Safety fears over use of draft horses to pull wedding carriages at Hong Kong's Discovery Bay

Four of the giant animals are in Discovery Bay, apparently being groomed to pull wedding carriages, but vets have sounded a warning

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 3:08am

Goliath's Revenge, Tank, Epic Thunder and Gracie's Eclipse cause quite a stir on their daily walks around Discovery Bay's North Plaza area. Each stands two metres high and weighs about 500kg.

But not everyone is delighted to see the four giants on their sleepy patch and some local residents fear that there may be accidents.

There are rumours that the two pairs of draft horses - matching brown Percheron mares and blond Belgian geldings - will be used to pull wedding carriages from Hong Kong Resorts' (HKR) new White Chapel seaside wedding venue to the new Auberge Discovery Bay hotel, which opens on December 12.

Local vets and animal welfare groups are concerned about the suitability of the living environment and public safety.

Jill Robinson, founder and chief executive of Animals Asia Foundation, said: "Search the internet and you will see examples of wedding-day horse-drawn carriage rides that have gone horribly wrong."

Last month in New York's Central Park a horse broke free from its carriage and bolted down Ninth Street, crashing into cars until it was corralled.

In April a spooked horse pulling newlyweds and their four-year-old daughter in Wakefield, England, raced off, dumping them on a busy bypass.

Fiona Woodhouse, deputy director of welfare at the SPCA, said: "In Hong Kong there's an additional issue. People are not familiar with horses. They might poke them or walk up behind them, not knowing how to act around them."

Another vet described it as "an accident waiting to happen".

The horses, imported from the United States by HKR at an estimated cost of up to HK$3 million, are stabled behind locked grey doors at the back of shops in North Plaza.

Residents only discovered they had moved in when they read warnings around the North Plaza saying: "There are horses around. Please keep quiet! They may be startled and behave suddenly and unexpectedly! [sic] For your safety: DO NOT feed, touch poke, tease, pester, annoy, harass, disturb or bother the horses."

Keeping farm animals is usually banned in urban areas, but HKR was granted a HK$3,810 riding establishment licence by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The department could not explain why it issued a riding licence for carriage horses. "These are huge draft horses, not suitable for riding school work," said one vet.

HKR declined to discuss the safety of unpredictable horses in a residential area with a primary and Montessori school and crowds of wedding guests. "Detailed information about the horses is yet to be announced," said HKR International spokesman Ernest Lau, adding that all legal and regulatory requirements were being met and that the Jockey Club's vet service was on call.

"The company's priority will always be the well-being of the horses. We will also work on the necessary safety measures for both the public and the horses."

But some just want to see the horses. One mother said: "My understanding is that they are intensively training them not to react, like the horses in Central Park."