Two drivers sat down next to the shelter where their horses were resting. A young tourist and her daughter walked up to them and asked for a ride on their karozzin.
The younger of the two, Richard Attard, glared at them and said: “No. We’re not working from 1pm to 4pm anymore”.
Drivers have been banned from using their horse-drawn carriages during hot July and August afternoons under new legislation that came into force last week. The law also lays down that a horse may only be used for three days a week at most.
Owners could be fined up to €65,000 if they breach the rules.
Animal rights activists have long pushed for the move, insisting the horses were being mistreated when they would be out in the afternoons. Last year, they had taken to the streets to call for a ban on horse-drawn carriages.
Prohibiting karozzini from being on the streets during the hot summer afternoons, however, has left drivers worried about missing out on some of their most lucrative period of business.
How am I going to explain to my family why we have less money
“In the winter we use our carriages less because of the rain and the wind,” Mr Attard said.
“Summer is the only time for us to turn things around. How am I going to explain to my family why we have less money? How can I continue taking care of my horses with these rules in effect?”
The ban has left many of the drivers mulling court action, but some have warned the move might be premature.
The legislation, announced on Friday, started being followed yesterday. And although there were no reports of drivers breaching the rules, many spent the afternoon whiling away the time and turning down customers.
The karozzin shelters in Valletta were empty after 1pm but in Mdina, around 10 drivers stood around with their horses, frustrated they had to turn down tourists and earn “a lot less” than before.
Tourists often wanted rides on the karozzin during the afternoon, they said.
Drivers were left with no option but to start working earlier in the morning and carrying on later in the afternoon – meaning the horses would end up being out for a long time as a result.
“I’ll probably go home with no money today,” angry driver Joe Galea said.
“I didn’t have any tourists approach me until noon and now by four everyone will have left. “There are around 15 horses here and even when we do work during the afternoon, there is no guarantee there will be enough people for me to even go out,” he said.
A big part of their livelihood is at risk, another driver, Kevin Debono, said, adding the move will have a crippling effect on operators.
Despite the ban, drivers said they had no problem with animal welfare officers or vets going to do random spot-checks.
Animal welfare activists have hailed the ban, insisting it was a step in the right direction to help protect the horses from the heat.
“We urge the Animal Welfare Department to take the enforcement of this law seriously, and we urge the public to make a report when seeing a karozzin driver breaking these laws,” NGO Time for Change said.
Animal Rights Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri has insisted the legislation was drafted following debates with stakeholders.
“The horse is now considered an animal in its own right rather than just part of the vehicle,” he told journalists on Friday.
“There were proposals that promoted two extremes, but I think these changes strike a balance,” he said.
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