Prior to the start of my contract with the City of San Antonio as its official equine veterinarian in 2005, equine services for the City of San Antonio were inspected and monitored by small animal-specific veterinarians. At the urging of the Animal Care Services director and board, my services were engaged to provide cruelty investigations for all types of farm animal seizures and to be in charge of carriage horse permitting.

In the entire time I have been the veterinarian for the City of San Antonio, I can say that I have never been contacted or consulted by the mayor, any council people, or any city officials that are employed at City Hall and are said to represent the citizens of San Antonio about any matters related to the welfare of the horse-drawn carriages operating in downtown San Antonio.

That’s why City Council’s recent move to phase out horse-drawn carriages downtown was surprising. If I had been consulted prior to the filing of the city council request, I would have advised against it. The current working conditions for horses are not inhumane as the CCR claims, and council members would know this had they sought information about these operations at any point since I’ve worked with the city. 

In addition to my work with the city, I have been the head veterinarian for the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, where my work involves the movement, welfare and health care for 60,000 animals over 21 days every year in February. I have been a veterinarian for 26 years and am board certified in reproduction and neonatology and specifically trained in the care and welfare of horses.

My opinion, as an equine-specific veterinarian, is that the work, schedules and care these animals receive are neither inhumane nor cruel. They receive regular exercise and pasture time, as most companies have more horses than carriage permits, which allows one horse pasture time while one horse is working. They are inspected by me, identified by embedded microchips, and monitored during the year by the city’s Ground Transportation Unit, Animal Care Services, and myself. The horses are kept shod with borium or calks, as prescribed by the Animal Care ordinance that specifically addresses general requirements for their care.

As the veterinarian for the World Champion Young Living Percherons, which are draft horses specifically bred and trained to pull carts, wagons, and carriages, I can confirm that these animals have been in this work capacity for hundreds of years. They were initially bred in medieval times to carry knights into battle and first brought to the United States from Europe in the last two decades of the 1800s. Draft horses were used to pull wagons during the development of the transcontinental railroad, transport any and all goods to market, transport people, and also pull various types and weights of farm implements

As a matter of fact, the Amish still use draft horses to pull heavy loads, wagons and farm implements regardless of weather or time worked during a typical day. Horses are not large people. Sweeping assessments about what is “too hot” or “too humid” or “too cold” or “too heavy” is specifically dependent on the animal pulling the load.

Decisions cannot be made by politicians who have no animal welfare education or training. Making uninformed decisions about the future of an industry is not only irresponsible but also detrimental to San Antonio’s tourism industry and shows a lack of interest from city officials in seeking out truths and serving their constituencies. 

The current lack of contact from City Hall with their own veterinarian seems to indicate a political agenda to eliminate the carriage industry rather than a desire to seek out relative data and information regarding animal care. But, as I have been for 17 years, I remain available to consult with elected officials and discuss the matter further. 

Benjamin Espy

Dr. Benjamin Espy is the City of San Antonio's official equine veterinarian.