Beaufort officials consider changes to horse carriage businesses

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJune 12, 2014 

Merlin, a carriage tour horse with Sea Island Carriage Co., is shown June 7, 2014, near the water trough in the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot near Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Reports of unexpected falls by the horse have city officials worried about Merlin's safety and that of people nearby.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

Reports that a carriage horse has twice fallen in a staging area for the city's two licensed tour companies have rekindled the Beaufort buggy wars, and city officials are vowing to take a closer look at carriage operations and rules.

The reports, made by Peter White of Southurn Rose Buggy Co. against Walter Gay of rival Sea Island Carriage Co., were aired June 3 during a City Council meeting.

Discussions continued at a council work session Tuesday and again Wednesday before the Tourism Advisory Management Commission, which regulates tour businesses in Beaufort.

Gay said the horse, Merlin, has had several blood tests that show no abnormalities. He said his veterinarian also has collected a hair follicle to test for possible muscle problems. Results are expected back in less than a week.

Gay said the horse was simply falling asleep because another horse kept it up at night.

Discussion of Merlin's falls led the tour operators, residents, and council and commission members to talk about other tour problems.

The companies have a contentious history, which led the city in 2011 to tighten rules and raise the franchise fee the two operators pay to operate on public streets.

"This thing got out of control when we had buggy wars," Councilman Mike Sutton said Tuesday. "And I don't want to go back to that."

Councilwoman Donnie Beer suggested eliminating carriage tours.

"We go over and over and over the same issues with the same companies, and I don't feel like I, as a taxpayer, should have to pay to baby-sit them," she said Tuesday.

Less drastic solutions to a number of problems are being considered, including having the city pay to bring in an outside veterinarian, increasing police monitoring, and instituting unannounced checks of the horses' health and treatment.

Gay asked about enlisting a certified farrier to check their hooves twice a year. White wants the city to require that all horses be checked by city staff to ensure they are properly shod before going on the tours.

White also asked if the city could push back the time of day it tests the heat index to 11 a.m. If it is over 90 degrees, the horses cannot go out. He says humidity from a muggy morning can drop quickly, and if tests are done too early, he loses a day of business.

Gay disagreed, saying it's dangerous for the horses and uncomfortable for him and his employees to stand around waiting to see if the index will drop.

Gay also asked that the tour schedule, which is dictated by city ordinances, be evened up. Currently, the companies rotate in a schedule that gives each company one extra tour a day every other month. He said that can be a big difference during tourist season and can cause friction.

Also discussed during Wednesday's commission meeting were stricter rules for recording when and where horses relieve themselves. The companies are supposed to record the locations in a book and clean up messes.

Sutton has asked city manager Scott Dadson for a detailed account of city costs associated with the horse-carriage operations.

The Tourism Management Advisory Commission has scheduled a special meeting for 8 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall to consider further concerns.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at

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