Walk on the streets of La Antigua Guatemala on any given day, and you’ll inevitably hear the rattle of a horse-drawn carriage making its way on the cobblestones at some point. For over half a century, these old-time rides have been available to the public. Initially, they were used by hotels to give their customers a more unique way of seeing the colonial city. Nowadays, this practice from hotels has died out, but private carriage-owners still offer their services to this very day.
During most days, the small hoses wait for customers along with their carriages by La Antigua Guatemala’s central park. According to one carriage driver, Abraham Pérez, these carriages have a maximum capacity of four adults and one infant. Mr. Pérez also pointed out that they offer two types of rides. “We have a tour of six blocks from the main city centre of La Antigua,” he explains. “We ask for Q.50 but we’ll take you for Q.40. The other one is a 12-block trip where we charge Q100, but we’re open to haggle.”
Each day, before heading into town, these horses are fed concentrate along with hay. The cost of supporting a single horse is around Q.1500 (200.06USD) per month. Because of the demanding task they perform, these horses are regularly fed throughout the day at a separate “parqueo”, or stopping place, inside of the town.
Recently, this particular service has become a source of controversy. A few months ago, an online petition asking the municipality of La Antigua Guatemala to prohibit the use of carriages was posted by an internet user named María José Fariñas. In her petition, Ms. Fariñas claims that the horses are forced to do “strenuous tasks by, not only pulling the weight of the cart all day, but also carrying tourists (sometimes even 10 at a time).” The petition also features a photograph of a horse-drawn carriage tumbled over on the streets of La Antigua Guatemala. This photo, according to several carriage owners and drivers, is from an incident in which a horse was startled by a truck and fell down while running nearly three years ago.
The situation for the horses isn’t as dire as the online petition depicts it, however. According to the director of Fundación Equinos Sanos por El Pueblo (Healthy Horses for the People Foundation), Mario Sapón, these horses are often well taken care of. “Horses in La Antigua Guatemala are generally doing well,” he says. “Some are doing better than others, but that depends on the owners.” Fundación Equinos Sanos por El Pueblo (ESAP) is an NGO which began operating back in 2005. For several years, they checked on the health of horses on a monthly basis before working directly with the owners of horses used for carriages that weren’t faring well. They now operate in different areas around Guatemala.
Also, all carriages must have Town Halll permits to circulate in town. According to the spokesperson for the municipality of La Antigua Guatemala, Sergio Rodríguez, there are between 25 and 30 carriages with permits in town. Mr. Rodríguez also added that the horses must be checked by the Ministry of Cattle and Agriculture before receiving a permit to own and operate a carriage in La Antigua Guatemala.
When asked about the controversy regarding the online petition, he also pointed out that they haven’t received an actual petition. “No group has come forth during this past year with signatures or any proposal on the subject for the mayor’s office.”