Tourists love to view the Colosseum and other famous landmarks in Rome from the back of a horse-drawn carriage but animal rights activists said Tuesday it's time to ban the practice.
Traffic, pollution, heat and heavy carriages expose the horses to health risks, the activists said, adding that the animals rest in dark and humid stables.
"They are in disastrous condition, forced to work in an urban environment and exposed to a million dangers," said Claudio Locuratolo, one of the 1,700 volunteers of ENPA, an association of activists who patrol the streets to monitor the horses' condition.
According to the association, about 90 horses carry tourists to see the city's landmarks on busy streets full of speeding cars and motorbikes.
The activists have appealed to Rome's city hall to stop the service, proposing that the coachmen be rehired as cab drivers. City hall, which regulates the licenses for both, has not taken a public stance and declined to comment Tuesday.
The coachmen reject accusations that their horses are overworked or abused.
"The horses are our partners at work, and very often, they are also partners for life," said 44-year-old Roberto Sonnino, who owns five horses and has been a coachman for 20 years.
"How could we ever mistreat a companion that strolls around the town with us all day?" said Sonnino, his carriage parked near the Spanish Steps.
Coachmen acknowledge that the stables are in poor condition, but argue they have nowhere else to take the animals.
Emiliano Carcangio, a horse veterinarian at a Rome clinic, believes the accusations are largely exaggerated.
"At a slow pace, they don't struggle with the weight," Carcangio said.