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Equine expert weighs in on whether horse-drawn carriage rides are ‘inhumane’ as protesters claim

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than 16,000 people have signed an online petition to ban horse-drawn carriages in Kansas City.

The push comes after a carriage ride went awry at the Plaza this weekend, injuring its driver and two of its four passengers.

The online petition is titled Ban Horse Drawn Carriages in Kansas City and was initiated by a group called Animal Action of Kansas City.

The petition claims that, “Tourists are blissfully unaware of the dangers associated with taking a ride on a horse-led wagon through busy city streets. Carriage rides in densely populated cities are cruel and put both the horse and passenger’s safety at risk.”

The petition continues to say, “Horse-drawn carriages are inherently inhumane. Carriage horses are not mentally or physically capable of being surrounded by vehicle traffic and noxious fumes. It is not safe for horses, their passengers, motorists or pedestrians.”

So FOX 4 is digging deeper into the argument that such carriage rides in a city setting are "inhumane" by learning more about the well-being and training of these horses through the eyes of an expert.

Kaitlin Salyer is the head trainer of the lesson program at Woodson Hill Equestrian Center in the Northland. She understands horses and their behavior on a deep level, as she’s been teaching horse riding for more than 15 years and has a degree in equine science.

“I think there`s something very pure about animals and their spirit,” Salyer said about why she loves her job. “They see a lot in people. Horses are very intuitive to body language and feeling and they’re very easy to connect to on a lot of levels.”

Horses pulling carriages have become the center of attention across the metro, following Saturday night's horse-drawn carriage accident at the Plaza.

Police said a horse owned by Kansas City Carriages crashed into a fence, sending its driver airborne and hurting two of four passengers.

“I don`t think there’s a lot this driver could’ve done in this situation,” Salyer said. “You can’t turn hard circles to try to stop the horse, and as far as I know, she handled it as best she could.”

The driver of the carriage declined to comment Monday, and the owner of Kansas City Carriages did not return FOX 4 reporters’ repeated calls or messages. However, Kansas City police said driver error was not a factor in the crash and deemed it an “accident.”

Still, it remains unclear exactly why the horse began running out of control.

“These horses, without training them myself in this particular company, they would`ve been desensitized to traffic and car horns and city streets,” Salyer said, “and all sorts of noises from a very young age to ensure that they can be as safe as possible.”

Salyer said she does not have internal knowledge of Kansas City Carriages’ operations, but she disagreed with the online petition’s broad claims that these types of carriages in a city setting are “inhumane.”

“As far as everything I know about Kansas City and the Plaza company, they take very good care of their horses,” she said. “They are not abusing these horses. They`re not mistreated. They give them the proper shoeing. They have proper fitting equipment. They are not overworked.”

In fact, Salyer said horses are happiest when given a job, with certain breeds being specially trained to pull heavy carriages or equipment.

“They’ve been bred for thousands of years to be employed by people,” she said, “and to have a purpose. So most horses would prefer to be employed and work with people rather than sitting out in a field all day.”

In a nutshell, Salyer pointed out this weekend's carriage crash was rare, and she said it should not deter people from enjoying the Plaza tradition in the future.

“I think people should take a carriage ride and enjoy the beauty of the horse and the calmness they bring,” she said, “and know that every day we step out of our house and we take a risk. And I don’t think you’re at any more risk being in a horse-drawn carriage than you are in a car.”