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Horse-drawn carriage incident called minor but groups react anyway

Animal Advocates are speaking out again regarding horse-drawn carriages in downtown Savannah after an issue with a carriage Monday night.  

However, the owner of the company says it was only a minor incident. 

“It happened after our hours of operation Monday evening,” said Cara Marshall who is the owner of Carriage Tours of Savannah.

Marshall told me there were no passengers in the carriage and that the horse got impatient at an intersection and backed up and then tipped the cart over onto its side.  She said the driver and the horse were not injured.

“We had a response there within minutes,  our barn is just seconds from there and management, including myself, were on scene,” Marshall said. 

“We were not in violation of any ordinance or any code that evening, it was just an incident that occurred,” said Marshall. 

Ruth Arnone from Savannah Animal Advocacy had a different viewpoint. “You can call it minor in relation to other incidents that have happened but it does create some concern,” she told us.  “It’s still very possible that had somebody been nearby or in the carriage that there could have been injuries.” 

Arnone says she personally favors a ban on horse-drawn carriages saying it’s “time and that other cities have done it.”

However, she also told me that others favor stronger regulations for carriage companies.  That would include a new evaluation of routes because the downtown now has so much traffic.

The concern about whether cars, trucks and horse carriages mix was magnified in February when a horse ran through an intersection and tipped over a car at Warren Square.  Seven people (passengers and the driver) were trapped underneath the cart for a time.  After that, Arnone and some others protested calling for a ban.  But again, there are some groups that don’t expect the city to go along with a ban so they’re asking for the tougher regulations.  Another request is that a carriage company have two employees instead of one on the carriage.  That’s because now the driver often looks back at the passengers while providing a short talking tour of the town.  Arnone says there should be a driver and a tour guide on board and that way the driver could “concentrate on looking straight ahead and on driving.”

Marshall says her company (which was NOT the one involved in the February accident) has a good record and that the mishap this week was certainly not typical.

“It is highly unusual, we have a very strict training process that takes weeks.  We will continue to assess this particular situation. I have sent a letter to the city describing the incident.”

In terms of additional regulations, Marshall said that in 2017 there were new tourism rules adopted.  

She does say she takes the safety of her horses seriously.  “First and foremost I am concerned for the safety and for our protocol and we take that very seriously and will continue to do so,” Marshall said.  “We will continue to assess this particular situation. I have sent a letter to the city describing the incident.”

City staff wrote to us that they are evaluating Marshall’s report and staff “has recently met with concerned groups to ensure City ordinances uphold fair and humane treatment for all animals.  The City will notify and engage the public before recommendations to the council or any further action is taken.”

Arnone says she won’t give up her desire for a ban on carriages but also recognizes that additional rules ensuring the welfare of animals would be important.  In terms of city leaders actually passing a ban, she told me “I don’t think it’s happening. I think that they’re waiting you know every time there’s an incident there’s just waiting for it to blow over.”

Arnone remains convinced that if the city ever faces liability from an accident that officials may take their demands for a ban more seriously.