By Michael Majchrowicz

A newly erected billboard along Interstate 26 near Dorchester Road appears to discourage tourists and downtown patrons from participating in horse-led carriage tours.

The yellow billboard depicts a horse racing toward a pedestrian as the driver attempts to regain control of the animal. Behind the driver, one of the three passengers is shown mid-air.

“Better safe than sorry,” the billboard reads.

The billboard bears the hashtag #justsayneigh, which is part of a campaign led by the Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates and pushes for humane treatment of animals in urban environments, according to the group’s website.

Ellen Harley, a member of the advocacy group, said the billboard went up Monday. It faces toward drivers heading eastbound into Charleston.

“Our mission is to educate the public and (officials) on humane living and working conditions for animals that work in urban environments,” Harley said. 

They hope the #justsayneigh message will spur conversations about the issues surrounding these animals, she said, adding that the group is not calling for an outright ban and is not necessarily trying to dissuade people from going on carriage tours. 

“You need to really think about conditions before you get on,” Harley said. “We want them to arrive at their own conclusions.”

The advocacy group continues to call for an independent, peer-reviewed study of working conditions for carriage horses and mules in Charleston, she said. 

The billboard is the latest in an ongoing conversation in the Charleston area about the practice of employing horses to lead carriage tours. This summer, one carriage horse tossed its driver to the ground on two separate occasions.

Charleston Carriage Works, whose horse Luke was involved in both incidents, could not be reached for comment regarding the billboard.

“The Charleston horse-drawn carriage industry represents the gold standard in the United States for the treatment of horses and mules,” Tommy Doyle, president of the Carriage Association for Responsible Equine Safety, said in a statement. “Our companies have committed to holding ourselves to a higher standard of care for our beloved horses, going above and beyond government requirements and regulations.”

CARE comprises three carriage companies: Charleston Carriage Works, Old South Carriage Company and Palmetto Carriage Works.

Doyle also said it is “disappointing to see certain activist groups spend their money on political stunts that misrepresent our industry, rather than on horses that are truly in need.”

Meanwhile, Doug Porter, a spokesman from the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, did not express concern for tourists and passersby who may encounter the billboard.

“This kind of passionate activism is what makes Charleston so special. Our community deeply cares about all type of issues and are willing to take action,” he said in a statement. “We hope the groups come together because carriage tours are one of the many attractions that our visitors and residents value.”

There have been at least 18 reported incidents involving carriage horses from June 2016 to June 2017, according to the Charleston Animal Society.

Joe Elmore, the animal welfare nonprofit’s CEO, had not seen the billboard as of early Wednesday night and could not offer comment.

City of Charleston officials had also not seen the billboard, although Dan Riccio, director of the city’s Department of Livability and Tourism, emphasized that the city had not put down any stakes in the issue.

“We don’t take positions on either side … whether it’s carriage companies or advocates,” Riccio said. “Our job is to remain neutral and enforce ordinances that protect the horses,” he said, adding that a trained specialist works with the horses to ensure they receive proper care. 

Gregory Yee contributed to this report.

This story has been updated to indicate that Tommy Doyle is president of the Carriage Association for Responsible Equine Safety.