Horse carriage groups call for billboard to come down on I-26

A billboard on I-26, paid for by an advocacy group, outlines what it calls carriage horse abuse when horses pull 17 people in 95 degrees. (WCIV)

Two industry groups continue to butt heads over the treatment of carriage horses in downtown Charleston.

The latest fight is over a recent billboard on I-26 showing an outline of a horse pulling a carriage marked with 17 people in 95 degrees.

"Carriage horse abuse," it reads followed by the hashtag #JustSayNeigh

The billboard was paid for by Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates, a local advocacy group.

A press conference was held Tuesday morning by the owners and employees of Charleston Carriage Works, Old South Carriage Company and Palmetto Carriage Works demanding the billboard be taken down.

"Today we are calling on the Charleston Animal Society and their affiliated groups, including the Charleston Horse Advocates, to take down this deliberately inaccurate billboard and to tone down their hateful rhetoric," said Tommy Doyle, general manager of Palmetto Carriage Works, who spoke outside the company's barn downtown.

“There are groups in town who are trying to mislead the public about our practices and our regulations. Today, we are here to say 'enough is enough.'"

Earlier this year, Charleston Carriage Works sued Ellen Harley of Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates and the Charleston Animal Society for defamation and conspiracy.

RELATED | Charleston horse carriage company sues Animal Society, activist for defamation, damages

Harley said in a statement Tuesday that the billboard is allowed to remain under their First Amendment right to free speech.

She called the press conference "a blatant attempt to stop our advocacy for these animals.”

“The press conference today is simply yet another example of desperation by the industry to shut down any discussion on the working conditions of these animals,” Harley states.

Doyle noted at the press conference that the three carriage companies formed a group called Charleston C.A.R.E.S. to donate money to fight against horse abuse and said the groups adhere to strict standards for animal welfare that goes beyond what is required by law.

“The billboard says, ‘95 degrees 17 people equals animal abuse,’” Doyle said. “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 adds, “The work these animals do is considered 'light exercise' for the types of animals that we use; it’s not even near the full capacity and certainly not abuse. The misinformation campaign coming from the Charleston Animal Society and their political groups is an embarrassment to Charleston.”

Dr. Justin Miller, president of Charleston Equine Clinic which treats carriage horses, spoke at the press conference in support of the industry.

"Neither I, nor any of my associates, nor any other equine vet in the Charleston area has ever treated a carriage horse for heat stress," Miller said. He said he's worked in Charleston for 13 years.

Harley noted that speakers at the press conference "have a direct financial interest in maintaining the status quo."

She said the group continues to stand behind the billboard.

“You need look no further than their own statements today to realize that these animals need our advocacy,” Harley said. “The fact that the carriage operators believe the animals' current conditions is just 'light exercise,' as Doyle said today, shows exactly how the industry feels working animals can be treated. That is why we will continue to advocate for the horses and mules, and to petition for real regulation at City Hall.”

Watch the full press conference in the video above and below:

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