing animal cruelty. Drivers say they treat the animals like royalty.

Two City Council members filed a proposal to have horse-drawn carriages banned in San Antonio, citing animal cruelty and environmental concerns.

SAN ANTONIO — Could downtown San Antonio soon be horse carriage-less?

That's the goal of a new proposition spearheaded by two members of City Council who say animal cruelty and harm to the environment justify the change they're touting.

On Monday, Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez called for the ban via a Council Consideration Request. This isn't the first attempt by city leaders on the matter. 

Manny Pelaez of District 8, Adriana Rocha Garcia of District 4 and Ana Sandoval of District 7 also gave signatures of support.

The proposal calls for officials to devise a plan to phase out the practice, which is popular with tourists and frequenters of the heart of the city. 

>Read the Council Consideration Request below.

"San Antonio can set the pace for the rest of the country," said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, which advocates for animals. 

Irby, a former eight-time world champion equestrian, is pushing for bans of this kind in all major cities across America. Chicago banned the practice two years ago, and Irby says Cincinnati could be next.

"I'm a lifelong horseman, so I know a lot about the biomechanics and the biology of horses, and they're really not suited to walk around on asphalt every day... it's very hard on their hooves, their feet and their legs," he said. "It's an archaic form of transportation, (suitable for) if you're out in a rural area or driving down a country road or something like that, or even racing harness horses at a harness track. We're not opposed to the use of carriages, we just don't think it's appropriate in a major city."

>Read Animal Wellness Action's fact sheet on the dangers of horse-drawn carriages below.

Council members cite hard labor during extreme weather, a lack of pasture access, and environmental impacts like idling cars and slowed traffic caused by the carriages as motivation for their proposal.

"The biggest pushback is jobs, because people are talking about the fact that they're carriage drivers or they're caretakers of the horses," said Irby. "So what we want to see is these carriages actually replaced with electric carriages. We're not trying to put these people out of business."

'Residents love to use us'

Stephanie Garcia, who manages 30 workers and 23 horses under Yellow Rose and H.R.H. Carriage, says tight regulations ensure the horses are treated properly.

"They get better treatment than most humans," said Garcia. "This (ban proposal) was dropped on our toes with no warning whatsoever." 

December 1 kicks off the busiest time of year for Garcia's business.

Credit: KENS
Yellow Rose and H.R.H. Carriage employees get ready to take horses through the streets of downtown San Antonio.

"We do get people from all over the world come and visit us. It's locals too. Residents love to use us. Christmastime, especially, they like to bring their grandkids, their kids just to go out and see the lights," she explained. "The Alamo is a big attraction for San Antonio, but I would say we are one of the second attractions."

After reading the proposal, Garcia said the reasonings listed simply aren't true.

"We're highly regulated by the city, by Chapter 33 of the ordinance. Part of that is we're not allowed to work when the temperatures above 95," she explained. "These horses are treated like royalty. My horses have a chiropractor, a dentist, they have specialist vets. They're inspected three times a year... they are rotated out daily, so they go into a pasture every day."

When asked her thoughts about replacing the horses with electric carriages, Garcia said it won't provide the same magical experience customers want.

Garcia and her employees welcome conversations about their operations, and state that city leaders haven't yet approached them to discuss why a horse-drawn carriage ban is necessary.

"Who's gonna care for the horses at the end of the day? If this business isn't here to pay for everything and to care for them like we are, there's a good strong possibility these horses may have to be euthanized," said Garcia.

City officials say a press conference is planned for next week where council members will go into further detail about their proposal.

Meanwhile, the Cavalry Group started a petition to keep the horses downtown.



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