Debate over horse-drawn carriage rides comes to the forefront in O’Fallon MO

O’FALLON, MO - The debate over horse-drawn carriage rides in the St. Louis area is once again in the spotlight after a situation in O`Fallon, Missouri involving a horse, a hill and cars.

It happened over the Thanksgiving weekend at the traditional Celebration of Lights at Fort Zumwalt Park.

Many people come out for the traditional event which has been going on for years.

And horse-drawn carriage rides are part of that tradition.

Brookdale Farms from Eureka took over the carriage rides this year.

But the season got off to a bit of a rough start with what happened on November 24th.

Austin Kirk, the General Manager of Brookdale Farms, says a horse named Thor ran into problems two times trying to pull a carriage filled with 12 people up a hill.

Kirk blames car traffic saying vehicles stopped Thor`s momentum on the hill...making him unable to make it to the top.

“When he was going through on one of the rides a car stopped in front of him halfway up one of the steeper hills and he had to come to a stop. Well with the weight of the carriage and the steepness of the hill we asked the people to unload so the horse could make it up the hill to make things easy on him,” explained Kirk.

Kirk says in both instances, people were asked to get off the carriage so Thor could make it up the hill.

Kirk tells us there were concerns about Thor slipping but he was never in distress.

In fact, Kirk says Thor made it up the hill with 12-person carriages later that night and the night before when there was less traffic.

Nonetheless, the incident prompted Kirk to add a second horse for all 12-person rides at the park.

We saw Thor go up the same hill Tuesday night with a second horse and a 12-person carriage.

“When you actually run two horses, you actually get more power than even just two. It doesn`t double, it almost triples because they work in sync,” explained Kirk.

The city of O`Fallon runs the Celebration of Lights.

City spokesperson Tom Drabelle talked with us about what happened.

He said, “We were concerned when we heard about it but more importantly we know they fixed it and we`re comfortable with the solution. We believe the two horses carrying the 12-person carriage is sufficient. We`re comfortable with that.”

This is the latest issue involving horse-drawn carriages in our area.

From a frightening scene downtown, last year that left a woman and young child hurt to a horse drowning in St. Charles after it ran into the Missouri River in December of 2016, several incidents have raised concerns.

St. Louis City Alderman Joe Vaccaro was pushing a bill earlier this year that would have banned carriage rides on all city streets before a compromise was reached.

And a lawsuit was filed last year to prevent carriage rides at Tilles Park when the temperature fell below 15 degrees or the wind chill was below zero.

Bonnie Boime with the St. Louis Animal Rights Team was part of that lawsuit.

She says there is not much regulation of the horse-drawn carriage industry.

In fact, we`re told the only local rules on the books are in St. Louis city and St. Charles.

Boime wants horse-drawn carriages stopped.

“We can`t ensure the safety of the animals, we can`t ensure the safety of the riders, we can`t ensure the safety of the motorists and we can`t ensure the safety of pedestrians,” said Boime.

But Kirk does not think there are significant issues.

He told us, “there are instances but you can look into any industry there's going to be issues and things like that and you just have to back through and correct the problems.”

O`Fallon city officials say the carriage rides remain popular.

And those with Brookdale Farms say the safety of horses and riders is their top priority.

We will see what happens as the rest of the season unfolds.