Is it cruel for a horse to pull a canal boat?

I have asked the question in the title because a horse-drawn barge business run by Jenny Roberts has closed after cruelty claims. After 35 years of operating, Jenny Roberts who owns a 1935 narrowboat called Iona has closed her business, the Goldaming Packetboat Company, and retired her horses because of “snowflakes” who don’t understand the nature of the business and have criticised her for being cruel to her horses. They argue that it is too demanding for a horse to pull a canal boat.

Horse drawn barge on the Kennet and Avon Canal
Horse drawn barge on the Kennet and Avon Canal. This is not Jenny Roberts. The image for illustration purposes only. Photo: Wikipedia.

She has clashed with pedestrians on the tow path which has made the journey too stressful. It appears that some pedestrians refused to step away to let the horse pass. The situation has been getting worse over the last couple of years, she said.

Jenny Roberts has concluded that it is no longer safe to operate when bearing in mind the Maritime and Coastguard Agency rules. I think what she’s saying is that she can’t comply with those rules when bearing in mind the difficulties due to the presence of “snowflake” pedestrians and inexperienced individuals.

There is an unprecedented number of unlicensed marine craft of various types including paddle boards and inflatables. They are being used by inexperienced people which appear to be making Jenny Roberts’s life intolerable and she believes that an accident is about to happen because it is very difficult for a narrowboat to manoeuvre quickly enough to avoid inexperienced people on the waterways.

On the tow path there are runners, dogs off leads, pushchairs and speeding bikes all of which exacerbate the situation and make an accident more likely.

Jenny Roberts gets shouted out apparently saying things like “That’s really cruel, what are you doing to those horses.”

Jenny thinks that they don’t understand and that a horse can pull her boat quite easily as it is not heavy in the water.

I checked whether people who use narrowboats and therefore have knowledge of them are concerned about the possibility that it might be cruel to horse. Personally, I cannot see how it can be cruel because the friction of the boat simply isn’t there. The effort needed to pull the boat is not huge. This is confirmed by the Canal Junction website which says that the effort in keeping a loaded boat moving provided the water is deep enough is not that hard. And once the inertia has been overcome it takes relatively little effort because the horse is simply overcoming the friction of the water and wind. I conclude, therefore, that these really are snowflakes who misguidedly have criticised Jenny Roberts into retiring against her best wishes.

I should appreciate the views of anybody else on this matter.

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