By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE health and condition of surrey horses in New Providence are being closely monitored on a consistent basis, with officials from the Cabs Board yesterday promising that if any of the animals are found to be unfit for work, that horse “may not go back on the road again.”
Dr Winston Davis, a veterinarian at the All Creature’s Animal Clinic and a member of the Cabs Board, the statutory body that regulates the surrey horse industry, said officials are committed to ensuring that surrey horses aren’t “taken advantage of” by horse carriage operators, and that the committee is “putting healthy animals out there and a safe carriage.”
Dr Davis said the Cabs Board has had no major issues with surrey horses over the last five months, and that most, if not all of the surrey horses are currently “pretty sound and are in pretty good shape.” However, Dr Davis encouraged persons who might think a horse is malnourished or happen to observe a weakened horse in action to immediately notify the Cabs Board or the Bahamas Humane Society. Dr Davis’ comments came on the sidelines of the monthly inspection of surrey horses at Fort Charlotte yesterday afternoon.
There has been consistent criticism of the health and physical appearance of the surrey horses operating in New Providence, particularly since the death of a 22-year-old female surrey horse on the corner of Dowdeswell and Christie Streets in November 2012.
Recently, motorists have expressed to The Tribune their concern about the “emaciated” appearance of some surrey horses that, despite their sickly appearance, are still made to haul carriages filled with tourists in the unrelenting Bahamian heat.
Yesterday, however, most of the horses observed by The Tribune seemed to be fit and healthy, something that was affirmed by Dr Davis. He said most of the horses he and other officials had inspected by the time he was interviewed had passed the group’s “2.5 and higher test,” which he said determines how healthy a horse is on a scale of one to five.
Despite yesterday’s generally positive results, however, Dr Davis said the Cabs Board still takes surrey horse inspections “very seriously.” Validating his statements, prior to being interviewed, Dr Davis and other officials cautioned the owner of a horse suffering from lameness in its rear right leg to either take the horse off the road and have it treated, or risk having the board take action.
“Any problems with mobility or gait, we address,” Dr Davis told The Tribune. “If the body condition is not up to par, if there are any issues with the parametre that we check, then that horse does not pass, and once that horse does not pass it doesn’t go on the road. After we were to take a horse off the road, that horse has to go through either a Road Traffic inspection if its a surrey, or a veterinarian has to actually check the horses and ensure that the horse is healthy before it is put back on the road.
“So those things are done to ensure that the horse isn’t taken advantage of, and that we’re putting healthy animals out there and a safe carriage.”
In the event a surrey horse fails to pass its inspection, but somehow manages to get back on the road, Dr Davis said officials from the Bahamas Port Department, which is represented on the Cabs Board, can take a note of the defiant surrey horse operator and refer the individual to the relevant authorities.
“We have members from the Port Department, they’re right there,” he said, referring to the Prince George Dock where the horses are kept during work hours. “So each day they can actually look down, and take a note of which horses are there, which surreys are actually there by the license plates, and if a surrey or a horse is there that’s not supposed to be there, then we’re notified or (Dr Maurice Isaacs) who is the chairman, is notified and repercussions or charges will be levied.
“That horse may not go back on the road again,” Dr Davis said.
“Ban Surrey Horses in The Bahamas,” a group on Facebook, which, as its name suggests, detests the very existence of the surrey horse operation, has constantly drawn attention to the “emaciated” appearance of some surrey horses, often posting pictures of these animals on its page in an attempt to draw attention to the issue.
Last year, in a letter to The Tribune, Denise Howard, a visitor from Virginia, said she and her family were “visibly disturbed” to see “emaciated horses struggling to pull overloaded carriages filled with tourists.” She said the horses were “visibly in pain, very thin and overworked.”
Yesterday, however, Dr Davis explained that horses often lose weight during the summer and regain the lost weight in the winter, which he said might be the primary reason some horses may appear to be “scrawny.”
“The thing is, during a year you will have a gain in weight and you will have a loss in weight, depending on the temperature, depending on the stress that’s on the horse,” he said. “During the summer on average we’ve seen that the horses are losing about 50 pounds. During the winter as it gets a little cooler, we see that they’re putting back on the weight. It also depends on whether that horse was recently imported or if that horse is going through an illness. If the horse is going through an illness then they will lose weight and that’s something that we will address.
“But if the horse has just gotten to the island, it has to become acclimatised properly to the weather, to the type of food, and all of that will cause a drop in weight.”
He added: “We will not let a horse pass inspection unless it actually has a good body condition, and our body condition is 2 to 2.5 out of 5. If you’re below that you’re not going on the road. So seeing ribs in a horse, it doesn’t mean that horse is unfit, it doesn’t mean that that horse is sick, it doesn’t mean that that horse is malnourished. It can mean that the horse is going through a cycle of weight gain at the right time.”
Dr Davis also said “froth” around the mouth of a horse is not necessarily an indication of how dehydrated the horse is, but possibly something that is produced due to the horse constantly “chewing on the bit that’s in their mouth.”
Still, Dr Davis encouraged persons to immediately report any sightings of seemingly malnourished and/or lame horses, as he said timeliness is key in addressing those kinds of issues.
“Those are things that we have to address there and then, because many of the horses that are complained about they come to inspection and I mean they’re looking okay,” he said.
“The horse that we just saw, we had a complaint about him, saying that he looked very scrawny and had swollen legs. But today he presented in good body condition and didn’t have any ailments.
“So it’s something we have to deal with at the point in time if we can. And concerns that the motorists should have would be horses that are unsteady or falling over while they’re walking.”