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Talk of replacing horses has coachmen up in arms

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An official of a union protecting Mérida’s horse-drawn-carriage industry fights back. Photo: La Verdad

Mérida, YucatánCaleseros, the men who run the city’s iconic carriages, are fighting any notion of retiring their horses.

A candidate for mayor found a potent campaign issue when he said that forcing horses to pull tourists down the street is cruel. They are often dehydrated from standing for hours in the sun. One was recently electrocuted on Calle 60 after stopping on a utility register that was improperly grounded.

“A better Mérida protects animals,” said PRI mayoral candidate Victor Caballero Durán.

But the caleseros assured the public today, in an article published in Milenio Novedades, that the animals are treated just fine. Their health is monitored under strict surveillance by the city and UADY’s veterinary faculty, said the secretary general of the Union of Carriages Drivers, Einar Medina Borges.

The carriages are a tradition going back over 105 years. Medina Borges said that it is important that this tradition be preserved, Yucatán one of the last three states of the country that still carries it out.

Horse-drawn carriages exist only in Guadalajara, Motul, Izamal, Cozumel and Mérida.

Caballero Durán wants to replace the carriages with modern battery-powered buggies. They would be non-polluting and communicate the city’s commitment to the humane treatment of animals, he has said.

Medina Borges, however, said it is important that government support traditional carriages, which remain in high demand by foreign and national tourists.

“I think the attractiveness of this means of transport is that it has horses and if they are modified, they may not be as profitable as it is now, so it is important that they ask us first about any change,” he said.

The coachmen have not been assured that using motorized cars would be a sustainable business, said Medina Borges. Also unanswered: Where would the horses, “who are part of our family,” go?

“And how to destroy a century-old tradition in Mérida?” he told La Verdad.

“A horseless carriage is like a zoo without animals. I am the third generation in my family and there is already a fourth working. How do I explain to the fourth generation that it will no longer exist at the whim of someone?” the leader of the caleseros said.

The drivers should have a voice in any decisions because “nobody knows more about the needs than the people who operate them every day.”

Coches de caballito, or “pony cars,” last 45 minutes to an hour. They start from the Plaza Grande and head up Calle 60 to Santa Ana and the Paseo de Montejo, then up to the Monumento a la Patria, and back via Calle 62.

Carriages fit up to four passengers and charge about 300 pesos for a ride.

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