The horse carts of colonial Cartagena de Indias have brought the dozens of tourists who walk through the Colombian city every day from international dignitaries, but complaints about the poor conditions of the animals multiply threatening an entire profession.
Many assure that going to Cartagena and not giving a car ride It is like not having gone, they are an attraction for couples, celebrities and tourists, they are present in almost all the films that have been shot in the city and they are the protagonists of well-known songs.
But a recent report from the Attorney General’s Office (Public Ministry) collected what had been denounced in some associations and animal defenders for a long time: the horses are not in conditions to work.
More than 40 have exceeded the age limit to provide tourist services, they are in malnutrition and the heart rates of the animals are above normal values due to physical exertion and strenuous work days, according to the Public Ministry report.
A job at risk
Fabio Arzuza, a coachman who has been in the trade for 36 years, denies it and emphasizes that the horses from the mecca of tourism in Colombia “They are in good condition.”
He has supported his family thanks to this business and tells Efe that if they take away his horses “they will kill him right away.” “Where are we going to work? Who is going to answer for our family?”
Some 180 families are in the same situation, especially Afro-descendants, who depend on this work with which they support no less than 600 people.
In recent months, with tourism greatly diminished by the pandemic, many coachmen had to “sell some of their goods badly” to support their families and horses.
“Nobody came to give us a kilo of corn, a piece of grass for these coach horses,” Miguel Bustamante, vice president of the Cartagena Coachmen’s Association, denounces to Efe.
Horses need the same care and feeding whether they are working or unemployed, says the union. “Coach horses are not a motorcycle, they are not a vehicle that we leave parked anywhere and they do not eat.”
The activist in animal rights of the Association for the Protection of Animals of the District Fany Pachón says that “you cannot play with the health of the animals, if there are 44 animals that are sick then they have to be replaced”, referring to the animals that the Attorney General’s Office found they are too old to work.
Pachón assures that the horses are subjected to “forced hours (of labor), more than they can execute in a day, they do not (have) good nutrition, they are skinny”, and “where they are tied because they have some injuries “.
The activist believes that repeat offenders “animal abusers” should be penalized and their permits to drive the carriages should be taken away.
The coachmen spend 10,000 pesos (about 2.6 dollars) a day for the bundle of grass they eat, along with amolene, bran, mogollas, molasses and water with which they feed it. “They don’t know that, they believe that horses eat paper and air,” the coachman reproaches the animal owners.
“We love horses more than anything else, this is our company, this is our daily bread,” adds Bustamante, who recalls that every 15 days veterinarians of the Municipal Agricultural Technical Assistance Unit (Umata) carry out checks on coach horses.
A badge of Cartagena
For 60,000 pesos (about $ 15.5), couples or tourists can take a half-hour tour of the historic walled part of the city and enjoy the flowery and iconic balconies of Cartagena or the historic bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Catalina de Alexandria.
Horse carriages become the official vehicle when there is a renowned visit in the city or an international summit or congress and cruise ships that stop in the city also occasionally hire this vehicle for the amusement of passengers.
“If they remove the horses, the cars are over,” laments the coachman, who believes that this would “kill the city of Cartagena” and “leave it without oxygen.”
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