By Emily Williams [email protected]

Published Tue Jul 27, 2021 7:00 PM EDT

New rules for Charleston carriage tour companies are up for review, stirring a familiar controversy between the industry and an animal-rights group that is calling on the city to further regulate the horse-drawn outings.

On July 28, the city Tourism Commission will see a final and shorter version of an ordinance that it first reviewed last month and whittled down after rejecting some of the recommendations.

First proposed by a group called Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates, the update has been in the works for nearly a year.

The group’s original suggestions included mandatory training and random drug tests for drivers as well as rules about where small children should be seated.

Dan Riccio, the city’s livability and tourism director, said his office reviewed the recommendations for months and wrote an ordinance that it felt was “effective, enforceable and legally proper.”

It then shared the draft with tour operators and the Carriage Horse Advocates.

When the commission met last month, it saw three proposals: The original proposal, the city’s version and a third with suggested changes from a coalition of carriage operators called Charleston C.A.R.E.S.

In the end, many of the changes were rejected, with commission members saying they were either unnecessary or would hinder how the companies operate.

For example, a proposal that would have kept young children from sitting in the rear of a carriage or immediately next to the road was scrapped, with some members noting that carriage companies host school groups.

The recommendations that did make it into the final version included a requirement that tour operators establish a “structured annual training program” for employees. Another specifies that carriage companies designate at least one employee per shift who is trained to perform first aid on horses to be available as a “first responder” in the event of an accident involving possible injuries.

Yet another would give the Department of Livability and Tourism the authority to temporarily stop carriage tours during severe weather or other emergencies.

During the public comment portions of the hearings, the tension between the tour companies and the advocacy group was clear.

Representatives of the Carriage Horse Advocates, like attorney Nicholas Green, repeatedly argued their suggestions were “common sense” measures.

At a June 23 meeting, Tyler Jones, a spokesman for Charleston C.A.R.E.S., said that the companies felt the ordinance was “unnecessary” and “superfluous” but stressed that they weren’t opposed to all sections.

The commission will take up the revised version at a meeting that begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday on Zoom. If approved, the ordinance will go to City Council.

Tension between the carriage tour operators and the animal rights group is not new. In 2018, Charleston Carriage Works, one of the three members of C.A.R.E.S., filed a defamation lawsuit against the Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates and the Charleston Animal Society over social media posts it alleged were false and hurting its business. The company later dropped the complaint.

The Carriage Horse Advocates group has kept track of incidents involving carriage tours since January 2016 in a document on its website.

Their call for more regulation was brought up again after a horse escaped downtown last July while being unhitched from its tour wagon. The animal sustained serious leg injuries and was euthanized.

That incident led to a change in the way horses are secured to and detached from carriages. The Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates described the ordinance update as “window dressing” at the time and requested the city adopt more comprehensive safety rules.

In a statement Tuesday, the group said at least two of its recommendations should be included: that random drug testing be required for drivers and that the city not rely on training guidelines set by the Carriage Operators of North America because those guidelines are not public.

Riccio said his office took the latter into account, and the proposed ordinance states that tour operators must develop their own training programs and submit them to the city for approval.