WARNING! ONE GRAPHIC IMAGE HERE MAY UPSET YOU.
The issue that is horse-drawn carriages has ebbed and flowed in its prominence in the news, social debate, animal welfare lobby and the likes. Our average reader is probably not aware that there are dedicated animal lovers who constantly lobby for improvedd conditions for these horses,
For the record we refer to it as a type of slavery because it is labour that is coerced and inadequately rewarded, from the horse’s point of view. We are not against animals in decent and well compensated employment raised humanely. There is much to be said about the situation in general and even more to be said about the recent collapse and death of a horse due to the heat and being overburdened. We will get a bit more technical on that later.
Actually, let’s do that now. Remember if you will the dreaded Pythagoras theorem you hopefully understood from secondary school maths. You will need it soon. The post mortem report about why the horse collapsed and never got up again indicated that the horse died because of “excessive heat, heavy load and steep route”. Let us really think about the implications of that statement.
Imagine yourself in the blistering Maltese Summer heat that comes with clear skies and excessive humidity. You may not seek shade or sit in conditioned air. You are either standing under a shelter that was designed to show you shade which is mostly inaccessible (because of course your spot had a car parked in it, in which case your bet is as good as mine as to where you are, or the shade is everywhere but under the shelter) or pulling a carriage, your driver and his passengers. Imagine feeling exhausted from that heat while pulling a load on level ground which is already testing your strength. You know that round the next corner is that dreaded hill that you are forced to climb day in day our every week of every month. You have memorised your route so you know this is probably more than you can muster today. You would avoid it completely if you could, knowing full well that you probably will not reach the top. After all you already feel faint now and you’ve only been pulling for 3 minutes. Here it comes. You pray for rain. You pray to be spared. For a wheel to break. Or some other disaster to strike before you take one more step. But you’re there and you have to keep going. If you don’t you might get struck or have your rains whipped. You want to please your driver because he generally takes care of you. You feel you owe him your life. One step. Two step. Three step. Oh no! It’s your life flashing in front of you. This is where it all ends. You can feel the pain of your muscles being starved of oxygen. Your heart is trying to beat faster. You are sweating buckets but it is not cooling you down. You heart beat now sounds more like an annoying drum in your ears. You can barely distinguish one beat from the next. Ah relief! The drumming has stopped. It is silent now. Now heart beat. No breathing. No sweating. No cars revving. Just peace. You are finally in heaven because you lived like a damn saint. DID IT REALLY NEED TO GET THIS FAR? Ask anyone who has ever collapsed from exercising in hot climates. They may hit a wall suddenly but they can all tell you that they spotted the wall way before it jumped out at them. They choose to carry on because they are chasing a goal. The horse is not chasing a goal. They are coerced. They certainly don’t willfully commit suicide.
The maths enthusiasts here will enjoy a simplistic analysis of how the incline spelled the end for this horse. On level ground, the weight of the load is parallel and equal to the opposing upward force by the ground (H = L). This is why the carriage won’t fly away or sink into the ground. So the effort need only be a bit greater than the force of friction to produce acceleration. So A = F +x (where A is the accelerating forward effort made by the horse, F is friction and x is a variable larger than 0) When things go uphill however the downward force is not tangential to the ground anymore. Things are a little different. Now the weight is partly held up by the ground and you have to bear the rest.
This time, using the Pythagoras theorem we can calculate the additional force required to produce forward motion. The downward force parallel to the ground will be a vector of the entire load lets call it h2 [you can use Sin or Cos to calculate this if you have the angel of incline]. So the effort the horse would have to make to pull his load is h2 + F + x. Animals are made by nature to be able to pull themselves up hills and in our case a few tools or shopping. The horse has no natural need to carry anything, let alone up a hill, so their job is unnatural.
Where does this story leave us? It leaves me astonished at the list of roads horses are banned from according the third schedule of S.L. 499.66, only if they are not pulling a karrozzin. I am not seeing anywhere in the law that karoozzini are specifically banned from during any time. So there is nothing in law that prohibits a driver from driving a horse up a hill with a load in 40 degree heat and there is no limit to the load. I don’t think it is discriminatory to limit the weight of the driver to some extent. Do you? Even for the other horse drawn vehicles, the third schedule only applies between 7am and 9am and then again from 4pm till 6pm. That’s just rush hour and only contains main roads so it clearly is an attempt to ease traffic (you know, because allajbierek horses are the main cause of traffic). I am not saying it is entirely bad. It after all keeps those horses away from rush out madness. The rest of the day the whole country is fair game for those poor horses not providing a paid service. But I am even more astonished when a couple of pages later I find a list of penalties and fines that apply to a list of contraventions. The driver can get fined for refusing to hire a karrozzin if he is standing at a designated karrozzin stand (which of course is the horse shelter as it turns out in most cases). So, if the driver wants to rest his horse he may not be able to do so there, where they should in theory have shade and a steady supply of water. Thus causing the driver to either incur fines or have to move his horse in a less favorable sunny spot to allow him the time to recuperate after a route. If there is a logical explanation I am missing it here, so please enlighten me. It gets worse. Once they start a route, they are not allowed to stop unless they are within 5m of the stand. So again if the driver notices his horse is suffering, and that I am given to believe is a huge assumption, he cannot stop and unload there without risking a fine. Every fine also causes a few penalty points so a few of these and the driver might lose his livelihood, unless he has a friend of a friend. Does this make any sort of logical sense to you?
How much longer do we have to talk about this before something gets done?
The welfare of the animal gets an honorable mention where on page 10 of the law states:
“9.(1) The Authority may suspend any license issued under regulation 3(2) if:
(b) The license holder fails or refuses to comply with the provisions of these regulations and, or with standards, guidelines and regulations relating to the welfare of animals issued under the Animal Welfare Act.”
Sadly that is followed by “and such suspension shall last for a period of not more than thirty days” except for when the return suspension is subject to veterinary approval if the horse is found to be unfit during inspections that, as far as I can tell happen once every 5 years when the license is up for renewal. 5 years. I would have passed a fitness test 5 years ago but at 35 now I am not so sure I would have passed it last year.
You would be excused for mistaking this for a law that was passed decades ago but I must inform you that this law passed in 2016. Nowhere in this law do you find environmental considerations that prohibit karrozzini from working in certain conditions. The UK just passed a law mandating that employers send their staff home when the workplace is 32 degree C or hotter but Malta seems oblivious to the effects of the weather on what has essentially been reduced to a living hay-guzzling engine.
Every time I think of what that horse went through a little piece of me dies with it. Slavery was abolished in Malta by Napoléon Bonaparte during the invasion of 1798 but it is still going on. We are not saying that karrozzini have to be banned outright but there surely is room for improvement and it is only fair that these majestic animals get the respect they deserve and get a comfortable life for the service they provide. Karrozzini do not have to be a welfare issue. They are a welfare issue at the moment because legislation falls short of protecting them from the very people who depend on them for income.
The Animal Welfare Act allows for the Minister to issue species specific guidelines he sees fit. This means that they need not go through parliament. Which means they did not need Parliament to reconvene after the Summer. Something could have been done during the Summer. So we await with anticipation for Parliamentary Secretary to make good on his promise to improve legislation without further delay. And on that note…now that parliament is back at work, how about approving the ban on dog tethering, Hon. Camilleri?
Here's to the ones who crossed the rainbow bridge too early because some people aren't doing theor job.