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Vienna's fiaker horses work despite heat

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Vienna's fiaker horses work despite heat
Photo: Paul Gillingwater
11:47 CEST+02:00
Vienna's traditional horse-drawn carriage drivers have refused to give their horses a day off when temperatures soar above 35C, despite calls from Vienna's veterinary department that they should do so.

On Sunday, Salzburg's fiaker horses were given a rest day in their cool stables after the mercury soared to 35C. But a spokeswoman for Vienna's fiaker drivers, Martina Michelfeit-Stockinger, told the ORF that there are 400 working carriage horses in Vienna, and that only 116 are in use per day.

She added that many of the coach stands are in shady spots with a water fountain nearby. She said that the horses tend to do well in the heat, and that a vet who examined them during the hottest days last summer found no issues - “the only ones who had any problems were the drivers”.

Unlike their colleagues in Salzburg, Vienna fiaker drivers are restricted to working during the tourist season. “We can only earn money in a very short space of time. We can't work before 9am and the horses must be back in their stables by 11pm. For tourists from Arab countries, this is not ideal - they usually turn up after we've already headed home. My last tour is at 9pm,” Michelfeit-Stockinger said.

Fiaker drivers are asking for more flexible working hours so that they can start later in the day and work later in the evening - but complain that city authorities have refused to even discuss the matter. “Which is why we are being stubborn and continuing to work during the hours allowed - there hasn't been a case of a horse falling ill for years,” Michelfeit-Stockinger said.

However, Vienna's veterinary department (MA 60) says that even though horses are “adaptable” they still struggle to adjust to high temperatures in the city. City veterinarian Harald Wenzl said that a current study indicates that “horses can become stressed at high temperatures”. He said that the results of the study will be used to make new laws about when the fiaker drivers can operate.

Wenzl added that whilst outdoor temperatures exceed 30C city vets are checking the horses at the carriage stands, also on weekends, and monitoring their health and behaviour. “If there are any problems they are immediately taken back to the stables or pasture to rest.” He said he thought Salzburg had made the right decision in giving its horses time off on very hot days.

Anyone who spots a fiaker horse who looks exhausted or unwell can call the MA 60 on 01/4000/8060, stating the number plate and location of the carriage.

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