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St. Louis Health Department Tightens Reins On Carriage Horse Companies

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio
A horse pulls a carriage on Market Street downtown.

St. Louis’ Health Department Director Pam Walker issued new guidelines Tuesday regulating the treatment of horses used to pull carriages for Brookdale Farms and St. Louis Carriage Co., the two businesses that offer rides in the city.

The guidelines forbid horses from working when the heat index reaches 100 degrees, and limits horses from working more than eight hours a day, and five days per week. They also set standards for stable ventilation, and cleanliness.

“I don’t know that we’re necessarily going to follow her guidelines,” said Brookdale Farms owner Jerry Kirk. “We’re doing basically the same things that we’ve always done.”

Kirk says that many of the rules are less restrictive than they follow already. The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission had previously set the heat index limit at 107.

Walker and Kirk have been at odds since Saturday night when she personally halted one of his horses, named Moose, from continuing work downtown near the City Museum. At the time, Moose appeared to be overworked and struggling to breathe.

Since then, Walker has called for banning carriage rides altogether in the city and sent the city veterinarian to inspect stable conditions and the health of the animals at both businesses.

“I have a very clear mandate under the Revised Code to assure that no unfit animal is allowed to work, no animal is overloaded, no animal is overworked,” she said. “So that’s what I’m doing.”

The assessments found animals of both companies are in good health. She also included a number of findings and recommendations that must be addressed by July 24. Walker has said she plans to conduct veterinary inspections monthly.

It remains unclear who has the authority to regulate the businesses as transportation carriers. Both companies hold licenses with the Metropolitan Taxi Cab Commission, but a pending lawsuit has suspended the commission’s authority to regulate horse carriages since last November.

“The answer is: I don’t know,” said attorney Neil Bruntrager who represents the commission. “I would suspect that no one is, but that is the question. From our perspective, it’s not us.”

Neither company holds a business license in the city.

Walker has said the matter will likely require action from the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Francis Slay. She is expected to present a report on St. Louis’ carriage companies to Mayor Slay on Friday.

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