Chicago Considers Ordinance to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages

New legislation in Chicago will prohibit the city from issuing licenses to operators of horse-drawn carriage businesses there.

The horse-drawn carriage trade in Chicago first became controversial in 2014 when then-alderman Edward Burke proposed an ordinance that would have ceased the issue of new horse-drawn carriage licenses until all such licenses had expired.

Since then, legislation to halt the issue of licenses to horse-drawn carriage operators languished until 2019, when aldermen Brendan Reilly and Brian Hopkins sponsored a new ordinance. As introduced, SO2019-4125 would amend the Municipal Code of Chicago to prohibit the use of horse-drawn carriages in the city and to forbid anyone from operating a horse-drawn carriage “for the transportation of passengers for hire within the city.”

The ordinance also forbids the commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection from issuing or renewing new licenses beginning Jan. 1, 2021, and prevents the executive director of Animal Care and Control from issuing any new licenses for horses intended to be used for the purpose of drawing a carriage.

Licenses currently in effect would remain so until Jan. 1, 2021.

Supporters of the legislation claim that concerns about urban traffic congestion and the welfare of the 35 horses used by the three horse-drawn carriage companies in the city necessitate the ban.

Opponents believe those concerns are ill-founded.

“I have seen these horses and inspected their stables, and they are very well taken care of,” said David Nobbe, PhD, of the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois and an equine investigator for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “(Equine welfare advocates) must have co-opted someone on the (Chicago City) council.”

Meanwhile, zoning, overbuilding, and traffic congestion issues have resulted in an increase of complaints about the carriages and the use of horses.

“It’s all about optics,” said Dan Sampson, who operated Noble Horse Carriages Chicago for more than 30 years.

Both supporters and opponents are confident Chicago City Council will pass the measure during its April 24 session.

After that, carriage operators have until the beginning of 2021 to decide what will become of their horses.

“The one operator who has a farm in Indiana will probably bring her horses back there,” Nobbe said. “I don’t know what the other major operator is going to do, and I don’t think he does either.”

Meanwhile, other former carriages horses will find new homes, Sampson said.

“Some of the horses will be sold to other private owners,” he said. “Fortunately, there is a market for these horses among people who want to drive—who don’t want to ride anymore.”