Horse carriage Doubletree

The thermometer that the city relies on to decide when it's too hot for horses to work is on top of the DoubleTree Hotel behind this carriage. Of course heat wasn't a factor Monday, with rain and temperatures in the 70s. Dave Munday/Staff

For months, critics of Charleston’s carriage-tour industry have been calling on the city to measure heat at street level, where the horses are, instead of on top of a four-story building.

The city’s Tourism Commission will consider that request at its Wednesday meeting.

The panel will also look at a rule change on how quickly horses are returned to work after they've been stabled because of the heat.

A city ordinance says the animals are to be taken off the streets when the temperature reaches 95 degrees. The official reading is from a thermometer atop the Doubletree Hotel near the City Market. Four consecutive readings, taken every 15 minutes, are required before the horses and mules are pulled.

City tourism officials say they use the Doubletree thermometer because it’s tied into the Weatherbug network, which sends out alerts when the temperature starts rising.

Weatherbug representatives will discuss whether the thermometer could be moved Wednesday, according to Dan Riccio, the city’s director of livability and tourism.

Readings from the Doubletree thermometer were used in a study last summer to decide when horses became overheated.

The study matched five years of Weatherbug readings from the Doubletree thermometer with carriage-company records on the horses’ internal temperature that are supposed to be taken after each tour. A comparison of the two determined that horses became overheated when the Doubletree thermometer measured 95 degrees, according to Riccio. 

The study led to a change in the city's carriage-horse ordinance, lowering the temperature at which the animals  are stabled from 98 degrees to 95 degrees, according to the official thermometer.

Changing the location of the thermometer would invalidate the study that was the basis of changing the ordinance, Riccio has pointed out.

The Charleston Animal Society has said the study wasn't scientific, since it relied on records kept by the carriage companies. It has been calling for an independent study by an outside expert. It also wants the city to consider the effect of sun and wind, as well as to enforce the city’s rule on how much weight horses can pull.

Also Wednesday, the commission will consider a recommendation to keep the animals stabled longer after they are pulled because of the heat.

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Under the current ordinance, the horses and mules are released for service after two readings below 95 degrees taken 15 minutes apart. The commission will consider requiring they remain stabled until the mercury remains below 95 for 30 consecutive minutes. City Council would have to approve the change and amend the ordinance for it to take effect.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, chairman Bob Seidler will introduce two groups who are usually on opposite sides of arguments over carriage horses.

The Carriage Association for Responsible Equine Safety (also known as Charleston CARES) was formed by three carriage companies last year to get out the message that downtown carriage horses are treated well. Charleston Carriage Works, Old South Carriage Co. and Palmetto Carriage Works announced the association in September.

On the other side of the fence, Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates regularly posts videos of horses lying in the street after falling, with the claim that they fell because they were overworked or otherwise weakened and not just because they tripped. The group recently put up a billboard on Interstate 26 outside of Charleston showing a runaway carriage with the message "#Just SayNeigh Better Safe Than Sorry."

Seidler said he wanted the commission to be familiar with both groups.

"I wanted to make sure the members of the commission were aware of these two sources, to be fully transparent and give equal time," he said Monday. "They obviously have different focuses. I’m just trying to maintain dialogue."

The meeting starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday at 80 Broad St.

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.