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Carriage Horse Breaks Free in City Streets Again

Annapolis, MD - June 22, 2006
By Nicole Young, Staff Writer The Capital

Carriage handlers need to learn to hold their horses.

For the second time in less than a month, a buggy-hauling horse broke free of its handler Friday and galloped through downtown streets. Sir Shad was spooked by a truck blocking Prince George Street and took off at a gallop toward East Street with no driver, taking passengers along for the ride.

Sir Shad during a training session

Charles Goldblum, an Annapolis resident who witnessed the incident, described a scene straight out of a movie, in which the coachman was thrown from the carriage and passengers, including several children, were "screaming their heads off." The horse stopped only when he fell on East Street.

The coachman suffered a bruised arm and none of the passengers was injured in the incident, but Sir Shad did suffer some scratches.

No police report was filed, and officials at Annapolis Carriage are downplaying the incident as simply a case of a scared horse. Still, company officials plan to take the horse off the street for special training as a safety precaution.

"Horses are a flight animal, not a predator," said Toby Rohrbach, owner of Annapolis Carriage. "Shad just decided he was not going past this truck, and to us that says he's too sensitive to be walking the street."

On May 29, Sir Shad, a 7-year-old Percheron, broke free from his harness while being unhitched and ran down Taylor Avenue, according to police reports.

When there is anything in the vicinity of the horse that's larger - a truck, for instance - the horse is always aware, Mr. Rohrbach explained. In last week's case, the horse was simply too sensitive to the noise and size.

After that incident, Mr. Rohrbach decided the best course of action was to take Sir Shad off the streets, sending the horse back to obedience school, in hopes of desensitizing him to the sounds of the city.

"We are doing a behavioral management training on the horse and will take him back from there," Mr. Rohrbach said. "Last year this horse ran (routinely) and never had an issue, but we shut the horse down for safety's sake."

Sir Shad will undergo about a month of noise training at Red Dove Farm. He'll be introduced to every possible noise he could run into as a carriage horse. Shad was initially trained about a year ago in a "bomb-proofing school," where many policemen take horses for training, Mr. Rohrbach said.

"We take care of the people and we take care of the horses," Mr. Rohrbach said. "He has passed these same types of trucks 100 times and just this time it was different. He has had buses pass him, motorcycles too, but we don't want to run the risk of hurting anyone."

Mr. Rohrbach declined to name the person handling the horse or the passengers in the carriage, but said the coachman had been working with horses for about three years.

Mr. Rohrbach said that although coachmen don't go through a formal training school, they attend sessions with more formally trained horse handlers before beginning work at Annapolis Carriage.

Regardless of the incidents of the last month, business will remain as usual for the year-old company, with two horses leading carriage tours of the city, especially during this busy tourist-driven time, he said.

Annapolis Carriage keeps one horse as a backup, in case a horse needs to be taken off the streets for any reason, Mr. Rohrbach said. The horses are used on historic carriage tours four days a week, with 20- and 40-minute trips.

Mr. Goldblum said he fears these situations might continue even with the one horse off the street, and said the passengers on the carriage could have been seriously injured.

"We really try to put an effort into making it as safe of an operation as possible, but like cars run red lights, things do happen," Mr. Rohrbach said. "It just so happens we have had some things happen in a very short period of time. We won't put (Sir Shad) back on the street if the training doesn't work."

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