Chicago carriage horses vs. City Hall

Pickle knows Chicago.

But if Chicago Alderman Ed Burke has his way, this horse will never pull another carriage in the city again.

Burke has proposed a new ordinance that would eliminate the carriage industry from Chicago.

Why?

It’s unclear; the longtime alderman has used a variety of rationales for this ordinance. Sometimes he calls horse-drawn carriages a “nuisance” and a “traffic hazard.” Other times, Burke claims the work is cruel to the horses. He also has said he wants to “beat New York City to the punch,” referencing New York’s recent push to ban horse-drawn carriages.

But this ordinance would put hard-working Chicagoans like Larry Ortega out of business.

For the past 34 years, Ortega has owned Chicago Horse & Carriage Ltd.

He doesn’t understand what benefit Burke’s ordinance would provide.

His horses are treated well.

They work relatively light shifts: six hours or less, five days a week, for six months a year during the full-time, busy season. That schedule is even lighter in the off-season, when horses work just three to four days per week. To stay fresh and healthy, Ortega’s horses enjoy two to four months of vacation each year at an idyllic farm in Indiana.

If they weren’t working in the city, Ortega’s horses would likely be used to haul heavy farm equipment or lumber. Since they’re in Chicago, the horses – which usually weigh in at anywhere from 1,500-2,000 pounds – just have to pull a cart with a few passengers on board.

On a difficulty scale, that’s about as much a haul for the horses as it is for we humans to push shopping carts through the grocery store.

But Ortega said Burke wouldn’t know that, however, because he never visited his business or came to see first-hand how Ortega’s horses are treated before proposing the industry-killing ordinance.

“It’s very disappointing,” Ortega said. “We are ambassadors to this city. Even visitors who don’t take a carriage ride come up to the horses; their children feed them a carrot, they learn the horses’ names. For city officials not to even engage and talk to us to see what’s going on is so heartbreaking. I would’ve at least hoped they would have given us a call.”

Instead of focusing on all of the positive effects horse-drawn carriages have on the city, Burke’s campaign to put an end to this industry appears to be just another example of the alderman abusing the power of his office to push through a pet project in an effort to keep up with his counterparts in New York.

If Burke’s ordinance passes, there’s no telling where Ortega’s horses could end up. He said he’d try to find them a home – meaning a horse shelter or possibly a new owner – but the reality is that many of Chicago’s carriage horses could end up in the hands of brokers. And that could mean getting sent to slaughter.

Burke may claim to have animal welfare at heart, but the truth is that his proposed ordinance would destroy the livelihoods of the Chicagoans who work for and operate carriage businesses, as well as the lives of the city’s many beloved carriage horses.

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