Commission recommends independent vet for Beaufort horse tours

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJune 18, 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

A commission that oversees tours on Beaufort's streets is recommending the city hire an independent veterinarian to ensure the health of horses used by rival carriage-tour operators.

The Tourism Advisory Commission met Wednesday with the city's tour vehicle coordinator, police Cpl. Hope Able, as well as tour operators Peter White of Southurn Rose Buggy Co. and Walter Gay of Sea Island Carriage Co.

The commission said City Council should revise ordinances governing the tours to require annual check-ups by a licensed equine veterinarian to be selected by city officials. Both carriage companies are currently required to have their own veterinarians perform two examinations a year, which would continue under the commission's recommendation.

The third-party check-ups would be paid for by the carriage companies. That vet would also examine the animals if health concerns arose, as the case of one of Sea Island Carriage's horses that reportedly fell twice in recent months.

Changes to the ordinance would need to pass two readings by City Council.

City laws allow two carriage-tour companies to operate, and they must bid for the licenses.

The commission also intends to require that all horses be properly shod before going on tours each day, unless they are part of the "barefoot," or shoeless, program. None of the horses currently working is part of that program, which involves hoof rehabilitation and special trimming to restore a natural hoof to horses so shoes are not necessary. City Council approval is not needed for this requirement, because it is part of the standard operating procedures and not part of the city's ordinances, Able said.

Although Able recommended outsourcing horse-waste cleanup to a private company, also at the tour companies' expense, the commission voted to let the companies continue cleaning up after themselves.

"(We are) trying to get two battling companies to work together," said commission member Cheryl Neison, who called outsourcing punitive. "Obviously, you're both going to miss something because you're human. But conscientious cleanup is all we're asking."

Cleanup has been a contentious issue for years, with companies pointing fingers at each other for missing or not thoroughly cleaning "spills," as the messes are referred to. White, in particular, calls frequently to report spills by Gay's company, Able said.

"It completely doesn't make sense to me to use a law enforcement officer as a mediator between two businesses," she said.

In 2011, the city solicited quotes for cleanup and received a proposal from The Greenery for almost $50,000 annually, which would be just over $2,000 per company per month. Both Gay and White said they can't afford that.

"For the carriage companies, it's financially impossible," White said.

"It's going to put me out of business," Gay said. "You can find someone else to do carriages; I'm going to be gone."

The commission has requested additional information before making any changes to the heat monitoring system or the tour schedule. The next regularly scheduled meeting is July 9.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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