Carriage horse

Charleston officials and other concerned parties have been reviewing rules that regulate the treatment of carriage horses and mules. File

A carriage horse’s tack gear slipped on a private tour on busy Church Street near the Market. The horse spooked and ran into the wall of the Doubletree hotel in front of onlookers, including a city employee.

“I saw with my own eyes that the horse hit the building and fell,” Tempestt Greene, a Charleston parking enforcement officer, wrote in a city incident report. The horse, named Rembrandt, bruised its back and front legs, Greene said.

Rembrandt’s spill Thursday morning was the second incident in less than two months where a carriage horse was spooked and fell.

On July 17, a draft horse was startled by a cement truck on East Bay Street. The horse and carriage jackknifed, forcing the horse to fall on the spot. It lay there for nearly three hours until a forklift brought it back to its feet.

Both falls led to a report and the animal taken back to the barn.

The July incident spurred the Charleston Animal Society to call for a review to determine how to prevent it from happening and to better deal with the animal if it does. The city formed a panel working with Joe Elmore, society executive director.

The panel, though, has held only a single organizational meeting so far, Elmore said. He’s hopeful that members eventually will recommend stricter oversight of the popular carriage ride industry, but at this point he can’t say if it will. Industry spokespeople and others say the current oversight by the city tourism commission and police is enough. Elmore doesn’t agree.

“Frankly I think every incident involving a commercial vehicle should be reviewed as a matter of policy. This impacts the public,” Elmore said. The Rembrandt spooking “underscores the need for more structure and more oversight so we can learn from these things.”

Rembrandt spooked as it was being led back to Carolina Polo and Carriage Co. by the carriage driver, who had noticed the tack problem, according to the driver in the report. Employees for other carriage companies rushed over to help calm the horse and remove the failed gear, according to Greene’s report.

“He got up on his own and he was fine,” said the driver, Ryan McGahen, in his report. McGahen didn’t say what spooked the horse and calls to the company for comment were not returned under deadline. There was no damage to the building and the company is having the horse checked by a veterinarian and will report back to the city, said Dan Riccio, livability director.

The spooking is at least the 19th similar incident in the past three years; in that time more than 115,600 fee-paid rides have taken place through historic and scenic Peninsula neighborhoods.

The carriage ride industry has been studied repeatedly — spurred by complaints by neighborhood, groups and individuals concerned for horse and rider safety — since 1984, when a runaway horse killed a vendor in the City Market.

In 1993, the city began regulating by distribution the routes the carriages take, and required horses to be taken off the street when temperatures reach 98 degrees. Industry employees communicate to avoid areas with unusual disturbances, Tom Doyle, Palmetto Carriage Co. general manager, said in an August story by The Post and Courier about construction and other noises spooking horses.

But runaway horses continue to be a problem, Elmore said.

“Thirty years after a woman is killed and carriage horses are still bolting,” he said. “Let’s learn from these things and create a better system.”

Dave Munday contributed to this report.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.