Thursday, June 13, 2024

Company responds to fallen horse following social media scrutiny 

Springbrook Farms repsond to citizen concerns after horse is seen on ground (Port City Daily/Jalyn Baldwin)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A horse-drawn carriage company is under scrutiny after one of its horses was seen lying on a downtown street Friday, sparking a viral post on social media. However, the company is debunking citizen concerns. 

Around 11:30 a.m on June 7, Trooper, a 3-year-old carriage horse from Springbrook Farms, the company that hosts Historic Downtown Carriage Tours, was observed lying on the ground on Second Street in downtown Wilmington. The sight prompted a photograph of the horse to rapidly circulate on social media, and a petition,”End Carriage Rides in Wilmington, NC,” was made by Sofija Dedivanovic soon after.

The petition, currently boasting 1,212 signatures, argues downtown carriage rides are inhumane and cites concerns of overworking the horses and exposing them to extreme weather conditions. However, representatives from Springbrook Farms assert the community’s perception is misguided.

“We have never had a horse have an issue with heat or work because neither one of them would ever be an issue.” Rebbecca Leonard, head of day-to-day operations at Springbrook Farms, told Port City Daily Monday. 

Springbrook Farms horse, Trooper, fallen after being spooked on Second Street. (Courtesy photo)

According to Leonard and a Springbrook Farms employee, Linsey Maggard, there are guidelines in place to ensure the safety of the horses while they work. 

“We don’t go out if it’s too hot or if it’s too windy or if there is a lot of rain or lightning,” Maggard said. “Then we keep them back at the stable.”

The Wilmington City Council also has rules in place to ensure the health of horses. In 2018, changes were made to the city codes after a group of advocates were concerned with the ordinances regarding horse care. The updates specified regulations on acceptable operating temperatures, training standards for both horses and operators, and requirements for waste disposal bags.

The code states horses cannot be used if air temperature is greater than 95 degrees Fahrenheit, when the heat index is 105 degrees or higher, or if the temperature is below 32 degrees. The code also states horse-drawn carriage operators must provide proof of an implemented training program. 

There was pushback at the time from PETA; the animal rights organization believed the new standards were the “bare minimum.” It mentioned incidents in Charleston, South Carolina, where horses were endangered under the same ordinances. 

According to Maggard, Trooper did not collapse due to heat exhaustion or being overworked. Instead, he was startled by a loud noise from a nearby delivery truck, causing him to lose his footing and lie down on the ground — a trained response for the horse in such situations. 

“Our horses are trained to stay down when they fall so that we can get them on harness very safely,” she explained. “As soon as we got him on harness and moved the cart, he hopped right up.” 

Leonard concurred, saying it might pose a greater risk if fallen horses attempt to stand up immediately. There’s potential danger of injury to the other horse involved in the carriage being hit or knocked down in the process.  

Maggard said Trooper was assessed by a veterinarian immediately after the incident and had no complications. 

Trooper is the youngest of the seven horses currently owned by Springbrook Farms. The company has been operating in town for 37 years and rescues its horses from an Amish farm in Ohio. Leonard suggested Trooper’s reaction to the incident could be attributed to his adjustment to new sounds in his environment; Trooper has been at the farm for eight months now. 

All seven horses that live at Springbrook Farm, located in Leland, are rescued, mostly from Amish farms and auctions. Maggard stated its mission is to prevent the horses from going to slaughterhouses, where they are often sold in Canada and Mexico, and potentially used for their meat or other products, like glue or dog food.  

“If we can, we get in the middle of that, and we rescue them. And then we train them how to work in the city,” Maggard said. “I mean, it’s not perfect. There’s always going to be something that can startle them, but we do everything we can to train them and get them really ready for the city life.” 

Both Maggard and Leonard noted “city life” is better for horses than many perceive. 

When they are not doing tours, the horses are temporarily housed at the farm’s stables on Front Street. Maggard explains they typically stay there for no more than a week or week-and-a-half at a time. During periods when they are not at the stables, they reside on more than 100 acres of land at Springbrook Farm.

Maggard further emphasized the horses are never tasked with working a full day, but up to six hours a day, with 15- to 20-minute breaks in between each tour. Carriage rides are available from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and extended until 9 p.m. on weekends.

According to Maggard, they are work horses and need stimulation for their health. Leonard added carriage work is easier on a horse’s body than farmwork. They once were used to plow and till fields, harvest, and engage in functions a modern tractor might do.

“They were bred to work. If they don’t work, it’s very destructive,” Maggard said. “They get aggressive, they get depressed, if they just eat and don’t have something to do to burn off those calories, and they get fat.” 

Springbrook Farms carriage capacity ranges from 15 to 20 people. The mechanism the company uses puts the horse in a harness, connected to a metal bar in the front, which allows it to “push” the weight of the cart, rather than pull the load. By proxy it makes the carriage lightweight. 

“It’s the equivalent of somebody getting downtown and pushing around a baby stroller with a toddler,” Leonard said. 

Maggard agreed, comparing it to the feeling of pushing a shopping cart. 

Springbrook Farms is a nonprofit organization and all proceeds from tours go back into the care, upkeep, and rescue of horses. 

“We want everybody to be concerned for carriage horses. Whether it’s ours, whether it’s carriage horses in a different state — different city — doesn’t matter,” Leonard said. “They should absolutely be concerned about them, they should ask questions, make sure that they’re being cared for, and then just take the time to learn about them. I mean, they’re incredible, powerful, yet gentle giants.” 

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