City Council puts horse-drawn carriage tours out to pasture

Catherine Hunter offers Gypsy Gold a drink of water before his Friday night shift pulling a carriage in downtown Asheville last year. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Asheville City Council voted to put horse-drawn carriage tours out to pasture with its repeal of an ordinance that permitted commercial carriages downtown. At its April 26 meeting, Council also approved a franchise license that will allow Asheville’s only current carriage operator, Catherine Hunter, to continue her business for two years.

Spurred by pleas from animal rights activists, Council had been monitoring the 1990 carriage tour ordinance since Hunter began offering carriage tours in 2013. According to a city staff memo prepared for Council, no accidents or substantiated complaints have been recorded since Hunter launched the service.

Nonetheless, animal advocates pointed to increased vehicular traffic downtown, congestion and other safety concerns as reasons why horse-drawn carriages no longer make sense in an urban setting. The activists also said they view horse-drawn carriages as similar to animal circus performances, which are now banned in Asheville. Council’s repeal of the carriage ordinance, one advocate said, represents an “evolution away from using animals for entertainment purposes,” and she urged Council to stop the practice immediately by denying a franchise agreement.

While Council members Brian Haynes and Cecil Bothwell advocated for limiting the new franchise license to one year, Council member Keith Young proposed extending the transitional period to three years. While he appreciates the animal advocates’ concerns, Young explained, “You are asking us to take away a person’s income without giving them the ability to transition into another life.” To balance the longer term of operation, Young suggested making the license non-transferrable, meaning that Hunter would not be able to sell the business.

Nine members of the public spoke in opposition to carriage horse businesses, while only Hunter and community activist Brother Christopher Chiaromonte spoke in favor of continuing to allow commercial carriage rides downtown.

“Horses are what I know,” said Hunter. “It’s been my pleasure to bring these animals in contact with people who otherwise wouldn’t encounter them.” After thanking city staff for their efforts to help her navigate the city’s ordinance, Hunter continued: “People who are against horse-drawn carriages are well-intentioned, but they are misinformed. Horses love to work. They are good at it…They love the attention they get downtown.”

In the end, Mayor Esther Manheimer said Council’s decision came down to “…trying to strike a careful balance between transitioning away from this activity and sensitivity to a small business owner.” Council voted unanimously to approve a non-transferrable two-year franchise agreement. Because all franchise agreements require two hearings before Council, Hunter must appear at Council’s May 10 meeting for a final vote. Assistant City Attorney Jannice Ashley also pointed out that the city can terminate the agreement at any time with cause.

For more information about Hunter, her business and the positions of the animal advocates who oppose horse-drawn carriages, please see our article from October 30, 2015.

Additional coverage of the April 26, 2016 meeting of City Council:


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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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12 thoughts on “City Council puts horse-drawn carriage tours out to pasture

  1. EJ

    After all the articles you post bemoaning discrimination and hate in the mountain xpress, what gives you the right to call someone a gadfly? Especially in an article you list in your “news” section. Shameful!

    noun: gadfly; plural noun: gadflies
    -a fly that bites livestock, especially a horsefly, warble fly, or botfly.
    -an annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism.

    • bsummers

      one who provokes others into action by criticism

      I assume this was directed at Brother Christopher. I could be wrong, but I suspect he would not be offended.

  2. NFB

    So what will be next for these horses when this business is gone in two years time? The glue factory? Is that what animal “advocates” want?

  3. Yep

    yet another example of CITY council’s need to CONTROL everything that happens in Asheville with evil rulings that cut jobs and
    healthy horses! SHAME on these EVIL democrackkk controllers!

    • bsummers

      CITY council “cut” healthy horses? My GOD! You’re right. These democraks ARE evil! Let’s move to Burnsville! I’ve HEARD it’s lovely this TIME of year. Who’s with me?!?

      • Yep

        Freedom to operate a profitable business in Ashevil just doesn’t appeal to you does it summers?

        • bsummers

          Sure it does. But I agree that the streets of downtown Asheville are not a good place to have horse-drawn carriages, however you feel about the concept in general.

          • Peter Robbins

            I must agree, belatedly as usual, with Barry. It’s hard enough scattering the pedestrians. Horses can kick back.

        • Fishbone

          Yeah! Why let a sound idea get in the way of your idealogical perspective, that’s what I always say!

  4. Troubled Traveller

    We seem to have forgotten that just because some things can be done, doesn’t mean they should be done.
    Nothing against horses, carriages, or horse carriage business operators; our downtown is too small, congested, and dysfunctional for horse drawn carriages. The carriages are an effective roadblock on downtown streets, especially during high road use times.
    While we’re at it, could we please get rid of LaZoom and the beer pedal carts, too??
    Why is it that Asheville so often chooses to glorify dysfunction in its administrative policy?
    Our transportation system in Asheville and western North Carolina is miserably inadequate, overcrowded and mismanaged without the addition of useless, dangerous, gratuitous traffic.

  5. The Real World

    “our downtown is too small, congested, and dysfunctional for horse drawn carriages” — I agree with this, it’s just a reality.

    About getting rid of LaZoom and Pubcycle? NO, they are both fun, unique and part of AVL charm, I feel. And they don’t disrupt traffic much.

    What is needed downtown is more parking! Although important, I’m not even referring to the convenience factor but rather the traffic congestion created by too few places to park. I’ve been in the position of circling the streets (along with others) b/c both street parking and the garages were full! That was at Noon on a weekday! More parking = less traffic.

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