Forced to drink sewage water, brutally beaten by their owners and never seeing a vet – these are the brutal conditions endured by the horses forced to work pulling tourist carriages through Acapulco.
Left to spend their days without food, tethered alongside drug addicts under the city’s bridges, the emaciated animals are forced to work long hours after dark ferrying tourists around the streets of the Mexican Pacific Coast resort.
‘I don’t enjoy beating my horse, but sometimes he gives me no choice,’ said Jose Alberto Ramirez, who charges tourists £10 for a 30-minute ride in his brightly-lit pumpkin carriage. ‘You have to remember that these are wild animals and that the only thing they understand is violence.’
Mexico’s government banned the use of animals for recreational purposes in 2015, putting an end to many of the country’s circuses.
And a flood of complaints of their treatment has prompted Acapulco’s local government to consider banning horses from pulling Cinderella-style carriages from next year.
‘It’s an unacceptable situation,’ said Acapulco city spokeswoman Irving Avila. ‘Not only is the practice of driving a horse down a four-lane carriageway extremely dangerous for the animal and passengers, but the living conditions of many animals defies belief.’
Rafael Gonzalez leaves his four horses beside an river into which locals dump raw sewage. He often neglects to feed them and leaves them nothing to drink but the filthy water that flows past the trees to which they are tethered for 16 hours every day.
‘They’re my property and I have nowhere else to keep them,’ Rafael told MailOnline when challenged on the conditions in which he keeps his animals. ‘They often become aggressive and try to bite me, if I left them anywhere else they could injure a tourist.’
‘They keep me up at night,’ said Samuel Morno, a homeless drug-addict who takes shelter under the same bridge where Rafael’s horses are left for 16 hours a day. ‘But if living under a bridge is good enough for me, then it’s good enough for them.’
‘I barely even noticed the horse when I got in for a ride,’ said one American tourist from Ohio who declined to be identified after stepping down from a brightly lit carriage pulled by a horse covered in scars and struggling to remain upright. ‘If they don’t treat their own animals with care then they don’t deserve to keep them working.’
Not all the horses in Acapulco live in such abject conditions. Orlando Vallejo is the president of the town’s horse-drawn-carriage drivers’ union, an organisation which claims that mistreatment of a few drivers’ animals will put them all out of business.
‘We have our horses cared for 24 hours a day and they see a vet once every six months,’ he told MailOnline from the compound where his 20 horses are kept, each provided with shade, fresh water and regular daily feeding sessions.
‘We hold our own drivers to account over the state of their animals, but we can’t speak for every driver in Acapulco,’ he said. ‘The few individuals who treat their animals like dirt are going to end up putting 200 people out of business.’
Despite his claims, not all of Orlando’s horses are in the best condition. One chestnut stallion displays an open wound on its lower back after being bitten by another horse and continually spits at it to keep it from itching.
The animal still hasn’t been seen by a vet. Another, a spotted male named Dalmation, recently had his hoof run over by a taxi and nevertheless continued working.
‘We plan to fight the ban, whether or not the government enters into dialogue,’ said Magdaleno Liberado, the night caretaker in Orlando’s yard, who is equipped with medicines to handle any problem the animals might present.
Should the 2017 ban come into effect, Orlando’s union plans to obstruct the city’s main roads and stage a hunger strike in front of the mayor’s office.
‘They don’t realise how many families depend on this business to survive,’ said Orlando.
The horse drawn carriage tourist attraction has been running along Acapulco’s beach-side road since 1953 and is considered one of the highlights of the town’s tourists attractions, second only to the cliff divers who launch themselves from over 30 metres into the foaming swell at the western end of the bay.
AnimaNaturalis, an animal rights organisation which helped force the country’s 2015 ban on using animals for recreation, says it is delighted with the actions of Mexico’s government.
Leonora Esquivel, AnimaNaturalis leader told MailOnline: ‘These animals are not objects that can be used for the fleeting pleasure of humans and we are glad that Mexico’s government has seen the suffering that such practices cause.’
Despite the carriage drivers union’s attempts to enter into dialogue with the government, the banning of their business on Acapulco’s streets is set to come into force at the end of the year.
‘The government says that when the ban takes effect they’ll confiscate my animals without paying me a penny,’ said Orlando.
‘But I’ll be damned if I allow that, I’ll sell them off to whoever wants them before that happens, even if that means local criminals,’ he added