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Council says no to Oceanfront horse rides

By RICHARD QUINN, The Virginian-Pilot - November 9, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH - The nays won and the neighs lost.

Now, the city is trotting away from a proposal to offer horse rides on the sand and carriage rides along the Boardwalk.

On Tuesday, a divided City Council rejected a contract to allow horses as an Oceanfront attraction from November to April.

Five council members voted for the horses, and five voted against. In city government, a tie is a loss because a motion needs a majority to pass.

"It's done," said Mike Eason, the city's resort administrator. "We're not getting it."

Eason didn't expect the vote to be that close. Two months ago, the council quietly voted to allow a contract to run the horse tours.

The plan was endorsed by the city's hotel association and restaurant association, said Councilman John Uhrin. Plus, the city got just one complaint after a six-week pilot program this spring.

Then came a letter Tuesday from the Virginia Beach Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opposing the contract. Suddenly, residents opposed it, too.

When the contract came up at Tuesday's council meeting, a half-dozen speakers begged the council not to sign it. Some talked of horse and human safety. Others argued animal cruelty.

"I have seen the faces of these carriage horses," said Debbie Chissell, a city resident who stood with her young daughter. "They are sad."

Bob Chorush, a coordinator in the Norfolk office of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said city leaders would have the same long faces if a horse hurt someone.

Horses "can be dangerous to handle or be around when they are frightened," he said.

And it's easy to get scared when Navy jets boom overhead, said Amy McNally, a volunteer coordinator with SPCA.

Eason tried to jockey the contract back into position, but, in the end, the horses were stabled.

Reach Richard Quinn at (757) 222-5119 or