Rome gives buggy horses a break
City council bans uphill climbs, gives shorter workday22 February, 18:39
The new regulations were adopted after a series of accidents over the past few years, which have seen horses maimed in the line of duty.
In addition to limiting the horse's work-day to a maximum of eight hours with mandatory breaks during the hottest hours of the day, the city ordinance mandates regular check-ups by city-approved veterinarians.
Carriage drivers will also be required to display license plates, that can be used to report mistreatment of the animals.
However, the buggies will continue to operate on the heavily trafficked streets of the historic center, one of the main bones of contention between the drivers and animal rights' activists.
While city officials said the measure marked a clean compromise, the head of one of Italy's leading animal rights groups, Animalist Italiani, said he wasn't satisifed.
"We're not going to stop lobbying until we get them off the streets for good," said Walter Coporale.
"It simply isn't conceivable for horses to be carting people around in 2010," he said.
Coporale said the city ought to have limited the carriages to shady park trails or helped buggy drivers replace them with electric-powered vintage cars.
Both ideas have been discussed by the city council, but neither one found much appeal among the carriage drivers.
Failing that, he said "the important thing is to make sure horses are protected by same legal status that dogs and cats have".
At present, horses are classified under Italian law as livestock, which puts them in the same category of animal treatment as sheep and cattle.
The buggy drivers, however, have argued that they treat their animals "like family" and rejected the notion that their time-honoured line of work was necessarily inhumane.
The dispute over tourist buggies came to a head after a pair of accidents in 2008, which saw two horses seriously injured on the job. That summer, a horse collapsed from exhaustion on Rome's glamorous Via Veneto while hauling a carriage uphill under the sweltering summer sun.
Then in the fall, a horse had to be put to sleep before a crowd of horrified onlookers after it slipped near the Colosseum and broke its leg.
As a first response to the outcry over the accidents, the city council last July set up a emergency veterinary response team for injured cart horses.
The service consists of an on-call veterinarian and horse ambulance capable of transporting the animal to the ''emergency room'' at an equine clinic run by the Italian mounted police.