Dallas joins other U.S. cities in considering ban on horse-drawn carriages
Horse carriage rides represent an idyllic experience, an activity to celebrate the holidays or a platform for romance. But detractors say that the use of horse carriages in urban settings such as downtown Dallas puts animals and humans at risk: Street traffic, the sound of a horn, and unfamiliar objects on the road can cause a horse to spook.
Risks such as these are among the factors being weighed by the Dallas City Council's Quality of Life Committee, who took up the topic of a possible ban at their meeting on December 5.
The issue is not unique to Dallas. New York has had multiple events involving horse-drawn carriages that have brought the cruelty of the practice to light: In July 2023, a horse named Billy died after being forced to pull carriages during a punishing heat wave, and in August, another horse collapsed in Hell’s Kitchen.
Jerry Finch, Founder and President of Habitat for Horses, says that horses used under these circumstances are pushed beyond their limit and suffer from heat exhaustion, loss of weight, and severe hoof issues.
"The stress of being on crowded streets, breathing exhaust fumes, denied adequate water, constantly walking on paved roads in weather extremes often leads to severe medical issues," Finch says.
Other cities such as New York, San Antonio, and Philadelphia have all recently proposed similar bans. Cities that have already instituted bans include Chicago and Salt Lake City.
Dallas has an active group petitioning for a ban, founded in 2021 by Gloria Carbajal, a social worker and avid animal lover who created a Facebook page called Ban Horse Carriages in Dallas and who holds monthly events at Klyde Warren Park to create awareness.
“I just knew that nobody was stepping up to the plate to spearhead this in Dallas," Carbajal says.
Carbajal partnered with Jodie Wiederkehr, Executive Director of Chicago Alliance for Animals and executive director of the Partnership to Ban Horse Carriages Worldwide, who successfully led an effort to ban horse-drawn carriages in Chicago in April 2020. The Chicago ban went into effect on January 1st, 2021, providing the three horse carriage operators in the city ample time to phase their businesses out.
“We have no desire to put people out of jobs. We just want to end a cruel and outdated activity," Wiederkehr said in a statement.
Dallas has four horse-carriage operators, but the dominant player is Northstar Carriage, which offers rides from Klyde Warren Park and West End. (The other three companies are focused primarily on private events.) A representative from Northstar claimed that the company follows coding rules and guidelines, takes good care of the animals, and keeps log sheets.
Dallas City Council member Adam Bazaldua, who chairs the Council’s quality of life committee, supports a ban.
“I don’t think we should have a place for horses on our streets,” Bazaldua told the Dallas Morning News. “I think it’s inhumane for the animal. I think it’s overall dangerous for having safer streets."
During the December 5 meeting, council member Gay Donnell Willis concurred, saying that "as a society, it may be time to just move beyond this" practice.
But District 14 council member Paul Ridley said he was opposed, feigning laughable concern about the future of the horses.
“These horses have a purpose in life and that’s to work,” Ridley said. “If we ban this operation, what’s going to happen to those horses? They’re probably going to be put down because they are expensive to maintain, and if they don’t generate income, there’s no motivation to keep them around."
The industry is monitored by the Transportation Regulation Division, under the Department of Aviation, who said in a statement that "compliance is monitored through periodic field audits to verify requirements are being met."
Aviation department director Patrick Carreno told council members that his office knew of no record of any accidents involving North Star Carriage.
But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which keeps a national list of horse-carriage related accidents, recorded two accidents in Dallas in 2014. In both cases, the horses got spooked and threw people out of the carriages, then ran freely down the street.
In other cities that have instituted bans, the horse carriages have been replaced by electric-driven carriages, resulting in no losses of jobs, the most common objection raised by carriage companies.
"There's no need to keep these overworked horses toiling on hard, loud, congested urban streets," Carbajal says.