City determines how hot is too hot for horses

Tourists on a carriage tour of Charleston pass by a blooming Cherry tree on King Street. (File/Staff)

Charleston City Council approved slightly stricter regulations on carriage tour businesses Tuesday that will keep horses off the city's streets when the temperature rises above 95 degrees, three degrees lower than previous limit.

The heat index limit was also reduced from 125 to 110 degrees. The temperature will now be verified with four consecutive readings taken 15 minutes apart, rather than two readings.

A special committee of industry stakeholders and animal welfare advocates agreed on those changes last year after reviewing a veterinarian's report that analyzed more than 20,000 thermometer readings over the past four years.

But on Tuesday, neither group seemed to be enthusiastic about the proposal.

Multiple animal welfare advocates said a scientific, peer-reviewed study about the condition of the carriage horses on hot days should guide the regulations. At the very least, they said, one thermometer reading - instead of two or more - should determine when to take horses off the streets.

Several also said the thermometer should be moved to the street level. Currently, the city's tourism enforcement officers read a thermometer atop the Doubletree Hotel on Church Street.

"I guarantee the asphalt on a summer day is a lot hotter than on top of a four story building," said Michael Ockovic, who lives downtown.

Representatives of the carriage businesses said they are already ensuring horses don't get overheated. Broderick Christoff, of Charleston Carriage Tours, represented the industry on the citizens committee, which recommended the changes by a 5-1 vote.

He said he supported the compromise at the time, but not because he thought they were necessary.

“It was either going to be that, or something worse, so we chose the lesser of two evils," he said.

Council members voted 10-3 to approve the rules after about 45 minutes of debate. Council members Keith Waring, Bill Moody and William Dudley Gregorie voted against it.

They argued that the new regulations were unnecessary, especially because there hadn't been any instances of horses dying from heat exhaustion. They also said the new rules would be a burden on the carriage companies.

"We are doing harm to our carriage operators, and these are small businesses," Moody said.

Councilman Gary White, who has served on the city's Tourism Commission for nine years, urged council to support the changes because it was so rare for animal advocates and carriage companies to reach a compromise.

"Neither side will ever get exactly what they want. It will just continue to move forward, inch by inch," he said. "If the 20,000 points of data say this is probably better for the animals… I can just say that that seems to make sense."

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.