Horse-drawn carriage tours are a decades old tradition in Stanley Park, but if the Vancouver Humane Society gets its way, they won’t be around much longer.
VHS has written the Park Board a letter calling for an end to the practice, and more than 4,300 people have signed a petition in support.
“We hope the Park Board is aware of the animal welfare aspect of this issue,” said VHS’s Peter Fricker. “We’ve always been concerned about horses being used in urban settings, pulling carriages and trolleys and so on, because of the long hours on hard pavement and the exposure to traffic exhaust and so on.”
Gerry O’Neil, owner of Stanley Park Horse Drawn Tours, has been operating in the park for 39 years, and says his animals are very well-cared for, and have been bred for this type of work.
“Those horses are not just little riding horses. They’re work horses. Historically, that’s what they’ve been doing for hundreds and hundreds of years,” he said.
People who shared their opinions with CTV News Vancouver in the park Saturday were split on whether the horse-drawn tours should continue.
Stanley Park Horse Drawn Tours has 21 years left on its lease with the Park Board and the O’Neil says it would cost tens of millions of dollars for the board to buy him out.
One lane of Stanley Park Drive has been converted for bicycles on a trial basis and that means the horses must now share a single lane with cars, which has lead to long lines and the occasional motorist veering into the bike lane to pass.
That is raising fears the horses could get spooked, just as they did during a noisy protest in 2016 during a visit from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when frightened tourists leapt from the carriage as the horses stampeded onto the seawall.
“Our view is, why wait until there’s another potential disaster? The Park Board should act now,” said Fricker.
No people or animals were injured when the horses darted from the roadway that day, but O’Neil still calls it the worst day of his life.
“I can’t hide from this," he said. "It happened. But it happened once in nearly 40 years."
CTV News reached out to every Park Board Commissioner about the issue Saturday — but has yet to hear back from any of them on the future of horse-drawn tours in the park.