Reilly harnesses his own proposal to rein in horse-drawn carriages

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Sun-Times Library

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Tuesday harnessed his own proposal to narrow the temperature range for Chicago’s horse-drawn carriages, but renewed his threat to ban them from city streets and restrict carriages to lakefront parks.

Reilly retreated after the Horseman’s Council of Illinois argued that prohibiting carriages from operating whenever the temperature rises to 80 degrees or drops to 20 degrees was unnecessary to protect horses and would only drive an already shrinking industry out of business.

“They’re not working that hard that 10 degrees on either side of the fence is going to affect them. How their bodies work — raising the temperature 10 degrees and lowering it to 80 [degrees] does not affect their physiology,” council president Paula Briney said.

“They’re walking. It’s not like they’re running races or anything like that. Their body is equipped to work in those circumstances and weather conditions.”

While narrowing the temperature window would do nothing to impact the welfare of the horses, Briney warned that it could destroy an industry wildly popular with tourists and a favorite with students, who use them as a romantic interlude when they come downtown to celebrate high school proms.

“You’re gonna run what few businesses are in there out of there. You’re gonna run ’em out of business,” Briney said. “How many days in Chicago is it over 80? Quite a few days in the summer. If it’s over 90, they do stop. But 80 is just not gonna be worth the effort. That 10 degrees just makes it more difficult for people to run their business. They won’t continue the business of offering carriage rides in downtown Chicago because it just makes it that much more difficult.”

Reilly responded to the opposition by shelving the temperature-narrowing ordinance, a decision he claimed to have made before Briney’s comments.

But after lengthy talks with “proponents and opponents” of Chicago’s horse-drawn carriage industry, Reilly renewed an earlier threat to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets altogether and confine them to Chicago parks.

“This debate isn’t really about temperature restrictions or hours of operation for these horses — it’s about whether or not they belong on downtown streets at all,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“This debate really centers around whether or not horse-drawn carriages belong on downtown streets, co-mingled with heavy vehicular traffic. These animals are forced to negotiate between delivery vehicles, buses, firetrucks, ambulances and automobiles — all the while inhaling exhaust fumes; bearing with endless honking; and enduring a ridiculous amount of irresponsible driving. It just does not seem humane to these great animals.”

Reilly bemoaned the fact that “lots of humans . . . have taken it upon themselves to speak for the horses” because the horses pulling the carriages cannot speak for themselves.

“Horse-drawn carriage operators will always tell us that horses love pulling carts through heavily congested vehicular traffic. That’s what the operators did in New York City — before their horses were forced to operate in and around parks,” Reilly said. “I just don’t buy that argument.”

Briney stressed that she would oppose any change — either to narrow the temperature range in which horse-drawn carriages can operate or to ban them from city streets.

She noted that Chicago’s carriage horses are already “among the most regulated” in the country. They must walk, not run, get regular rest, water and care during the workday. The city further regulates stabling, grooming, horseshoeing, veterinary care and working conditions.

To verify those conditions, the Horsemen’s Council sent a delegate to the stables of all of Chicago’s carriage operators to review “animal health, standards of care, handling and general welfare.”

They pronounced the stables clean and well-maintained, run by owners “loving and devoted to the welfare” of their horses.

They found the horses healthy, calm, well-trained, well-fed and seemingly well-adjusted to their surroundings. There was no sign of “mental or physical stress,” the association said.

“These horses are well taken care of. The people who drive and own them take excellent care of their horses,” Briney said.

If the horse-drawn carriage industry disappears, Chicago will lose an important peace of its history, charm and character, Briney said.

“It’s very peaceful, very relaxing and also gives people a chance to see horses and pet them. As we’ve become less rural and more urban, people are not exposed to that as often. This continues at least a connection with the horses and the equine industry.”

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