After nearly two years of discussion and debate, Donnie Lambert said that he does not plan to bring his horse-drawn carriage rides back to Frederick in December, save for the Kris Kringle Procession scheduled for Dec. 13. Instead, he said, he will take individual ride requests by appointment via his carriage company’s website.
At issue, Lambert said, is safety. Despite the Board of Aldermen voting to amend an ordinance in early October to clarify rest times for the horses, he explained that he still worries about protesters heckling not just him and his horses, but also the kids and families who sign up for rides.
“As a family, we decided that for the safety of the kids and horses, I’m just not going to do it,” Lambert said Friday. “I just can’t put myself through this and I can’t put the kids through this stuff. It’s just too much stress.”
Mayor Michael O’Connor said that he, too, is let down that the rides won’t be offered to the public on a consistent basis in Frederick this holiday season.
“I completely understand the concern that the Lamberts have, and I feel awful about the language that’s been used against them,” O’Connor said. “A lot of it is inappropriate and disappointing, so I’m saddened that people would come into our community and say what they say. The city does support what the Lambert family does.”
The sticking point for Lambert is the proximity of potential protesters to him during the rides. He said that while he is thankful the city clarified the rest ordinance last month, he also lobbied for the police force to keep the protesters at least half a block away from his horses. The best officials told him they could do, he said, was keep them between 30 and 50 feet away.
Though he won’t be in Frederick as often this year, Lambert noted that he will offer rides in Mount Airy every Friday night in November. Also, with the exception of Nov. 30, he plans to bring his horses to North Market Street each Saturday in November as part of a deal with the Downtown Frederick Partnership.
Whether the Lamberts would continue to provide the service dates back to 2017, when protests began as animal rights activists alleged the horses used for the rides were being mistreated. In October 2018, a group of protesters attended a Board of Aldermen workshop to advocate a ban of horse-drawn carriage rides in the city. Among the concerns the group voiced were traffic and public safety, inhumane conditions for the horses and a lack of law enforcement.
“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,” Frederick resident Stacy Boyer told the board in 2018. “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?”
As a result of the protests, which led to “kids riding on the cart, crying because they’re scared of the protesters,” as Lambert said last month, the family has been negotiating with the city to make their rides as safe as possible. Without at least a half-block cushion, though, Lambert believes that the same “harassment and a form of terrorism” would formulate again this holiday season.
Because of that, he hopes to take a more unpredictable approach to this year’s rides.
“I have had a bunch of nice people reach out about private rides, but nobody is going to know when I’m going to show up and where I’m going to show up at,” he said. “I just don’t get it. Why do they need to be on top of me? I understand First Amendment rights, but why can’t they do what they want to do and not be on top of me?”
O’Connor, meanwhile, kept the door open for the future.
“We’re going to continue to look at it,” he said. “What the city doesn’t control is [Lambert’s] comfort level in dealing with First Amendment rights of those who are opposed to his rides. Our police department remains committed to work with the Lamberts to figure out logistics to satisfy the carriage rides and also respect First Amendment privileges of all residents.
“We would welcome the opportunity to continue to work with the Lamberts to make rides viable in the city,” he added. “That’s what we want. We’re disappointed that a small group of people are having such an influence.”
Lambert, meanwhile, expressed disappointment with the outcome.
“You don’t know how much it makes me sad that I’m not doing it,” he said, “but it got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping at night because I was worried about this. I told the mayor I’d be back next year if he can figure out what to do. I just don’t want to put these kids through that stuff. It’s just not right.”