Can tour horses take the heat?   
By Paul Bowers   
July 10, 2009

How hot is too hot for Charleston's carriage horses? The limit set by city government is 98 degrees. But when street-level temperatures climbed above the 100-degree mark last week, the city did not tell tour operators to bring in their horses.   

At 2:35 p.m. June 29, near the intersection of North Market and Anson streets, a thermometer at eye level in partial shade above the concrete sidewalk registered 102 degrees. The horses, meanwhile, waited in direct sunlight over an asphalt street surface. Readings at other tour stops ranged from 98 degrees to 105 degrees.

The city's recorded high for the day?

92 degrees.

The discrepancy has to do with the location of the official city thermometer. Three stories up at 113 Calhoun St., the weather station is isolated from the heat that radiates from street surfaces.

The thermometer is part of a weather station provided by online forecasting site Weatherbug. Jennifer Gilmore, Weatherbug's director of marketing, said the height is ideal for helping to track large-scale weather patterns. Her company advises installers to distance weather stations from heat sources and to avoid places where wind is obstructed.

"You have to be able to detect the flow of the weather coming through," Gilmore said. "Or you can have ground-level truth, which is the temperature on the ground."

Vanessa Turner Maybank, the city's director of tourism, said the thermometer was placed according to Weatherbug's specifications. The relevant ordinances, including the 98-degree cutoff, were drafted after the city sought advice from local veterinarians.

Terri Wilkinson, a tour guide with Olde Towne Carriage Co., said she would rather the judgment call were based on the ground-level truth. A thermometer installed at Olde Towne's stable gate, she said, could give a more indicative reading.

Tommy Doyle, manager of Palmetto Carriage Works, said an even closer reading works best: internal temperature, as measured by post-tour rectal thermometer checks.

"There's no better indicator than the body temperature of the animal," Doyle said. The city requires that horses be taken off their routes to cool down when their internal temperature reaches 103 degrees.

Still, Dr. Marvin Knight, a Charleston-area relief veterinarian who spent 35 years working with horses at a practice near Dallas, said he is concerned about exposing the horses to dangerously high heat levels.

"I guarantee that if you put a horse under stress where the temperature is 96 three stories high, it's 103 where he's at," Knight said. "You put him under stress, and he's going to suffer."

The heat is on

What official readings say:

The recorded high for June 29 in Charleston was 92.2 degrees.

What street-level readings say:

--Church and North Market streets, 2:20 p.m.

Temperature: 98 degrees

Heat Index: 120 degrees

--North Market and Anson streets, 2:35 p.m.

Temperature: 102 degrees

Heat Index: 133 degrees

--Hayne and Church streets, 2:40 p.m.

Temperature: 105 degrees

Heat Index: 141 degrees

What city code says:

--When either the ambient temperature reaches 98 degrees or the heat index reaches 125 — by the city's official thermometer, which is three stories above street level — carriage company operators must take their horses off the streets until the temperature or heat index decreases below the stated limit.

--Carriage company operators have to take a horse's rectal temperature after completing every tour. If it reaches 103 degrees, the horse has to be brought in to cool down. If it reaches 104, the horse is pulled for the day.

Coalition To Ban
Horse-Drawn Carriages

A Committee of the Coalition For New York City Animals, Inc.

The Coalition for
NYC Animals, Inc.

P.O. Box 20247
Park West Station
New York, NY 10025


To honor
Bobby II Freedom
previously known as Billy
ID# 2873 rescued by the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Equine Advocates on June 25, 2010 from the New Holland auctions.

In memory of
Lilly Rose O'Reilly
previously known
as Dada ID# 2711
R.I.P.August, 2007