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Carriage Horse Committee

Calls in an expert
But still can't get answers
Warwick Jones

The Committee charged with shaping an ordinance for carriage horses called an expert witness to guide them. He endorsed a draft of the ordinance which we expect will change little as it now moves into its final form. But his endorsement was a surprise and hard to take seriously. It followed a presentation to the Committee today that raised a host of questions but gave few answers. The unanswered questions were very pertinent to the draft. And although he didn't say the thresholds referred to in the draft were wrong, such as the ambient temperature that horses should cease working, he didn't say they were right!

The expert was Dr Jay Merriam, a vetinarian who practices in Massachussets. He has considerable experience in equine medicine and clearly has a high reputation. He has also helped define ordinances for New York City and Boston. Chairman Forrester stated at the beginning of today's meeting that Dr. Merriam had been called because there were some differences relating to the ordinance. These differences were largely between interested members of the public and the Committee rather than within the Committee. From her opening remarks, it seemed the Chair was expecting some answers. We didn't hear them.

Difficulty in defining standards
If there was a consistent thread in Dr. Merriam's presentation and the subsequent discussion, it was the difficulty or impossibility of defining standards. In some cases, there was insufficient scientific evidence to define the proper threshold. For example, a maximum temperature above which the horses were not allowed to work could be set. But by itself, the temperature was not very meaningful. The discomfort of the horse would also be affected by humidity and whether there was a breeze. Another example was the amount of time that a horse must be rested after its temperature rises above a critical 107 degrees. If the right measures were taken, the horse's temperature could drop back to a normal 102 degrees and it could be back in work in 15 minutes. But the responses of horses were very uneven.

Allow for some common sense
He didn't come out and specifically say it, but the implication of Dr Merriam's presentation was strong. The thresholds of temperature, humidity, and other factors could not always be defined appropriately. Some allowance should be made for common sense.

This did not sit well with some members of the public, one of whom rose to question whether the industry could really be relied on to self-regulate. After all there were lots of examples of mistreatment of horses, some of which Dr. Merriam referred to in his presentation. So the public could be sure that horses were being protected, an ordinance with strict definitions of limits was necessary. Dr Merriam agreed.

Heat and Humidity the important issues
Perhaps the most important issue was over heat and humidity. The thresholds in the draft ordinance were 98 degrees for temperature and 180 degrees for the Temperature Humidity Index (THI) - calculated by adding the relative humidity and temperature readings. Dr. Merriam noted that in Kansas, horses worked in temperature of over 100 degrees so temperature by itself should not be considered. Obviously, humidity was low there but it had to be considered in other places. But he did slip in the thought that 95 degrees was better than 98 degrees as a temperature threshold. He also noted that the THI threshold was useless as an indicator in Charleston. He doubted that the index would ever reach the 180 degree figure and that it should be lowered to perhaps 140 -150 degrees. He suggested that Charleston should attempt to define some threshold based on its own investigations, and to incorporate the Heat Index.

Again, some members of the public pointed to differences between Dr. Merriam's conclusion and of other equine experts. Some experts regarded the THI as the best measure for determining a threshold for working in heat and had recommended levels close to 140. Neither were they dismissive of the importance of temperature just by itself.

Changed opinion on passenger numbers
Dr. Merriam arrived in Charleston believing that 4-5 persons were the maximum that should be pulled by any single horse. These were the limits imposed in Boston and New York where the terrain was uneven. But after observing the carriages and the flat terrain in Charleston, he changed his mind and opined that the present 16-plus-driver limitation was just fine. Once the carriages got going, the pull was not hard, he said. He seemed to ignore the fact that traffic and red lights ensured that it was not an uninterrupted pull and horses had "to get going" innumerable times.

Not enough work had been done on how much weight horses could pull, Dr.Merriam said. The Army had a rule of thumb that the load could be a maximum of 3 times the horse's body weight. If the horse weighed about 2,000 lbs, it could pull 6,000 lbs - well over the weight of the carriage and its occupants under the Charleston ordinance. So no worries! But wait a minute Dr Merriam; you said that all these thresholds depended on other factors. What if the temperature is 96 degrees and the humidity 80 degrees? Wouldn't this make a difference as to what horses should be pulling? He agreed it would make a difference.

No advice on stall size
The size of stalls was another issue he raised, but he offered nothing in terms of resolution. The proper size depended on the horse and what it was doing during the day. But he did note that Wyeth Laboratories in Canada operates a stable for horses used for medical purposes. Stalls there were 5 feet by 12 feet. The horses did OK, he said. These stalls are generally much bigger than those in Charleston but speaking for the horses, I'd much rather take my chances with a Charleston horse carriage company and a smaller stall than luxuriate in a Wyeth stall with the consequences.

Likes what he sees in barn
In Charleston, there are 5 barns operated by the carriage companies. Dr. Merriam inspected only one - that of Palmetto Carriage - owned by Committee member Doyle. He said it was clean and the conditions were very good. He applauded Mr. Doyle on allowing the public to inspect his barn and contrasted this with New York where owners were reluctant to allow visitors. We understand that not all the carriage companies in Charleston are as open as Mr. Doyle in allowing public inspections. Dr. Merriam also noted that in New York, horses had to walk some miles to where they worked. In Charleston, the barns were all located close to the staging area. Horses were not stressed at all before beginning work.

Other issues
Other issues were raised at the meeting such as pollution from traffic- a lot in New York but little in Charleston; accidents - they happen largely because of collisions with cars; where to measure the ambient temperature - unresolved, but temperatures above the road surface are much higher than in green fields; merits of donkeys over horses - donkeys are less trouble; rectal temperatures and their taking - er, yes well; and sweating horses with foaming mouths - sweating and foaming are good when a horse is hot, it allows the horse to cool. But high humidity can make cooling-off difficult.

Final meeting in 2 weeks
Another meeting is scheduled on November 15 when the Committee is expected to vote on the final draft of the Ordinance. In the meantime, some language is to be inserted that will better cover the temperature and THI issues. We bet it will not satisfy interested members of the public, at least not those at today's meeting. They were all well prepared today with documents from other Equine Medicine experts and ready to strongly disagree with Dr Merriam. The THI and temperature readings, ambient and of the horses, remain major issues which they will continue to confront.if necessary.

After approval by the Committee, the Ordinance will go to the Tourist Commission and then to the City Council for final approval.

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