Of Humans and Horses

by Mary Tutwiler

Robin May, The Independent’s photo editor, and I went to photograph the Landry and Williams families for our story on an ordinance prohibiting horseback riding in Breaux Bridge. Robin got her first horse when she was 10 years old and has owned and ridden horses for the last 30 years. When we arrived at Joyce Landry’s house, we found two horses and a pony. The stable is a homemade affair. An abandoned car holds saddles and bridles.

“Initially, when we arrived, it was a real nice scene,” says Robin. “Horses saddled up, kids everywhere, summer in a neighborhood. But upon a closer look, there were things that alarmed me. The poor condition of the horses — skinny, bony, very thin. The stalls were filthy: horses were standing in water and piles of old manure. The hay was old and moldy. The stalls hadn’t been cleaned in a while.”

Robin scolded some of the kids, who said they cleaned out the stalls every day, but that was obviously not the case.

We were both disturbed, and I understood the emotional impetus for the proposed ordinance from Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme. He is concerned for the welfare of the animals.

Robin and I talked about this in the car on the way back to the paper and concluded that while there certainly needs to be more supervision and possibly some intervention to protect those horses, the proposed ordinance is not the way.

The town is considering a new ordinance to prohibit riding horses, even though the Breaux Bridge City Council passed a law to regulate riding on city streets just three months ago. Rather than regulate behavior, which is within the jurisdiction of city government, the mayor wants to shut down the whole activity, despite its positive side.

First of all, horses and kids are a great combination. Joyce Landry says in the story that the horses keep her grand kids and nephews out of trouble. Caring for horses or any animal should teach responsibility and compassion. But the knowledge of how to care for large animals is not innate; children need to be taught what to do.

Banning horses from city streets doesn’t do anything to help kids learn how to care for horses, and it flies in the face of a long-standing tradition of horse culture in the Creole community. That tradition is obvious. There are more than 200 horses kept in back yards in an area close to city hall that is approximately the size of Lafayette’s Freetown neighborhood.

We suggest the city partner with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the Humane Society or a 4-H club and perhaps the local feed store to set up an educational program on how to properly care for a horse. It’s not unreasonable to require folks who keep horses in the city limits to take a course and earn a certificate on horse management and care. The existing ordinance regulating riding horses in town already takes care of how to behave on horseback while on city streets.

While we do agree that some of the horses we saw need assistance from the Humane Society, we think the problem is neglect through ignorance rather than willfulness. The boys and young men Robin and I met were clearly proud of their horses and their riding club. Horsemanship is a positive force in a community struggling with poverty, crime and a lack of adult male leadership. We suggest Mayor Delhomme take a serious look at whom his proposed ordinance targets. It will not affect those with property outside the city limits, ostensibly more prosperous horse owners, like the mayor himself. Leadership requires clear vision, good judgment and fairness. It’s important that Delhomme demonstrate the kind of compassion and understanding for his human constituency that he has for the town’s equine residents.