Under-fire karozzin drivers would welcome more checks and enforcement but warned that banning horse-drawn carriages or limiting their hours would lead to a “massacre” of working horses.
The calls to clamp down on horse-drawn carriages grew after two incidents in the space of four days.
“I have three horses, and each one costs a bare minimum of €200 a month to keep. If we weren’t doing this work, I’d only be able to keep one; the others would have to be put down,” said Christian Caruana, who has driven a cab for eight years.
“This is our livelihood. The horses are mostly retired racehorses that would otherwise have been put down, and they’re all certified as being fit enough for this work. But if there are 300 horses at the moment, there will be fewer than 150 left if the ones protesting get their way.”
The horses are mostly retired racehorses that would otherwise have been put down
Various drivers who spoke to the Times of Malta said banning rides during the hottest hours of the day – also the most lucrative for drivers – would have a crippling effect on operators and would also result in horses being abandoned.
This general view has been echoed in recent days by several horse sanctuaries who said there would be no room to take in such large numbers of animals.
Mr Caruana said operators were already subject to stringent regulations which had been beefed-up in recent years. Horses were chipped and vet-certified, and subject to regular checks by the Animal Welfare Department.
Operators, he added, carried water and ensured that their horses had sufficient time to cool down and rest in the shade between rides.
We do our best to care for the horses
Between working days most of the operators rotate their horses.
“The horse is capable of bearing the weight: the work itself is not cruel. It’s in our own interest to keep our horses in the best possible condition. But even if you keep horses in the best possible condition and the weather is perfect, incidents like this last one [when a horse collapsed and died in Floriana] can still happen,” Mr Caruana explained.
Other drivers lamented that rather than pushing for a ban, authorities could do more to support them in caring for the animals, pointing to a lack of shelter at key pick-up and drop-off spots, the need for more water-points, and the regular presence of parked cars in horse shelters.
“It’s true that some drivers – especially the older ones – may not follow the rules, but there are very few of these now,” said one driver who asked not to be named.
“I’d be very happy with more checks. I do things the right way and I’d like everyone to do the same. But for the people who are keeping their horses properly, there’s nothing that can be done that isn’t already being done.”
Other operators, meanwhile, complained of a witch-hunt against them despite progress in recent years.
“We don’t ask to ban cars whenever someone’s killed, so I don’t see why we have to ban karozzini because one horse collapsed,” Raymond Camilleri, who has been a driver for 20 years, said.
“The checks are regular and we do our best to care for the horses. Really, I don’t think there’s anything more to fix.”