Lawsuit Challenges Florida Horse and Carriages

Carriages were a fixture in downtown Orlando during the 1980s and early '90s heyday of Church Street Station but have been largely absent for nearly three years. Now, four new companies are lining up to revive the practice, which resulted in animal-rights activists suing the city on Monday.?

Carriage owners say that the concern of animal welfare activists is misplaced, citing that their horses get the very best care, treatment and companionship. The company Downtown Horse and Carriage II recently began offering romantic rides around Lake Eola, and it plans to offer a funeral service in the near future.

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) sued in Orange County Circuit Court, accusing the City Council of changing the regulations for carriage permits without adequate notice. They ultimately want an outright ban on the practice. As Holly Cheever D. V. M., a respected equine vet who has treated carriage horses in New York, points out, "Lameness and hoof deterioration are inevitable when a horse spends his or her life walking or jogging on the unnaturally concussive asphalt of city streets."

For more than 20 years, a single business held all 10 permits issued by the city. But that company recently went out of business, and while its permits were still active, no other companies were allowed to use them. In November, the council lifted the cap on permits so other carriage companies could apply. The problem, according to the lawsuit, is the city changed the ordinance on an "emergency" basis, sidestepping a state law that requires public notice and two hearings that would have allowed animal-rights activists to object.

Chief Assistant City Attorney Natasha Permaul said the city classified the changes as an emergency because allowing time to advertise the ordinance, coupled with the holidays, would have delayed the matter as much as two months.

Three weeks ago, a horse spooked by traffic bolted through midtown Manhattan, slamming into a station wagon. The accident, which left the horse’s handler in critical condition, prompted calls for restricting carriages in New York City to Central Park. There have been no serious accidents involving carriages in Orlando, city officials said. Since council members lifted the cap on carriage permits, four companies have been approved to operate in the city.

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