The Roman capital has been petitioned to stop "the unjustified exploitation of animals" after a horse collapsed under the load of a tourist carriage.

The incident that triggered the outrage happened on October 17 in a busy shopping street, when the horse stumbled on a metal grate before collapsing in a street full of pedestrians.

Ignoring the concern of onlookers the driver continued on to the Spanish Steps, in spite of being asked to take the animal for a vet's inspection The Observer reported.

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"Subjecting animals to inhumane labour in the name of an anachronistic tradition is animal abuse," said a spokesperson for environmental rights group Alleanza Popolare Ecologista.

"Horses in Rome are forced, against their will, to tow extremely heavy loads on slippery pavements and amid noisy traffic. We ask the mayor, Virginia Raggi, to stop this unjustified exploitation of animals."

An unloaded carriage weighs 800kg, before any tourists step in.

The street cover has previously tripped up other laden horses, however the national agency for animal protection, ENPA, says this does not excuse what happened.

"To make this story even more disturbing is the behaviour of the driver," they said "It was as if nothing had happened, and so the true health of the horse remains a mystery."

The incident was filmed by a bystander Rinaldo Sidoli. Posting images to social media, Sidoli said that it was proof that the city "must urgently approve this measure that can save life to many horses."

There are currently 32 licensed carriage operators in Rome. Photo / Unsplash, Leigh Cooper
There are currently 32 licensed carriage operators in Rome. Photo / Unsplash, Leigh Cooper

Commenting on the number of tourists witnessing the scene, he called it a "slap in the face for the image of the Beautiful country."

Horse-drawn carriages, a popular attraction for couples, are a lucrative tourist business in Rome. Some operators charge as much as 350 euro (or $610) for a couple of hours hire. For many visitors the botticelle, as they are known, are a familiar sight and sound of the Italian capital.

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However, there are those with a less Romantic view of the pastime. A succession of mayors have made popular pledges to ban the carts all together. Yet so far the proposed measures are all minor concessions – such as, moving the carriages to city parks and banning tours when temperatures exceed 30C – although these are still not in place.

The incumbent mayor Virginia Raggi led her 2016 campaign with the promise of a carriage ban as part of wider tourism reforms.

Yet ENPA has accused them of being slow to enact any promises, calling the situation facing carriage horses this summer an "emergency".

The condition of the horse involved on Thursday's incident is as yet unknown. However previously horses have collapsed and died while working for carriage drivers. In 2008 a laden horse collapsed and died in front of the Colosseum with another horse dying after being hit by a vehicle, just months earlier. In 2012 police halted a driver after he was seen to beat his horse which had stumbled near the Spanish Steps.

There are currently 32 licences for carriage-tour operators in Rome with around 80 horses working on the streets.

While many tourists still have a rose-tinted view of a horse-drawn ride through Rome, incidents such as last Thursday in a busy street are raising animal welfare concerns for both locals and visitors.

Un cavallo è caduto giovedì 17 ottobre, alle 10:30, in Via Condotti, scivolando su un tombino. Troviamo inaccettabile il comportamento del vetturino, che pur invitato dai passanti a far visitare la povera bestiola da un veterinario, ha proseguito la sua corsa come se nulla fosse accaduto in direzione Piazza di Spagna. Sottoporre gli animali a fatiche disumane nel nome di una tradizione anacronistica è maltrattamento animale. I cavalli a Roma sono costretti, contro la loro volontà, a trainare tutti i giorni carichi estremamente pesanti (solo la carrozza pesa ben 800 kg) tra il frastuono del traffico e la pavimentazione sdrucciolevole. Chiediamo al Sindaco Virginia Raggi di fermare questo sfruttamento ingiustificato di animali. Ricordiamo che l’abolizione delle botticelle era il primo punto del programma che aveva sottoscritto davanti a tutte le principali associazioni animaliste nel 2016. A quanto pare, è rimasta lettera morta. L’ennesimo tradimento a chi difende e rispetta gli ultimi tra gli ultimi. Ci appelliamo a tutti gli amanti degli animali per la costruzione di una mobilitazione che porti a fermare questa crudeltà. Il 9 luglio la commissione Trasporti della Camera aveva accolto la riscrittura dell’art.70 del codice stradale, quello che consente il servizio di piazza con veicoli a trazione animale. L'emendamento presentato e sostenuto dall’on. Patrizia Prestipino (Pd), e dalle esponenti di Forza Italia, Michela Vittoria Brambilla e Federica Zanella si è arenato in Aula. Il legislatore deve far approvare con urgenza questo provvedimento che può salvare la vita a tanti cavalli. La scena dell'equino che stramazza a terra ha lasciato sgomenti molti turisti. Questo spettacolo indegno è l’ennesimo schiaffo all'immagine del Bel Paese. È arrivato il momento che il Parlamento ascolti la crescente sensibilità degli italiani nei confronti dei diritti degli animali.

Posted by Rinaldo Sidoli on Thursday, 17 October 2019