Residents and tourists on the Isle of Man have relied on the Douglas Horse Tram Service for over 140 years. This week, however, a local vet put a screeching halt to the city’s horse drawn transport. The tram horses have taken ill.

A few of the horses have contracted a respiratory illness is not uncommon but is contagious among horses (not humans). It is not life threatening, the horses will all recover but they are being confined to their stable to receive a course of antibiotics and to mitigate transmission to other horses.

“It is not unreasonable to expect the horses to be fully fit and back in action in the next 10 to 14 days,” explained Ray Cox, Director of Milan Vets.

Ian Bates, Head of Public Transport Operations, added, “We understand this is disappointing news for our customers. However, the welfare of the horses always comes first. We are confident that the horses will make a full recovery and we will work with the vets to resume our services as soon as possible.”

Isle of Man tram circa 1959

About the Tram Service
The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. It’s known for its rugged coastline, medieval castles and rural landscape, rising to a mountainous center. In the capital, Douglas, the Manx Museum traces the island’s Celtic and Viking heritage. You may have heard of “The Isle of Man TT” the annual cross-country motorcycle race around the island.

The Douglas Bay Horse Tramway runs along the seafront promenade for 1.6 miles (2.6 km), from the southern terminus at the Victoria Pier to Derby Castle. The tram is a 3-foot gauge in which a double track was laid down the middle of the road. The carriages are pulled along the rails by horses. In service since 1876 the trams stopped running in 2016 because of financial overruns. Public outcry forced the House of Keys to develop a plan to keep the trams going. Local government assumed operation and within short order the trams and horses returned for the summer tourist season.

Isle of Man tram circa 1876

The Isle of Man’s transport is the world’s last remaining 19th century original horse-drawn passenger tramway. The trams themselves are testimony to the skills of 18th century craftsmen. Built between 1883 and 1913, the vehicles vary in style and configuration. Over the years some were dismantled, others retired to museums and the rest remain in service today.

About the “Trammers”
There are currently 21 horses (20 geldings and one filly), of which 15 operate the service. The remaining six are young horses or horses in training. The horses start training when they are approximately four years old, and working for approximately 20 years.

In the summer the horses work for one hour to two hours a day. Off season the horses are pastured around the island. On reaching retirement, they spend the rest of their life being cared for at the Isle of Man Home of Rest for Old Horses on Richmond Hill.

The stable site includes photos and insightful bios for each of the working horses (adorable).

Wishing all the horses a speedy recover!

Photography Courtesy the Manx National Heritage Museum and Mark Edwards.