It’s a common sight in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town to see a small horse trotting along the road, pulling a wooden cart behind him. Thanks to the dedication of the Cart Horse Protection Association (CHPA), most of the horses are now healthy and well cared for. Back in 1995, the CHPA was established in an attempt to address the appalling conditions in which these working horses lived and worked.


The carting industry started in District Six, where horses and carts were used to sell fish, fruit, vegetables, bottles and bones. As the ‘carties’ were forced to move to the Cape Flats, they were then too far from their markets to continue hawking, and they began collecting scrap metal instead. This led to an increase in carthorse operators, and many didn’t know how to look after their horses properly. Consequently, badly shod, thin, overloaded, overworked and abused carthorses became commonplace.

CHPA’s work

The CHPA provide clinic, patrol, call-out response, veterinary and rehabilitation services to working carthorses. They are committed to ensuring that all carthorses are fit, healthy and comfortable in their work and protected from abuse. The key to achieving this is through providing services, education and training to the carting community.

It is estimated that just over 400 working carthorses currently support over 6,000 people on the Cape Flats. HQ asked animal welfare inspector Diana Truter, who has worked for the CHPA for the last 14 years, about the work they do.

What services are provided by your clinic and training centre in Epping?

We provide horse cart owners with subsidised horse feed, the services of a farrier, harness and cart repairs, as well as free basic veterinary care. Carties can either visit us in Epping, which is central to the carting community, or at one of our nine clinics in the Cape Flats. We also offer education and give practical training to carthorse owners and drivers on proper care and health maintenance of their horses.

How does your ‘patrol and call-out response’ work?

We attend to all complaints. Usually these are worries about overloading, which are often not the case. We also conduct road patrols and scrap metal yard inspections. Penalties for the contravention of the Animal Protection Act by carthorse drivers include verbal and written warnings, prosecution and confiscation of the harness, or the horse, if necessary.

What veterinary services do you provide?

Everything! Whatever a horse needs, including healing a carthorse with a broken pelvis. Eighty percent of the carthorse owners are compassionate and caring about their horses, and if we have had to take their horse into care, they phone every day to see how the horse is doing. The other 20% harm their horses through ignorance, rather than intent. The carties really rely on us in a crisis and we are the first people they will call if anything happens to their horse. Common cases seen are motor vehicle accidents, colic, poisoning, dog attacks, dehydration and exhaustion. Sick and injured carthorses needing 24-hour care are admitted to the treatment stalls in Epping, where they are nursed back to health.

What happens at your recovery and rehabilitation centre?

The centre, near Somerset West, consists of 26 stables, paddocks with shelters and an indoor arena. It provides carthorses with a safe haven when abused, neglected or needing rest, rehabilitation, palliative or maternity care. Two of the grooms have been rehabilitated themselves from their previous lives in the Cape Flats. It is wonderful to see the transformation of the horses who come here. Each horse has his own personality and after just a few days of freedom in the paddocks their confidence comes back. It’s difficult to return horses to their owners, knowing that they cannot offer them the same comforting environment.

What does your education and training programme cover?

We hold weekly evening workshops in six areas of the Cape Flats, which the majority of the local carties attend. As the meetings are on their ‘home turf’, the carties feel more confident to ask questions and to share their difficulties. The type of problems we encounter are good owners but bad drivers, working horses too hard, or theft. In order to educate the carties we must make our message very simple and continually repeat it. Each week we cover a different aspect of the carting industry, including veterinary, farriery, correct feeding, grooming, harnesses, working speed and safety on the roads. Consequently, more horses are visiting the clinics and fewer complaints are received.

The CHPA has also held education workshops for children in the carthorse communities to teach them about taking care of horses, why they shouldn’t untie horses or throw stones at them, and what to do if they see a horse being neglected or abused.

How do you monitor the carthorses?

We try to check each carthorse once every month, including those retired and too young to work yet. All working carthorses are registered with the CHPA and records are kept of all interaction with the horses and owners. Our Home Visits Project focuses on the living conditions of carthorses in 90 stable yards across the Cape Flats. Each visit assesses the horse, stable size, tethering, access to grazing, availability of feed and water, cleanliness of the stables and bedding, stable floor and structure, safety and ventilation. If yards do not meet the required standard an intervention is put in place.

How are you trying to prevent the abuse of carthorses?

We can only lessen the abuse of carthorses. Unfortunately, we cannot stop it altogether. Our mission is education. District and neighbourhood watches help by being our eyes on the street. If horses are worked too hard, their harnesses are confiscated. The CHPA has also established a regulated carting industry so that all the carts are now fitted with ID plates and the drivers carry E53 permits, which is like a driver’s licence.

How can the public tell if a carthorse is being overloaded?

Scrap doesn’t usually overload the larger horses, but it can be too much for the smaller ponies. Not so obvious are wet mattresses and additional passengers. If the horse appears to be ‘climbing on his toes’ to pull away or is being pushed along when he is trying to stop, it’s a sure sign of overloading.

Text: Janet Stevens

The full article appears in the December issue (117) of HQ magazine > Shop now