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Horse-Drawn Carriages Cause Animal Cruelty and Pose a Safety Hazard

By Julie Robertson, Georgia Animal Rights and Protection (GARP)

Dear Porch Press,

I began documenting the Atlanta horse-drawn carriages due to reports of animal cruelty. I found that in addition to animal abuse, there are also numerous public safety issues that are creating a dangerous situation for Atlanta residents and visitors.

              Even under the best circumstances, horses don’t belong on busy city streets. But in Atlanta, where there is no code enforcement system, codes are continually violated. If someone gets injured or killed, Atlanta could face a serious liability issue due to a complete lack of regulation and enforcement of codes.

I’ve outlined a number of issues with this business:

Drivers Leaving Carriages Unattended. I have repeatedly witnessed drivers leaving horses unattended for lengthy periods of time. It’s common to see a carriage horse or multiple horses standing on the side of the road with no drivers in sight or tied to street poles. Horses hooked up to carriages should never be tied. If a horse is attached to a carriage, the driver isn’t supposed to let go of the reins. Horses can be unpredictable animals who spook and bolt in an instant because flight is their instinctual protection from danger. An empty carriage dragging behind a runaway horse will create even more fear and the panicked horse will continue to gallop in any direction. This has happened in many cities and can be deadly for the horse, pedestrians, and people in cars.

The following video documents Atlanta carriage horses left unattended. You’ll see the drivers don’t even notice the runaway horse until pedestrians start screaming. Had the driver not managed to catch the horse in time, the situation could have easily led to a horse-car collision.

Traffic violations and dangerous driving. Horse-drawn carriage drivers are required to follow the rules of the roads for obvious safety reasons. Yet, carriage drivers are extremely reckless and continually violate traffic laws. Following is a short video showing some examples of reckless driving and traffic violations. At 0:34 you will see a little girl actually running to get out of the crosswalk to avoid a driver running a red light. Should Atlanta pedestrians have to run to get out of the way of a carriage horse driver?

Horse-drawn carriages at night with no lights. Although required by code to have lights, drivers frequently drive at night with no lights on. Some of the carriages are not even equipped with lights. Please watch a short video showing horse-drawn carriages on the streets of Atlanta at night. By ignoring the code, drivers are creating an extremely dangerous situation that could result in a horse/car collision.

Illegal parking and blocking lanes for illegal pickups. Another frequent violation is carriage operators parking illegally to do business, often blocking entire lanes. This practice is dangerous and impedes traffic flow. Please watch a short video to see examples.

Danger to the public. Downtown Atlanta is a terrifying place for horses. Horses have much more sensitive hearing than humans and can detect high sounds that humans can’t hear. In the following video you’ll see a terrified horse they were trying to train to become accustomed to being downtown. It’s outrageously dangerous that customers are allowed to ride in the carriage pulled by this nearly frantic horse. When a carriage horse starts moving backward, as can be seen in this video, the driver will lose complete control of the horse.

              Whistleblower reports of animal cruelty. A former Atlanta carriage horse driver contacted me after CBS46 aired a story about Atlanta carriage horses being kept in small filthy pens without shelter. She emailed her grave concerns to the Atlanta City Council Members and was willing to speak to them about her first-hand experience, but never received a response to her email. After three months, she quit because of the cruelty to horses at the hands of the owners and drivers, including drivers being required to carry cattle prods to shock reluctant horses. 

              Horses forced to work in spite of clear exhaustion and overheating. Carriage horses suffer in the summer heat. Humidity makes it more difficult for horses to cool off because humidity prevents evaporation of sweat which would aid cooling, so sweat just stays on the horses’ coats, insulating them and making them even hotter. High humidity levels also make it more difficult for horses to breathe. Another factor to consider is a phenomenon known as an urban heat island (UHI.) Paved street surfaces and concrete buildings absorb and store heat during the day and release it overnight, causing higher temperatures.

When the following video was taken, the temperature was only 85 degrees, but it was very humid. These horses are seriously struggling. A short bit of fast breathing after strenuous exercise is normal, but these horses are struggling to breathe, and they continue panting even after standing for a long period of time. Regardless of how exhausted a horse is, the drivers will not turn down money to let the horse rest – the horses are pushed to extreme exhaustion and a dangerous level of being overheated as can be seen in this video:

Inexperienced drivers. City codes require drivers with no prior experience handling horses to have only 35 hours of training to drive carriages downtown, which is not enough training to know how to handle a horse. Not only is this very risky for public safety, but it is also cruel to the horses because they are mishandled, often being mercilessly jerked around. At the end of this video, you will see two horses suffering extreme frustration and agitation. Continual head tossing in horses is a sign of pain. Many of the Atlanta carriage horses are in a private mental and physical hell on the streets of downtown, constantly trying in vain to find relief from pain and discomfort. Following is a short video to show what the Atlanta carriage horses endure up to 10 hours a day.

Inadequate living conditions for the horses. One Atlanta carriage company owner, Fantasy Carriages, keeps his horses in ¼ of a windowless concrete building that adjoins an auto body repair shop. Atlanta codes state that a stable must have “ventilation and fresh air.” These living conditions are in violation of code. Adequate ventilation is essential is because stabled horses are commonly exposed to high concentrations of dust. Inadequate ventilation can cause respiratory disease. Carriage horses continually breathe in exhaust fumes while working on city streets, which also can cause respiratory ailments. But obviously the health of the horses is not of high importance; the owners make as much money as they can on a horse, sell the worn-out horse, and buy a new replacement. 

Georgia Animal Rights and Protection (GARP) obtained footage of another Atlanta carriage horse stable where the horses were kept 24 hours a day in small filthy pens with no shelter from the rain. This video footage can be seen at

 I reported these conditions to the Georgia Department of Agriculture Equine Division and the Atlanta Mounted Patrol Sergeant who is in charge of inspection of Atlanta carriage horse stables, and neither found these living conditions in violation of code, although there are nine obvious code violations. 

High risk of injuries to the horses. Horses made to pull carriages often suffer debilitating leg ailments from walking on hard roadway surfaces that can damage hooves, even when properly shod. Atlanta carriage horses are not properly shod and have been documented being worked with missing shoes, overgrown hooves, burst hoof abscesses, and harness wounds. Atlanta has been negligent in providing oversight of the carriage horse industry for decades, resulting in a complete lack of code enforcement and ongoing safety violations. Downtown Atlanta is a terrifying place for horses as horses have much more sensitive hearing than humans and can detect high sounds that humans can’t hear.  

Recently, a carriage horse was hit by a car and laid severely injured the blood-soaked street. A short video of the injured horse can be seen at:

It is only a matter of time before this happens again. Atlanta’s city government must take action to prevent this pointless suffering of horses and extreme danger to carriage passengers. 

Many cities throughout the U.S. and around the world including Chicago, Las Vegas, London, Paris, and Beijing have banned horse-drawn carriages due to the cruelty, lack of code compliance, and safety issues. Some cities including Mumbai and Guadalajara have replaced horse-drawn carriages with electric carriages. These carriages would be safer and more versatile in where they can take tourists. They also would eliminate horse abuse and provide the drivers with jobs. Guadalajara had more than five times the number of horse-drawn carriages as Atlanta, and all were replaced with electric carriages.

As a lifelong Atlanta resident, it’s wonderful to see downtown Atlanta become a vibrant, thriving area. But it is a terrible, dangerous and scary place for horses. There is no reason for horses to be suffering on the streets of Atlanta and no reason to allow two small companies to continue to recklessly put the public at risk.

 I am encouraging Porch Press readers to reach out to their city Council Member to ask them to support legislation such as the effort by Council Member Keisha Waites (Post 3 At Large) to require operators to switch to electric carriages. Please contact Jason Winston (District 1) at or (404) 330-6039, or Liliana Bakhtiari (District 5) at or (404) 739-4851 to encourage them to support these efforts.

Julie Robertson is the Vice President of Georgia Animal Rights and Protection (GARP). GARP is working with  W-Underdogs, a nonprofit that promotes animal welfare and seeks to end animal cruelty, to encourage legislation to protect carriage horses and promote public safety.

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