The Godalming Packetboat Company has shut up shop after 35 years after coming under fire for its traditional use of horses to pull the barge Iona along the National Trust’s unspoilt River Wey and Godalming Navigations. Owner Jenny Roberts said her horses Buddy, Alizee and Espoir had been retired and the Iona, which was built in 1935, had been loaned out to the Tiverton Canal Company on the Grand Western Canal in Devon.
Ms Roberts said “snowflakes” who did not understand the nature of the business had accused her of animal cruelty.
Snowflake is a derogatory slang term for someone who is overly sensitive or easily offended.
Ms Roberts also said frequent confrontations with towpath-users who refused to let her horses pass had made the pleasure trips too stressful.
She said: “No one is sadder than me because I have been doing it for 35 years. It’s been getting worse over the last couple of years.”
She continued: “All passenger boats can only operate under Maritime and Coastguard Agency rules and we have come to the conclusion that the River Wey is no longer a safe environment to run a horse-drawn boat.
“There are now an unprecedented number of unlicensed paddle boards and inflatables with inexperienced people on them.
“This is just an accident waiting to happen, when trying to dodge them with 17 tons of narrowboat that does not stop on a sixpence.
“With large numbers of speeding bikes, runners, dogs off leads and people with pushchairs, we are also suffering a fair bit of verbal abuse, the towpath has become totally unusable for a horse.”
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Ms Roberts and her horses and barge have appeared in television programmes including Inspector Morse, Coronation Street and The Victorian Farm as well as the remake of The Railway Children film in 2000.
She said: “I get people shouting things like ‘That’s really cruel, what are you doing to those horses?’
“But they don’t understand — it’s an easy pull for a horse. I could pull that boat, it’s on water so it’s not heavy.”
The Godalming Packetboat Company’s closure means there are now just three locations in Britain running horse-drawn barge trips — Llangollen, Newbury and Tiverton.
Philip Brind of the Tiverton Canal Company said he was “very excited” to be taking on the historic Iona but was saddened by the abuse that forced Jenny to shut her company.
“We have had a couple of woke comments, where in the past people who don’t understand horses, who live in a bubble, they believe that a heavy horse should be left to frolick in a nice big open field.
“My answer to that is if you ever want to upset a horse, then don’t give it any duty, don’t give it any work. That horse will be the saddest you’ve ever seen.
“They are like human beings, they like meaning and purpose and if you take that away from them, you kill them.”