A routine discussion of updates to a city ordinance regulating horse-drawn vehicles turned into a platform for a familiar group of protesters to push for an outright ban of the practice at a Frederick Board of Aldermen workshop on Wednesday.
Holding signs with slogans such as “Get the Horses Out of Traffic” and “Horse Drawn Cruelty” with accompanying graphic images, the group of about a dozen animal rights activists hailing from across Frederick and the Maryland and Virginia region voiced a litany of concerns in the public meeting.
For years, the city has contracted with providers to offer horse-drawn carriage rides downtown in November and December. Donnie Lambert and his daughter Jessica, a veterinarian, have held the contract for the past several years, and are set to begin the rides in a few weeks.
In anticipation of the start of the season, Assistant City Attorney Rachel Depo revisited the city’s ordinance regulating horse-drawn vehicles and suggested updates and clarifications to the language, which she said has not been changed since the mid-1990s.
The proposed amendments include specifying that the police chief, or designated representative, is charged with administering the ordinance, and establishing more detailed provisions for license suspensions or revocations.
After a short discussion of the proposed changes, which the aldermen were primarily on board with, Mayor Michael O’Connor opened the discussion to public comment.
Frederick resident Stacy Boyer led the charge, saying that the meeting attendees also protested with them on the downtown streets last year during the carriage rides. She said the protests stem from concerns about traffic and public safety, inhumane conditions for the horses, and the impossibility of adequate enforcement of the law.
“Common sense tells us that horses should be in pastures and not overloaded by heavy carriages while being forced to compete with cars, trucks and motorcycles on the road,” Boyer said.
For the past six years, Donnie Lambert and his daughter, Jessica, have orchestrated a now-beloved downtown Frederick tradition. Each November …
She added that loud noises spook horses and expressed concerns that they are overworked and are not given access to water during their shifts, the same concerns she expressed last year in the protests.
She pushed for city officials to introduce a legislative change to ban the carriage rides as other cities have done, and warned of negative repercussions if they fail to do so.
“Will Frederick wait for an accident to happen that injures, maims, or kills pedestrians or a horse because they refuse to acknowledge that horses do not belong in carriages?”
Several other of the attendees at Wednesday’s workshop, most of whom were not city residents, shared similar concerns and urged the aldermen to consider a ban of the practice.
Michael Boyer, Stacy’s husband, said after the meeting that he and the rest of the group will be out protesting in full force this year when the rides begin. He also reiterated concerns he expressed at the workshop about what he sees as an archaic practice.
“It’s just so primitive,” he said.
The Lamberts have said they rotate the shifts for the carriage rides between their four Percheron draft horses and two Belgian draft mules. They denied any unfair or inhumane treatment of the animals, which are bred for pulling, work about 12 hours a weekend two months out of the year and spend the rest of their days as family pets.
In the workshop, Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak asked the group members how many were city residents. Four raised their hands. She continued by explaining that she is most concerned with the desires of city residents as she considers any future action.
“I want to hear from city residents and a number of residents from Frederick are interested in possibly banning this altogether,” she said. “I understand and I would like to do a little more research about how it’s done in other places. It’s certainly not something I would like to go forward with today.”
Alderwoman Kelly Russell said she was on the police force when the ordinance regulating the carriages was adopted years ago. She said that since the ordinance was adopted, no issues or violations have been reported. And while she said she is not ready to support an outright ban of the practice, she is also willing to look into it.
O’Connor said that he is not sure of the exact process to ban the practice, but he believes it would have to come from an aldermanic request and go to staff members for research. At this time, he pointed out that all he has heard is that two aldermen are willing to look at it sometime in the future, but not now.
As far as the protesters, he said they have a right to voice their concerns as long as they remain peaceful.
The proposal to update the language is set for a public hearing and a vote in the coming weeks. O’Connor told the attendees at Wednesday’s workshop that they will have another chance to voice their concerns at that meeting.