The holidays in the city of Frederick will be a little less jolly this year.
The Lambert family, whose horse-drawn carriage rides have become a staple in downtown Frederick during the Christmas season, has decided they will not offer the service this year with the exception of participating in the Kris Kringle Procession and scheduling private rides downtown.
The move comes in response to nearly two years of debates with city officials and protests from mostly out-of-county animal rights activists alleging mistreatment of the horses pulling the carriages.
Despite nearly every equine veterinarian News-Post reporters have talked to stating that the Percheron horses and draft mules the Lamberts own are bred for the exact work they were doing, the protesters managed to make life difficult enough for owner Donnie Lambert that his family decided it’s no longer worth the trouble.
“As a family, we decided that for the safety of the kids and horses, I’m just not going to do it,” Lambert told our reporter last week. “I just can’t put myself through this and I can’t put the kids through this stuff. It’s just too much stress.”
Lambert asked the Frederick Police Department to keep the protesters at least half a block away from his carriage rides in an effort to minimize the disruption to his patrons. But department officials, citing First Amendment rights, said it could not oblige. Instead, the Lamberts will take individual ride requests by appointment via his carriage company’s website.
Ironically, it’s the city that gets hurt the most by losing one of its most popular holiday activities. The Lamberts will move their operation to Mount Airy this month, and their private bookings have already proved to be a boon for business. Lambert told a News-Post reporter that the carriage rides are already booked through December.
We’re respectful of these protesters’ First Amendment rights for free speech, but with the Lamberts’ decision to move on, those protesting likely will claim some small victory. But we don’t agree with them and neither do city elected officials, including Mayor Michael O’Connor who said he supports the Lamberts and hopes to find a way to support the rides in the future.
“We would welcome the opportunity to continue to work with the Lamberts to make rides viable in the city,” he said last week. “That’s what we want. We’re disappointed that a small group of people are having such an influence.”
We agree with O’Connor’s statement and we hope they find a way to bring back the rides.
But for now, it’s a big loss of a much-loved tradition for the city of Frederick. Ultimately, it will be the residents who like this tradition who will feel the loss.