Clydesdale slips on Granite Island causeway

City of Victor Harbor horse tram Clydesdale Jay Jay is pictured lying on the causeway after falling in July.
City of Victor Harbor horse tram Clydesdale Jay Jay is pictured lying on the causeway after falling in July.

The health of the iconic Clydesdales that pull the horse tram across the causeway is under the microscope after Jay Jay, one of the horses owned by Victor Harbor council, slipped while working.

Jay Jay is one of 11 Clydesdales that are cared for by the council.

Five are regularly in work and six are in training.

The fall occurred in July and council has stated that Jay Jay is back at work after a short rest following the incident.

A council spokesperson said it was believed the horse slipped and stumbled to the ground while pulling the tram.

The cause of the fall was determined to be wet rubber matting, which runs along the centre of the causeway railway line.

It was excessively wet due to an earlier downpour of rain, the council spokesperson said.

Following the incident, council staff removed Jay Jay's harness equipment and after some encouragement from one of the tram's stalwart horses, Misty, he managed to get himself up. 

Victor Harbor mayor Graham Philp said Jay Jay has returned to the tram stables none the worse for his experience.

He said the incident was reported by a concerned tram passenger to the RSPCA, which, after communicating with council, was satisfied that “the incident was just an unfortunate accident”.

"We understand there has been some concern from people in the community who have heard about the incident, but we can assure you Jay Jay is fine," Mr Philp said.

"He has undergone the appropriate checks with a vet and was given a short spell before making his return to work.

"Horse tram operations during excessively inclement weather will continue to be carefully monitored to ensure the safety of staff, horses and passengers.

"The community can be assured that the welfare of our horses is the highest priority for council and the Victor Harbor horse tram team."

He said the incident had fuelled speculation in the community that the fact the horse was barefoot contributed to the fall. But council had investigated the matter and preliminary discussions with a barefoot trimming professional suggested bare hooves should actually have more traction than shoes on a wet rubber surface.

The barefoot trial was an initiative of the former Victor Harbor Horse Tram Committee.

The trial is currently under review with a broad range of equine professionals being consulted.

In a letter to council in August 2013, the RSPCA indicated the barefoot trimming trial demonstrates the council's commitment to hoof health.

The health of the horse tram Clydesdales has been under intense scrutiny during the past four years following the death of BJ Coop on July 11, 2011.

BJ Coop had to be euthanised after contracting acute laminitis.

The vet report from Dr David Byrne of the Morphettville Equine Clinic, where BJ Coop was evaluated, noted the horse had little gut fill, was in poor body condition, was running a high temperature and heart rate, and was reluctant to place any pressure on both his hind legs due to the laminitis.

The death caused an uproar throughout the region, with community anger raising questions about who was responsible for letting horses be in such a condition.

Council undertook an independent investigation into the matter and established the Horse Tram Advisory Committee.

In May 2012, the council appointed Richard van Dijk as the new team leader of horse husbandry.

He has been widely praised for his role in caring for the animals and there had been no incidents under his care.

Mr van Dijk is currently absent from his role, on stress leave. He asked that the cause of his stress remain confidential.

Earlier this year the council disbanded the section 41 Horse Tram Advisory Committee, which consisted of members with horse husbandry credentials.