Have you seen the sign?
That’s what both sides of a growing battle over treatment of carriage horses in Charleston are asking about a controversial billboard on I-26.
Some carriage horse tour operators are so unhappy with the billboard, they held a news conference Tuesday to dispute its claim of abuse and called for it to be taken down, according to abcnews4.com.
The billboard was paid for by the Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates, and is also the cover photo on the group’s Facebook page.
The advertisement is a silhouette of a horse pulling a carriage, with the words “1 horse,” and “17 people” placed on top of the corresponding images. On the far right end of the billboard is a yellow flame that says “95” degrees, above the words “carriage horse abuse,” and the hashtag “#justsayneigh.”
At the news conference, three Charleston carriage horse companies — Charleston Carriage Works, Old South Carriage Company and Palmetto Carriage Works — voiced their opposition to the billboard.
The billboard is “false and misleading” and “an embarrassment to Charleston,” Palmetto Carriage Works general manager Tommy Doyle said, postandcourier.com reported. Doyle said city laws would prevent the horses from working in temperatures that high.
“Current regulations already prohibit carriage tours when it’s 95 degrees or above — anyone can read it in the code and it’s strictly enforced,” Doyle said, per abcnews4.com. He also disputed claims about abusing the horses by having them pull too much weight.
“The work our animals do in these conditions is considered light exercise for the type of animals that we use,” Doyle said, according to postandcourier.com. “It’s not near their full capacity and certainly not abuse.”
That statement did not sit well with Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates founder Ellen Harley. She is being sued by the carriage horse operators for spreading “false information about a 2016 incident involving one of its carriage horses,” according to thehorse.com.
“You need look no further than their own statements today to realize that these animals need our advocacy,” Harley said, per counton2.com. “Apparently, the industry would be fine with a 1,500 pound animal pulling 34 passengers — approximately 8,000 pounds (4 Tons) — despite the fact that that is against the law.”
The Charleston Animal Society is also included in the defamation lawsuit, and its CEO also responded to Tuesday’s news conference.
Joe Elmore called the press gathering an “attempt to distract the public from the real issues,” per counton2.com, calling Charleston’s working conditions the “harshest in the country” for carriage horses. He said the Charleston Animal Society will continue to try to improve laws that mandate the conditions.
It does not look like the billboard will come down any time soon, even though Doyle called it “deliberately inaccurate,” and “hateful rhetoric,” according to abcnews4.com.
It also does not seem like there will be an immediate resolution to the lawsuit that Harley said failed “to raise a single defamatory comment,” per counton2.com.