Badal, Babloo and Jackpot stand beside each other, their tails lashing out at flies and muzzles buried in hay-filled plastic cans. Their hind hooves, tied to short ropes, stamp impatiently on an uneven stable floor that reeks of horse dung.
This stable, hidden behind a wall of trees on a dirt track off Fort’s Karnak Bunder, is one of the nine unlicensed stables in the city where owners of the Victoria horse carriages keep their horses.
Essentially a dingy shed with broken walls and a tarpaulin roof, the stable was an abandoned Central Railways building before it was taken over by horse owners more than two decades ago. It now houses 12 horses tied side by side with no room for movement, several scattered cans of water and horse feed, and two ceiling fans.
Outside, on the dirt path, 12 shiny Victoria buggies are parked in a line, waiting to be taken out on their evening rides around the Gateway of India. These popular tourist rides might be history soon, after the Bombay high court’s directive to transport 170 city horses from these illegal stables to a location, possibly in Panvel, under the care of the Animals and Birds Charitable Trust which filed the petition.
The Victoria owners are outraged at being accused of mistreating their animals by keeping them tied all night and overloading the buggies pulled by them. “Each horse provides a living to at least five families. Why would we mistreat the animals that feed us?” said Santosh Gupta, 35, a Victoria owner.
“An ideal stable should have spacious cubicles for each horse, with water troughs, hay on the floor and grooves for drainage,” said Lt. Col. JC Khanna, secretary of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
With the prospect of losing their horses and livelihoods looming larger, the keepers are distraught. “If they will separate us from our horses, then they must teach us how to drive taxis or give us a line of shops to run,” said Prabhu Naidu, 25, a buggy owner.