Horses moving to makeshift stable

About 30, mostly used in arabbing, will be housed in Southwest Baltimore

December 14, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Through mud and icy drizzle, a team of city workers and volunteers yesterday began the arduous task of transporting to a makeshift stable 28 horses -- many of them used for arabbing, the Baltimore institution of vendors hawking produce from horse-drawn wagons.

Meanwhile, other workers scrambled through the muck to put the finishing touches on two tents, fencing and a guardhouse on an empty lot beneath the Monroe Street bridge in Southwest Baltimore that will become the horses' temporary home.

In August, city officials condemned a West Baltimore stable that had housed 51 horses and ponies, noting structural problems and filth. The Maryland Jockey Club agreed to keep the animals temporarily beneath a tent at Pimlico Race Course, while city officials worked to find a permanent stable. The contract ends today.

But city leaders do not have a long-term solution for the horses. They are considering building a permanent stable on the South Monroe Street property, a desolate stretch beside abandoned railroad tracks at the south end of Fulton Avenue. They have no timetable for a completed structure.

And yesterday, during the chaotic move, they managed to transport 14 horses because of construction delays, including a problem setting up a water line, said Olivia Farrow, Baltimore's assistant commissioner for environmental health. The rest of the horses will be moved today. The closing of the stable in August highlighted tensions between the city and the vendors, who have clashed over permits and the health of the animals. Many arabbers and their advocates feared the vending tradition, which dates to the 19th century, would disappear.

City leaders promised to help the practice endure but announced changes to the loosely regulated practice of arabbing. They pledged to enforce permits and allow only "working horses" -- engaged in arabbing or carriage rides -- to reside at the new location. The new rules corresponded to a city ordinance forbidding horses as pets.

The move to the Monroe Street location marks the end of months of wrangling between city officials and some horse owners, who hoped exceptions could be made for pets that were retired from pulling fruit carts.

Farrow said the city worked with rescue organizations to find homes for horses owned as pets and guided horse owners on getting permits for working animals. Owners were told that the Monroe Street location could house 28 horses. At one point, officials said horse owners would have to pay to board their animals, but that has not been finalized.

James Chase, 33, who first commanded a horse and cart at age 10, said he had to sell seven of his 11 horses. Four, which are authorized to provide carriage rides, are moving to the stable.

"I had no choice," said Chase. "It's whatever the city says. You got to play ball the way they play it."

Chase, whose grandfather Donald "Manboy" Savoy operated the condemned West Baltimore stable and has been arabbing for a half-century, said he has been frustrated with the process.

Chase said the city notified him a couple of weeks ago that he could bring only four horses to the temporary stable. Forced to find buyers for the others on short notice, the horses sold for a fraction of what they are worth, he said. One horse, which he purchased years ago for $2,000, sold for $400, he said.

But Farrow said horse owners knew months ago that not all the animals would be allowed to move. She said officials struggled to get horse owners to verify the actual number of working horses.

"Let's be honest, most of the horses were never working," she said. "We were happy to see some of the horses go on to retirement in a humane existence, instead of standing up all day in a stall."

Dorothy Johns, whose grandmother, Mildred Allen, was one of the first black female arabbers in the city, said she reluctantly sold six of her family's 10 horses. But she thinks the city is staying true to its word to help horse owners.

"I'm just hopeful this is going to work out," she said.

Tyrone Burgess, wasn't as optimistic. He said he spent most of yesterday morning cleaning the Pimlico stall, readying his horse, Dipsey, a 3-year-old chestnut saddlebred, for the move. "We get there, and they don't even have all the stalls up -- my horse is still up in Pimlico," he said.

He is also worried about the horses' safety.

"It's a terrible neighborhood, if not worse than Retreat Street," Burgess said referring to the location of the condemned stable. "But up there, people knew the horses were there, they didn't bother them. Now, to take them to the heart of the 'hood and keep them under a bridge? People might harm a defenseless animal."

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