Springfield Mass. council begins debate: Should there be a ban on horses on city streets?

Read the original article by Peter Goonan at masslive.com here.

Some residents urged the City Council on Monday to either ban horses from public roads in Springfield or otherwise regulate them because of the potential for tragic accidents and mistreatment of the animals.

The council’s Public Safety Committee met with residents including Cristina Ferrera and Cheryl Coakley Rivera, who raised concerns about horses and their riders being on busy urban streets, saying it poses a danger to the riders, horses and motorists.

Horseback riding on city streets is permitted by state law, but Ferrera urged the council to consider adopting a ban such as the one in place in Cambridge.

Horses are “out of place” riding on a busy city street, Ferrera said. Springfield “is not a quiet, rural town, and that’s OK,” she said.

The horses are seen on many busy streets including Main Street, Berkshire Avenue, Boston Road and Sumner Avenue, Ferrera said.

“I feel it’s a public safety issue and it’s also an animal rights issue,” Ferrera said. “The horses that we’ve seen have exhibited some signs of not really being taken care of that well, although I do understand that there are some individuals who do take very good care of their horses.”

Councilor Justin Hurst, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said he also wants to hear from opponents of the proposed ban, and from animal protection organizations, while also conferring with the police and law departments.

“We’ll do our due diligence,” Hurst said.

The Cambridge law prohibits people from riding a horse on public roadways except by permission of the commissioner of public works, “except that, on the occasion of a military exercise, parade or review.”

Jose Rubero, who cares for horses at a Belchertown farm and is among riders in Springfield, said he was unable to attend the meeting after learning of it, but will meet with councilors at a future meeting to oppose any ban.

The riding of horses on city streets is a “joyous” practice, and there should be no concern for public safety, Rubero said. He said the riders are riding safely, and he believes there is some “harassment” of riders by police.

Ryan Walsh, spokesman for the Springfield Police Department, reached after the meeting said he had no knowledge of harassment. Horseback riding is legal and is only a problem if riders are not obeying the rules of the road, such as traffic lights, he said.

Rivera suggested that the council create a permit process for anyone using horses for street transportation to make sure passage is safe. With today’s day and age of texting on the road, it’s just a matter of time before someone is killed, she said.

“I think it’s reckless,” said Coakley-Rivera, a former state legislator who is running for Hampden County register of deeds. “I think it’s dangerous for everyone involved.”

She said some horses she has seen on the road do not appear to be given proper care, such as having scars and not having water. She provided councilors with some photos that she took.

Resident Yolanda Cancel said a primary concern is that the council hear from both sides of the issue, but she agrees it is important to make sure horses have proper care and storage. Regarding the Cambridge law, Cancel said that Springfield is not Cambridge and should not try to mirror Cambridge.

Other councilors at the meeting were council president Orlando Ramos and councilors Adam Gomez and Jesse Lederman. There was also a representative of the Western Mass. Animal Rights Advocates attending in support of Ferrera.

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