Hold your horses! Come see the latest ‘horseless’ carriage

by Len Lear
Posted 10/5/23

You might say this article is coming to you straight from the horse's mouth because Janet White refuses to rein it in.

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Hold your horses! Come see the latest ‘horseless’ carriage


You might say this article is coming to you straight from the horse's mouth because Janet White refuses to rein it in or get off her high horse regarding the issue of banning horse-drawn carriages. 

White, of Eastern Montgomery County, has been on the bandwagon for years, crusading for the elimination of horse-drawn carriages for tourists in Center  City and replacing them with “e-carriages.”

“I first saw the horses pulling carriages in Center City when I was a child,” she told us last week, “and it always bothered me – the horses struggling to pull heavy carriages in endless loops in extreme weather through dangerous traffic. They always looked so distressed and defeated.” 

White, who displayed an e-carriage at Petapalooza on Sept. 9 on East Highland Avenue and Germantown Avenue and will do so again at Fall for the Arts, is so passionate about this subject that in 2017 she started a nonprofit, Carriage Horse Freedom, that is working to put the cart before the horse (or the carriage before the horse), so to speak. She believes that this change, if implemented in Philadelphia, could have a domino effect across the country.

The genesis of the e-carriage apparently came from Kyle Kelly, a businessperson in Charleston, South Carolina, who created the so-called “e-carriage” that looks much like a horse-drawn carriage but is actually powered by 16 batteries. It has been described by a Charleston reporter as “a weird new car that’s a mash-up between a horseless carriage in its body appearance and a modern electric vehicle in its power train.”

Janet White considers horse-drawn carriages an example of cruelty to animals, as do numerous animal rights organizations. The horses can develop respiratory ailments from breathing in exhaust fumes and suffer debilitating leg problems from walking on hard surfaces. 

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), when the horses become too enfeebled to pull the carriage, they are taken to auctions in Pennsylvania and sold to companies that transport the animals to Mexico or Canada, where they are slaughtered for exported meat.

“I have always tried to help homeless animals and protect animals in precarious situations,” White said, “but my formal involvement with animal activism was in 2015 when I joined a group of activists in Center City protesting horse-drawn carriages. I started my own animal advocacy group because I wanted to expand that street activism into a professional organization seeking a win-win solution, which I eventually came to believe is electric horseless carriages (e-carriages).” 

Recently, White put her money where her beliefs are and bought an e-carriage of her own from a Florida company. She debuted it in Philadelphia’s Independence Day parade, thus making Philadelphia the first major U.S. city in which an e-carriage has been introduced. (Some cities in Mexico and India have used e-carriages in recent years.) “We expect to operate tours next year and are currently offering carriage rentals for private events,” White said. “The e-carriage provides all of the charm with none of the harm.”  

Her organization, Carriage Horse Freedom, has organized educational outreaches, attempting to raise public awareness about the problems associated with the horse-drawn carriage practice. They have met with numerous Philadelphia city officials to lobby them on the issue and urge the introduction of legislation that would ban horse-drawn carriages. 

They have been working most closely with City Councilman Mark Squilla, in whose district the horse-drawn carriages operate, and his office says he supports their mission. Squilla has promised to introduce legislation for a ban if the e-carriages are deemed street-worthy. Squilla has connected White with PennDOT to ensure the carriage is compatible with Philadelphia streets.

White has received support from The UnTours Foundation, which helped financially with the purchase of her e-carriage. Vance Lehmkuhl, director of Old City’s American Vegan Center, has said he plans to use White’s carriage for his Veg History Tours, and White has started her own electric carriage company, FREe-Carriages.

White's e-carriage is named “Caroline” in honor of Caroline Earle White (no relation to Janet), one of the founders of the Women's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1869, now known as the Women's Animal Center in Bensalem.

White has also worked with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) to learn about the veterinary issues associated with horse-drawn carriages. It is the veterinary data upon which she bases her advocacy. HSVMA veterinarians have attempted to educate Philadelphia city officials about the harm this practice causes, and they have also called for a ban on HDC.

For more information, email chfphiladelphia@gmail.com or visit facebook.com/carriagehorsefreedom. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com