I WENT TO AN AUCTION last Monday. Not an auction for foreclosed homes. Not an auction for priceless art or jewelry or land. I went to the New Holland Livestock Auction in the Amish and Mennonite country of New Holland, Pennsylvania, where each week horses are sold — though I’d no intention of buying one. I know a thing or two about horses. I spend a significant amount of time with them and can groom them, bathe them, saddle them, walk them, run them on a lead, ride them, feed them, blanket them, work them in a round pen, give them medicine, soak their sore hooves, lift and stretch their hindlegs and forelegs, clean the undersides of their feet, bandage their legs, and minister to their wounds. But I could not foresee, in the spare few minutes each horse at such an auction is given to demonstrate its abilities, personality, strength, or lack thereof (whether young or old, muscled or thin), that I’d be able to determine whether any particular horse would be the one for me.
Besides, it was hard to even think at the auction. I took a seat in the large crowd of people — with the Amish men wearing straw hats, black pants, and jackets; with the Mennonite men in their black hats and suspendered pants; with the city slickers from somewhere else and the country folk from nearby; with children and their grandparents fussing over spilled sodas. People talked, laughed, visited, ate hot dogs, Amish pies, and French fries. We all sat sandwiched together in the steep, gray bleachers that formed an oval around the dirt ring in which the horses were shown, one after another, from ten a.m. until midafternoon. A “loose horse” was a horse that came into the auction ring without a rider; the horses with riders were called “saddle horses.” Loose horses are at a disadvantage in terms of finding a good home because even though they are often saddle broke they nonetheless sell for less without a rider atop them in the ring.
The fate of those horses that entered and exited the ring quickly — such as one thin copper-colored Thoroughbred mare I remember — seemed bleak, the implication being that the horse was barely worth the time it took to auction off. That particular Thoroughbred mare, whose long, flaxen mane and tail were braided, must have had someone who had cared enough for her to make her pretty, perhaps believing this would help sell her to a good home, where a girl might braid her once again. Her head hanging low, she slowly walked around the ring, only once, and then stepped out a side exit. If there was any bidding for her, I didn’t hear or see it.
More than once the black-bearded Mennonite man running the auction — someone called him Zimmerman — asked the audience to settle down. Given the noisy crowd and the loud, stern voice of the auctioneer calling out in rapid-fire succession the back-and-forth bidding for the animals, I did not expect the saddle horses to try so hard to do well. Horses are flight animals; they flee at the unfamiliar; fear is their dominant emotion. But they are social creatures, too. They aim to please because they’ve learned to trust, which meant that even the strong and healthy horses, of which there were many, obediently did as they were told amid the chaos of the auction: go forward; go back; turn left, now right; stop, immediately; go fast, go slow; stand still. They were willing to do as asked, as they’ve been over the centuries — to churn the soil in our fields, to fight our battles, to run our races until their lungs bleed or their bones break. This might possibly be their last chance to perform, and they mustered up that certain nobility and courage possessed by horses, as though they had upon their backs the Navajo of long ago, the warriors who, before battle, would whisper into the ears of their horses: Be brave and nothing will happen. We will come back safely.
BEFORE THE AUCTION BEGAN, I had walked through the barns adjoining the auction ring where the horses stood tied to their posts. There are approximately 9 million horses in the United States, and at the auction there were two hundred of not necessarily the unwanted but surely the unlucky. Unlucky because, though I suppose going to a horse auction might sound like a day in the country — Amish food and horse-drawn buggies and all that — this particular auction is frequented by men known as “kill buyers,” which, by association, makes New Holland a kill auction, one of the largest east of the Mississippi. Kill buyers (KBs) also are called “meat men” — the men who purchase horses, typically from the major kill auctions, and deliver them for slaughter, though they also visit Thoroughbred racetracks and wheel and deal with horse dealers who’ve secured horses elsewhere: former show horses from the hunter/jumper/eventing/dressage worlds whose unsuspecting owners believe the dealer will place their horses in good homes; horses listed in newspaper classifieds or on Craigslist (you can find them for sale for a dollar); surplus lesson horses; horses that start out at smaller auctions, such as the Hickory Auction in Pennsylvania, the Camelot Auction in New Jersey, or any of the other nearly one hundred horse auctions scattered across the U.S. All these places are entry points for what is termed the “slaughter pipeline”; and those horses unlucky enough to stay in the pipeline eventually arrive at bigger and potentially more deadly places such as New Holland, where, the day I attended, the younger Mennonite and Amish boys managed a parade of breeds and types (drafts, minis, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, fit and fat and healthy horses, tired and skinny horses, carriage horses, work horses, mares and geldings and stallions and foals) by whipping in the face the more frightened horses that took longer than a few seconds to understand what they were being told to do. Of course, not just KBs attend such auctions. And the horses being sold could have many possible new homes and potential uses — with families who want a trail horse, say, or with horse trainers, or with competitive riders looking for a strong event or endurance horse. Nonetheless, by the end of the day at any number of auctions around the country, the KBs have “bid for horses against private buyers, against each other and other dealers, as well as against horse rescues,” says Christy Sheidy of Another Chance 4 Horses, in Bernville, Pennsylvania. “The horses the kill buyers took could’ve easily been re-homed and gone on to live happy lives with families who want and appreciate them. They were not unwanted.”
Ultimately, kill buyers take what they need to satisfy their contracts with slaughterhouses. The day I visited New Holland, they were taking horses going for $500 or less; and though sometimes these were the young or the old, the sick or the skinny horses, it was clear that the healthy ones were preferred — the more body weight, the more money for the load. The buzz at New Holland that day was that a KB would receive about $600 from the slaughterhouse for each horse, though prices fluctuate depending on location, supply, and demand. A report quoted by a USDA slaughter statistician for that time period indicated the price of a horse at auction to be around forty-three cents per pound, but horse meat can fetch as much as fifteen dollars per pound in the retail market.
Because Americans don’t eat horses, it is surprising to learn that people of other cultures do. “Horse meat became popular after World War II,” says Carolyn Stull, animal welfare specialist at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. It was an inexpensive protein “for lower-income people in Europe, where beef was scarce, and old or lame draft horses were processed as affordable meat.” Prices have risen since World War II, but the market continues to be highly profitable for the foreign companies that process horses from the U.S. and Canada, both of which have large horse populations. In a paper concerning horse transport regulations, Stull cites the different types of horse meat various cultures prefer. For instance, the Japanese prefer draft horse meat, she writes, referencing a 1999 article titled “Horses Destined to Slaughter” (though at New Holland I heard that the Japanese and French like Quarter Horses the most because of the lean muscle mass). The Italians, cites Stull, prefer eighteen- to twenty-four-month-old horses; the French go for ten- to twelve-year-old horses; and the Swiss take the two- to three-year-olds.
There are currently no horse-slaughtering facilities in the U.S., which means horses are transported to Canada and Mexico before being put to a typically untimely death. In the 1980s there were sixteen slaughterhouses in the U.S. By 1993 there were about ten, scattered across the country — in Connecticut, Texas, Oregon, Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio. By the fall of 2007, the last three — two in Texas and one in Illinois — were shut down by courts that upheld state laws banning horse slaughter. The fight against slaughter within the U.S. grew from outrage over the fact that ex-racehorses like Ferdinand, Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year, as well as a racehorse named Exceller, who’d defeated two Triple Crown winners, had slipped through the cracks and been purchased for slaughter overseas (Exceller in Sweden in 1997, and Ferdinand in Japan in 2002). Slaughter opponents included the general public (seven in ten Americans are against it, according to Madeleine Pickens, former racehorse breeder and wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens); a majority of the Thoroughbred racing industry; and professionals within the horse industry (trainers, riders, breeders), all of whom, once they spoke up for horses, were labeled “animal rights activists” by the proslaughter contingency as a way to discredit them.
Slaughter, however, is not banned at the federal level, and individual states that have not banned it could see new slaughterhouses opened in the future. In early 2009, a Montana state legislator, aptly named Ed Butcher, tried and failed to lure the Chinese (who eat a lot of horses) into building a plant there. But Butcher has not given up. As of March 2010, even though he decided not to run for re-election, he told a reporter for the Montana Independent Record that he’s still “shepherding his horse slaughterhouse idea by trying to find a market.” According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, lawmakers in nearly a dozen states are drafting initiatives to reintroduce the possibility of slaughtering of horses in the United States. This is why slaughter opponents ceaselessly fight for the passage of the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009 (H.R. 503 / S. 727), which would end at a national level the slaughter of horses for human consumption as well as the domestic and international transport of live horses or horseflesh for human consumption.
A new plot turn in this story is that, as of July 31, 2010, the European Union (EU) will require that horses destined for slaughter and human consumption are free from certain drugs, including many that long have been in the bodies of horses, most notably phenylbutazone (a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory commonly called “bute,” which is given to an estimated 98 percent of American Thoroughbred racehorses as well as to just about any breed of horse to relieve occasional pain or swelling). Kill buyers will be required to provide a signed statement for each horse claiming that to the best of their knowledge the animal has not been treated with these particular substances. “Some kill buyers claim openly that they will simply fill in bogus forms,” says John Holland, president of the Equine Welfare Alliance. The fact is, it would be impossible for KBs to tell the truth, because the horses they pick up could have had numerous owners, and it is rare for papers of any kind to travel with horses to auction, let alone an animal’s lifelong medical history.
It is unlikely that this new hurdle will suddenly stop kill buyers from shipping horses across our borders, as they had been doing even before the last three U.S. slaughterhouses closed. The figures for 2009 show that horses slaughtered in Canada were sold to as many as twenty-four countries, with France, Switzerland, Japan, and Belgium receiving 92 percent of the exports. The demand from countries where horseflesh is considered a pricey delicacy is the predominant reason horses go to slaughter. Some slaughter proponents suggest that the demand is met by horses that are no longer useful to their owners and are therefore better off slaughtered than suffering starvation and neglect. Neglect does of course occur, but neglected and starving horses are not necessarily the ones chosen by the KBs, and such horses don’t always make it to auction to begin with. Consider the nearly two hundred mustangs found starving — seventy-four of them already dead — at the Three Strikes Ranch in Nebraska in 2009. With such a large enticement of horseflesh, the owner of Three Strikes could have chosen to have the meat man come hither; he could’ve sent his neglected horses off with a KB who would’ve paid him for the animals. But he did not.
It is more often the case that horse owners do not wish their healthy animals an untimely death, are unaware that dealers flip their equines like real estate, and would be horrified to know that their animals had been sold into the slaughter pipeline. Bottom line: a horse is a commodity and someone is making money off of it somewhere down the road. And it is all perfectly legal, since horses are deemed livestock by the U.S. government, even though they are not part of the American food chain.
Horses in America today are used less for agricultural purposes and more for sport, competition, trail rides, and showing. They are bred and raised to be companions, not dinner entrees, which is why slaughter seems incompatible with our country’s relationship to this animal. And the manner in which these horses are killed only makes it more so. Before a horse is ostensibly unconscious and hung upside down by one of its back legs, and before its throat is cut and it is bled out, the horse must enter the killbox, or knockbox, where it is shot in the head with a device called a captive bolt gun, which is a four-inch-long, retractable, nail-like instrument. The captive bolt gun does not immediately kill the horse but is meant to render it insensible to pain. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a captive bolt gun will work effectively under the following conditions: if it is clean and in proper working order, if the horse stands still, and if, shall we say, the gun is dead-on the right spot on the horse’s forehead. These conditions are hard to ensure.
“It is a dangerous practice to equate the medical procedure of chemical euthanasia performed by a veterinarian to end an animal’s life with that of a slaughterhouse worker killing an animal,” says Nena Winand, a faculty member in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. “There are many differences. Vets monitor vitals to cause the least amount of trauma, mental or otherwise. [Slaughterhouse workers] don’t take the time to monitor that the horse is dead. The horse gets hit multiple times with the captive bolt gun. We don’t know that they’re always insensible to pain. This treatment of horses has been going on since I was a kid, and I’m fifty-two now. The industry has never been successfully regulated. We pay taxes to monitor and enforce the humane treatment of these horses, but nothing’s enforced and it never has been. Whoever says otherwise is misrepresenting the history of this industry. To say it’s all perfect — well, it’s just insane.”
It all seems like the ultimate betrayal to a horse that likely served its owners for years and, at some point in its life, experienced human kindness. But there is not an exchange rate for kindness, while there is one for demand. In 2009 alone, demand resulted in the slaughter of 93,812 horses in Canada; of those, 56 percent were American horses; Canada’s revenue was $86.9 million; and the largest importer was France, paying $27.8 million. Worth noting, in a reflective and economy-minded sort of way regarding the issue of demand, is something comedian Jon Stewart said, which was referred to by racing columnist Jay Hovdey in the Daily Racing Form: “There’s demand for cocaine and hookers, too.”
“There are two things that flourish in the dark — mushrooms and horse slaughter,” said the late John Hettinger, a Thoroughbred racing legend and former member of the board of trustees of the New York Racing Association. “Most people don’t know it’s going on. We must deny them the darkness.” To shine a light inside the darkness, various humane groups (the Humane Society of the U.S., the Humane Farming Association) have taken undercover videos inside slaughterhouses, where workers poke, whip, and beat the animals’ bodies with fiberglass rods. Video from inside Mexican slaughterhouses reveals horses stabbed repeatedly with knives, which paralyzes the horse but leaves it conscious at the start of the slaughter process. The videos are exceedingly difficult to watch. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the USDA recently disclosed some nine hundred pages (including photos) documenting hundreds of violations of humane treatment to horses during transport to slaughter and at the American plants prior to their closings in 2007. The photos (available on Kaufmanzoning.net) depict horses with severed legs, crushed skulls, and missing eyes, as well as pregnant mares. Late-term pregnant mares, foals, blind horses, and horses who cannot stand on all four legs are not supposed to be sent to slaughter. Those animals that do make the trip are to be fed, watered, and rested. Often they are not.
“The whole thing, it’s a boondoggle on the American people,” said slaughter opponent and oilman T. Boone Pickens to a Chicago NBC reporter. “People that are for slaughter should be forced to go down on that kill floor.”
For those of us who will never get to the kill floor, or who have not the stomach to watch the videos on YouTube, here are two short excerpts, the first from the notes of an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Investigator at eleven-twenty a.m. on April 13, 2005, at the Cavel slaughter plant in DeKalb, Illinois:
Eight horses were in the alleyway leading directly to the knock-box. . . . The employee who is routinely assigned to work on the kill floor, hanging the horses on the rails, was using a riding crop to whip the horse in the alleyway closest to the knock-box. This horse continued to move backward, away from the knock-box causing the other horses behind it to be overcrowded. As the whipping continued the horses in the alleyway became extremely excited. I immediately told the employee to stop but he did not listen to me. During this time, the last horse in the alleyway attempted to jump over the alleyway wall and became stuck over the top of the wall. Eventually it had flailed around enough to fall over to the other side of the wall. I went to the kill floor to find the plant manager, could not find him. . . . Meanwhile two more horses fell down in the alleyway. The first was the second horse in line to the knock-box. It had fallen forward and the horse behind it began to walk on top of it as the downed horse struggled to get up. The second horse to fall was the fourth horse in line. It had flipped over backwards due to the overcrowding and was subsequently trapped and trampled by the fifth and sixth horses in line in their excitement. . . .
And in this statement taken from records in Cook County, Illinois, a former slaughterhouse employee testified to the following:
In July 1991, they were unloading one of the double-decker trucks. A horse got his leg caught in the side of the truck so the driver pulled the rig up and the horse’s leg popped off. The horse was still living, and it was shaking. [Another employee] popped it on the head and we hung it up and split it open. . . . Sometimes we would kill near 390, 370 a day. Each double-decker might have up to 100 on it. We would pull off the dead ones with chains. Ones that were down on the truck, we would drag them off with chains and maybe put them in a pen or we might drag them with an automatic chain to the knockbox. Sometimes we would use an electric shocker to make them stand. To get them to the knockbox, you have to shock them . . . sometimes run them up the [anus] with the shocker. . . . When we killed a pregnant mare, we would take the guts out and I would take the bag out and open it and cut the cord and put it in the trash and sometimes the baby would still be living, and its heart would be beating, but we would put it in the trashcan.
I’D FOUND MY WAY to New Holland with a horse rescue worker I’ll call Pat. Like many people who start up rescues, Pat was a lifelong rider and horse owner before opening her rescue in 2008. When I first visited her on a cold winter afternoon several weeks before the auction, I was led into a paddock of ex-racehorses rescued from nearby tracks. While we walked, Pat recounted for me the injuries that ended the horses’ careers and commented on the “bottom-dweller trainers who would’ve sold them to the meat man” and the “good trainers who call rescues to come take them.” The horses gravitated toward her, while chickens poked about and ran under the horses’ legs of gold and a Labrador puppy jumped up to kiss the horses’ long sculpted faces. “These are Thoroughbreds?” I asked, surprised by their calmness. “They’re here for a few weeks or so, they settle in,” she told me, while leaning into the horses’ bellies and cooing to them. “Isn’t that right?”
Pat was willing to take me to New Holland — driving us north for three hours in her 100,000-plus-mileage truck, her old trailer trailing behind us. “I need a new trailer, a new truck, fences. Everything. But it works out, somehow. It just does,” she said after jump-starting the truck that morning as the sun rose and the fog settled into the foothills and roosters called in the background. We were heading to Pennsylvania to meet a man named Frank, who runs an auction in New Jersey.
“Frank is a kill buyer, plain and simple,” says Anne Russek, a former Thoroughbred racehorse trainer who trained out of Monmouth Park Racetrack in New Jersey and who worked with HBO producers on an episode of Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports that aired on May 12, 2008, titled “Hidden Horses.” The segment was an exposé that followed the path of a four-year-old Thoroughbred bay filly named No Day Off, who raced for the last time at Mountaineer Park Racetrack in West Virginia on April 12, 2008 — just one month before the program aired. When a Thoroughbred racehorse reaches the end of its career or is simply no longer profitable on the track, said the HBO trailer, it is often taken directly to auction and sold for meat.
“Frank wants to work with the rescues,” says Pat. “But when he has a full load of horses, he will ship them to Canada.” Pat implies, as we talk in the truck about meeting with Frank, that he has of late softened a bit. When finally I glimpse him at the auction sitting not far from us on a row of bleachers, I notice that he is older than the other KBs; he has white hair, a wide face, blue eyes, and a heather-brown, zip-up cardigan that gives him a rather grandfatherly look. Later in the day, after Frank has assisted Pat with rescuing a small pony that her daughter might like, the first thing he says to me when he learns I am writing about auctions, racing, and slaughter is: “I have an excellent attorney.”
The purpose of meeting Frank at New Holland was to pick up two Thoroughbred mares, former racehorses. Thoroughbred racehorses are not supposed to end up at horse auctions, nor are they to be disposed of directly off the track with the KBs in what is euphemistically referred to as “stable to table in seven days.”
“I’ve been involved in the Thoroughbred industry for thirty-eight years,” says Russek, who is now chairperson of the Thoroughbred Celebration Horse Show series, which exclusively features off-the-track racehorses. “As much as I was involved, I never realized how many Thoroughbreds were going to slaughter. It was a secret. Everybody’s dirty secret. You have to show so much identification to get onto the backstretch of a racetrack, where the horses are kept, but you show nothing to get a horse off the track. When I started working on this issue I couldn’t have been more surprised by the denial. Every track said, ‘It’s not happening at our track.’ It became very apparent to me what was happening. For instance, at a track like Belmont, where it wasn’t happening so much — but then a horse loses and goes to a lower-level track and the horse starts going down. They end up at Mountaineer Park, at Charlestown, at Beulah Park, Penn National. Those are where the East Coast horses end up.”
Some racetracks profess that their horses do not end up at auctions or in slaughterhouses because the tracks have instituted zero-tolerance policies for such behavior from trainers and owners. But the reality, explains Monique Koehler, founder of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, is a “Thoroughbred industry made up largely of owners with only modest resources and current economics that dictate that among all owners, no matter how responsible and well-intended, only a relatively few are capable of maintaining even a single Thoroughbred once it is unable to earn its keep on the track.”
Though it would not be impossible to list the policies of the nearly one hundred racetracks in the U.S., consider it safe to say that there are a good number of tracks with ostensible zero-tolerance, or “no kill,” policies. These “no kill” tracks attempt to clear away their injured and their low earners through more acceptable channels — retirement, retraining and adoption, or rescue; all three options are carried out by various high- and low-budget rescue groups. One inventive effort at the Finger Lakes Racetrack involves a transition barn of sorts, called the Purple Haze Center, where horses no longer able to race are retrained and stabled on the grounds of the track until they are adopted. It is the first Thoroughbred track in the country to have an in-house adoption program that is run collaboratively between track management and horsemen. And some tracks, such as Suffolk Downs in East Boston, are connected to CANTER (the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses), a group that works with trainers to identify racehorses who need homes and lists available horses on their website.
But not all horsemen take advantage of groups like CANTER or other rescue options and, apparently, resort instead to unscrupulous practices. Russek describes a place not far from New Holland that is run by a Mennonite man. “I went there hoping to establish a relationship with him,” she explained. “He told me dealers bring horses from the track saying they must go to slaughter because trainers don’t want it known what they’re doing.” In other words, a dead horse is harder to trace than a horse that ends up at auction when it’s not supposed to.
Take the story of Twilight Overture, a gelding who came from Thistledown, “which is a ‘no-kill’ track,” says Nena Winand. One of the rescues alerted Thistledown’s general manager that the horse had been purchased by a kill buyer at the Sugarcreek Auction in Ohio. At the request of the manager, the rescue called the KB, who, surprisingly, turned his double-decker around and returned Twilight Overture to Sugarcreek for the rescue. Thistledown and Winand paid the KB $850 for the racehorse. “I renamed him Next Stop: Mars,” says Winand. “Why? Because if you look at his record, he was in training from track to track to track. What does he think of his life? He was shipped every two weeks somewhere. Then he’s on a double-decker to get his head bashed in. He’s big, extremely athletic. His story epitomizes that slaughter is a convenient disposal system. This horse is very usable. There’s no limit to what he can do; he’s not bad-minded. It’s default; it’s convenient. That’s why it’s happening. Why would a trainer kill this horse, my horse? Because they want the 300 bucks they get for him from the kill buyer.”
“Zero-tolerance at the tracks? Yeah, right. There’s no enforcement,” says Pat, when two weeks after our trip to New Holland I arrive at her rescue and find her all in a flurry trying to raise $1,500 to rescue three Thoroughbreds from Mountaineer Park. “The trainer wants $300 each or she’s letting the meat man take them. And I need $200 each just to get them here. And I need it now.” She scampers from the field to a stall to the computer to check in with contacts about the amount of money being raised to rescue the Thoroughbreds. “Everyone wants me to take two of them; you know, I just got those others. I don’t have enough money to do it.” Pat sighs, slipping in and out of various website forums and boards where people from across the country shoot messages back and forth. This is their battle — to save horses – and the computer is both their weapon and their battlefield. Pat pulls up photos of two of the Mountaineer Park horses in immediate need. One is a chestnut named Nitro, the other a black horse named I Gotta Go. Seeing their photos makes them real; and I am reminded that, as another Triple Crown season winds down — that time of year when Americans watch the fastest of the fast run their million-dollar races — thousands of the lesser-known Thoroughbreds like Nitro and I Gotta Go await their fate, having not only never made it to national television, but potentially never making it out of racing alive.
All of this sheds light on — but in the end proves nothing about — how a tall, slender, dapple-gray Thoroughbred gelding that had raced at Suffolk Downs in Boston and at Tampa Downs in Florida ended up at New Holland the morning I was there, still wearing his racing plates and standing quietly in front of me, roped to a post against a concrete wall. He already had been claimed by a KB, whom Pat would have to find and then pay more than he had paid for the gelding if she wanted to take the horse home. About a month later, I will call this kill buyer to inquire about the dapple-gray gelding. Where had the horse come from? Who’d shipped him? The KB will inform me, rather politely at first, that he is on the road with the rig and cannot give me any phone numbers. As I ask again about the journey of the dapple-gray, I picture this KB standing ringside at the auction, closest to the horses entering, along with the other KBs, all Caucasian, most in their midforties, wearing baseball caps, slouchy jackets like high-school football players, jeans, and colorful studded leather belts. Soon enough he tires of my questions.
“Who the fuck are you? Are you the horse’s owner?” he rages.
“No,” I answer.
“Then why the fuck are you poking your fucking nose into this?”
OF THE TWO THOROUGHBRED mares we’d planned on retrieving from Frank at the auction, one was pregnant, due imminently, so Pat had spent the weekend building a foaling stall for the mare. When I called on Sunday morning to confirm our arrangements, Pat was hammering nails into plywood with a retired neighbor who volunteers. Later that afternoon, though, Pat called back to say that the pregnant mare had been inadvertently sent off on the slaughter truck a few days earlier. It was not clear how this had happened. Despite the fact that it’s against regulations, she nonetheless had been dispatched on the long trip to Canada.
Probably, said Pat, she was already dead.
At the auction, Pat leaves the bleachers frequently to track down Thoroughbreds, and while she is away, quite a few of them stream in and out of the noisy bidding ring, along with other breeds, too many to list, all in and out so fast it is hard to keep track of the numbers and prices. All of the following, which is in no way a complete list, were taken by the kill buyers:
– Thoroughbred bay gelding: $310
– Thoroughbred chestnut gelding: $325
– Palomino gelding, whipped several times by rider: $450
– Two Thoroughbred geldings, lost track of price
– Thoroughbred gelding, no price that I can hear, exits early
– Standardbred mare, leaves the ring early. On her way out, Mennonite boys whip her repeatedly in the face. Russek will tell me later that some of the Amish and Mennonites can be “truly heartless” in the way they treat their horses, an observation that is, in all but the same words, repeated by a horse rescue worker who reported her experience at an Indiana auction on the Grateful Acres website: “The kill pen is full of Belgian draft horses, the powerful, living machinery of Amish farms. . . . [T]he Belgians in this pen are grievously and horrifyingly injured. They have been worked until they literally cannot stand any longer. . . . No matter that the animal has slaved . . . for any number of years, no matter that his swollen, oozing knee is collapsing at every forced step. Just as a broken plow would be sold to the junk man for the metal, these broken animals are sold to the kill-man for meat.”
– Thoroughbred / Quarter Horse cross: $125
– Farm horse sold “as is” leaves ring early
– Paso Fino gelding, eleven years old, brown with white face: $160
– Brown and white Paint pony: $250
– Paint gelding: $360
After two hours it becomes increasingly difficult to watch, so I walk with Pat back into the barns to be with the horses, though the decision to be with the animals suddenly feels worse than staying in the bleachers. Standing so close to so many of them, looking into their faces, rubbing their bodies, listening to them eat hay, watching them watch us, I realize the emotional blackmail of the moment. There is the wish to save them all, knowing full well no one can, and that by tonight many of them will be heading to Canada, or to feedlots to be fattened up for a slaughterhouse in Canada. To the extent that one can, Pat has crossed this threshold, and her time in the barn is more goal-directed: She weaves through the lines of animals to find the Thoroughbreds. “Here’s one,” she yells out to me, while lifting the horse’s upper lip and calling out the tattoo number for me to write down. Racehorses are required to have a tattoo inside their upper lip, which identifies the horse and links it to its registration papers. Soon enough she is off with a list of tattoos to call in to a contact waiting to help identify the racetracks to which the Thoroughbreds were last connected. Meanwhile, I scan the rows and rows of horses and ponies, looking for the copper-colored mare I’d seen earlier in the day, the one with the braided mane and tail. Pat hurries back to say she has the dapple-gray racehorse. The KB gave it over for $600. “It’s a lot, but I’ll train him to jump,” she says. “He’ll make a good jumper, and people love the dapple-grays.”
People love ponies, too, Pat had said at the beginning of the auction. “They’re always asking me for ponies.” And so more than midway through the auction she has bought, for about $200 each, several ponies to adopt out as 4-H projects or as pony club mounts. One is a large, brown, bulldozerlike Hackney gelding she later will name Edward; another is a small gray boy just gelded and still shot up with testosterone who will be called Merry Legs; an unbroke Paint mare with one blue eye will become Maeve, or “the cause of great joy” in Gaelic. And then, finally, the gray roan Pony of the Americas (POA), who tentatively walks into the ring, scared enough that she’ll barely move forward. She is led to stand near the fence by the kill buyers. Her eyes look up into the bleachers, her skin twitches when someone touches her, and the bidding begins. “Do you want that pony, Pat?” I ask.
“I don’t have any money left. She’s cute, though.”
I raise my bidding card and so does a kill buyer. We start low, $35.
The KB raises his card for $40.
I go $45.
He goes $50; I raise for $60.
Zimmerman, the bearded Mennonite, looks up to me. I am new here, and I sense at that moment he knows it. He raises the bidding by $20.
KB agrees to $80. I go to $90. KB takes $95.
The auctioneer calls out $100. Zimmerman’s dark eyes stare straight to mine. Once we get to $100 the price could keep climbing, and I am unsure what I can do; at the same time, I look at the POA. As much noise as there is around me — the old couple bickering, kids playing and laughing — it suddenly seems as if there is no sound, and I feel like the student in the classroom who everyone’s looking at because I’ve been asked to answer a question I don’t have an answer for.
I raise for $100.
Zimmerman looks at the KB. There is a pause. But the KB does not bid. It is over, suddenly, in a matter of seconds. “One hundred dollars for number 730-1,” the auctioneer calls out.
I climb the stairs to the New Holland Auction office to pay for the pony I later will name Bridget and give to Pat, and I think how often I’ve blown a hundred dollars on a meaningless trip to Target. The cashier gives me the name and number of the person who unloaded Bridget at the auction because I request it. I am still naïve at this point and I assume her owners brought her here. I want to call them later to ask about their pony and tell them I have her now. That she is safe. “Charlie, here,” the voice answers, when a few days later I call. “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout her, ma’am,” the man says. “Bought her cheap at the Hickory Auction. I sell tack there and someone’s sellin’ her. So I take her. I bought her on Sunday and took her to New Holland on Monday. Ain’t gonna lie to ya ma’am, don’t know nothin’ ’bout her. I buy cheap horses and resell ’em. That’s what I do.”
Down on the auction floor, Pat is gathering up Bridget to put her in the pen with Edward, Maeve, Merry Legs, and the dapple-gray Thoroughbred. Not long after, we will meet up with Frank and transfer the mare he brought down from New Jersey. In the afternoon, when the auction is over and we are loading the horses and ponies onto Pat’s trailer, around the corner will come the thin copper-colored mare with the long flaxen braids. The bones of her skinny shoulders and hips poke up from her body when she walks. She is led by a KB.
He instructs her onto his trailer. She does not move. He yanks hard on her lead rope. As thin and weak as she is, she jumps back from the trailer, her long braided mane flopping against her neck. He yells at her, harsh and fast and low, and whips her over and over in the face and on her shoulders and belly. She jumps up and throws herself against the inside wall of the trailer.
He shoves her into the horses already on the rig and they all jostle together, colliding, biting, and agitating one another. As the dust floats up and is set aglow by the afternoon sunlight streaming into the trailer, the mare stumbles. Finally, she finds a place by the window and gazes out.
This article, along with other landmark Orion essays about our connection to the animal world, are collected in a new anthology, Animals & People. Order your copy here.
Thank you for this article. A stark reminder that little has changed in the 20+ years since I was involved with the horse world.
However, the article generated an idea that does actually make me feel hopeful. Since this is all legal because horses are considered livestock, working to change their designation would ensure this stops altogether.
I do not know what the alternative would be, “domestic animal” status perhaps? Whatever it needs to be, it would end the slaughter of these beloved beasts.
Would someone with some legislative and organizing savvy care to lead this change?
This article was quite disturbing. Amazing how humanity just uses everything up and then throws it away, animals included. I wish I could save all of them.
Thought this was a very detailed and well-written article by Lisa Couturier. But if there really are 9 million horses in the US, what’s our national plan for dealing with unwanted or unsound animals that cannot be placed with new owners or sent to retirement farms?
Outlawing horse slaughter in the U.S. has exacerbated this problem with some unintended consequences. While there is no excuse for the inhumane treatment of any animal, closing down the U.S. plants has only served to push the slaughter and processing of horses for human consumption outside the control of our federal meat inspection system. While it is certain that there were human handling abuses at US plants in the past, USDA has recently made the enforcement of humane slaughter for food animals one of their top priorities. Prohibiting horse slaughter in this country only works to guarantee that unwanted horses will be killed in an inhumane way.
There is also the question of the impacts that horses have on the environment. In suburban America, an untold number of acres have been cleared and put into poorly managed horse pasture. It very common to see too many horses grazing too few acres, eating the vegetation down to nothing, creating soil erosion and water quality problems. How much wildlife habitat and how many native ecosystems have been destroyed for the benefit of pet horses? What will be the future implications for natural resources as more land is used to maintain these animals?
Today we’re seeing more and more horse owners give up their animals for economic reasons. Very old and infirm horses are becoming a common site in rural America, often placed there by well meaning landowners who are ill-equipped or lack the financial resources to provide for the long term needs of these animals. Who’s to say what would be more humane, a quick death in a monitored and inspected slaughter facility, or a slow, lingering one on an undersized patch of bare dirt?
Horses and all living creatures deserve our respect. They should not be disposed of like refuse. But when horse numbers become a problem to due to human mismanagement we should have multiple tools and management solutions at our disposal to keep things in check. There is a need for balance on this issue.
This is a 2 minute broadcast I that ran on NPR about a horse I rode for the National Park Service and what happened when she could no longer serve. This story has a happy ending, but horses that work for the government are often discarded when their career is over.
“But if there really are 9 million horses in the US, whatâ€™s our national plan for dealing with unwanted or unsound animals that cannot be placed with new owners or sent to retirement farms?”
Like most anti-slaughter folks, I am of the opinion that humane euthanasia is a fine option for dealing with the (truly) unwanted horse population. Every animal deserves a humane death, not a death of fear, torture, and suffering. It is the METHOD of their “disposal” that is the problem, NOT death itself.
It is also worth noting that while the racing industry’s national org, the NTRA, is against slaughter, the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Assoc), AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Assoc), and AAEP (American Association of Equine Practioners), and the AHC (American Horse Council) DO support slaughter. And although the racing world is usually the first to come to mind as the discipline which most frequently slaughters horses, only 10% of those on the truck to the borders are Thoroughbreds.
AQHA wants to promote breeding; more foals mean more registration fees and so supports big breeders getting that $300 for culls, the old and the injured, rather than paying for euthanasia and disposal.
The AVMA says it only supports humane slaughter. Unfortunately mass factory processing by unskilled workers where the bottom line is most important, by its very nature, is not and will never be humane – if it was, it would likely cease to be profitable.
In 2006 the AAEP said â€œAAEP believes that slaughter is not the ideal solution for addressing the large number of unwanted horses in the U.S.” but contends horse slaughter carried out in Mexico is humane and so endorses it.
The AHC has waffled but has settled on saying that slaughter is a “necessary evil” at the same time as acknowledging changes are needed to the way horses are slaughtered.
Also, for the rec, it is only horse slaughter *for human consumption* that is currently illegal in the U.S.
My daughter is a veterinary cardiologist. She completed her residency at the University of Pennsylvania. That vet school is in the College of Medicine-not agriculture. I wish this was true for all vet schools.
I also support humane euthanasia for all species, what the article discribes is not humane euthanasia but brutal slaughter for profit.
If humans continue to view other species asfood source then humans should let them be raised and killed humanely
I remember going to the livestock auction with Grandpa about 30 years ago in rural Missouri. Weâ€™d go once about once a year with our cattle, and once a year with our pigs.
They had big stock-trailers outside the auction ring filled with unwanted horses. Grandpa told me they were going to â€œthe soap plant.â€ Itâ€™s been thirty years and I still remember the face of a big draft horse in the trailer with what they call a â€œglass eyeâ€, and I remember wishing I had the money to buy that horse and let him live out his life on our pastures.
In ten years or so, Iâ€™ll be retired and going back to the farm. In the mean time, I donâ€™t want to visit any livestock auctions and see the faces of horses destined for the slaughterhouses.
About 5 miles from where I sit, there is a farmer who also raises thoroughbred horses. If the market is down, he sells his horses for slaughter at half the price because he doesnâ€™t want to depress the value of his stock. In other words, heâ€™ll take less money to insure the horse is killed.
There are some hard men in that business.
I work with Minneosta Retired Racehorse Project, rehabbing and rehoming OTTB’s that are no longer useful to their owners/trainers. I deeply appreciate the depth of this article. I am so tired of people saying “I don’t want to know” as if they are just too darned sensitive to handle the knowledge of what happens to these horses. There is no easy solution, but we all need to do what we can. Just like the woman in the story, the 3 of us who run our program are totally broke, but we work hard for these horses and every placement is a victory, one less potentially on the truck to Canada. If everyone who is bothered by what goes on donated to their local struggling rescues, volunteered, lobbied, etc., something would be done, many would be saved. It’s a start.
This is obviously a well researched and documented effort. I don’t doubt that you have a deep abiding respect for horses and that you don’t ever want to see one wantonly abused…a perspective that I can appreciate and endorse. Part of me though is forced to examine your implicit premise: That using a horse for food is just plain wrong. All of the comments so far also seem to take that as a non-negotiable point of departure.
If this stance comes from a vegetarian’s point of view…then, well, I have to give that deference. If it doesn’t, I think there is some moral selectivity in your piece that just doesn’t scour with me.
As Americans, we view the slaughter and consumption of horses as barbaric, even bordering on the criminal. I can hazard some guesses as to why that is (more historic and practical than moral) but you have acknowledged in your piece that large numbers of others outside of our country don’t share this view. In fact, we might even be in the minority on this point. The obvious question then is: Why is the horse entitled to different treatment from all of our other traditional livestock animals?
As a horse lover, you no doubt would say that horses are different, but that merely reinforces your own conclusion. Wouldn’t a lover of pigs say the same?
If what you are saying is that no animal should be consumed for food, I would think that you’d want to just come out and say that and be done. As I said, I would have no grounds to quibble with you about that. If not, I think your lack of objectivity on this point gets in your way of maybe addressing a much larger issue.
Do I misunderstand you, or is there some validity to the point I raise?
Thank you for a very thought provoking article.
P.S. When I ask about “different treatment” for horses, please believe me, the slaughter house scenes you describe are tough to bear. There’s LOTS of different treatment due to most of the food on our table.
Thank you for this well thought out and researched expose, Ms. Coutourier.
It is difficult to read, but necessary. The only thing I find more difficult is reading ignorant and just plain stupid comments from some posting here and on many other internet sources that allow comments.
First off, the slaughter for profit process is deceptive to the public and cruel, inhumane to the equines. This isn’t about being a vegan…so DON’T bring that red herring up. It also hides the true cause of get paid to dispose…overbreeding and irresponsible ownership.
Equines are service animals in our culture, NOT food animals. They are not raised or tracked as food animals.
In addition, horse slaughter is NOT illegal in the US at the Fed level and in several states. It is in a few, but rarely enforced. The plants that used to operate (all slimey 3) were foreign owned, paid almost nothing (think one paid $1) in taxes, employ predominately illegal immigrants, pollute the local areas and were shut down because Congress refused to fund federal inspectors; some were shut down by state statutes.
So quibble, switch debate topics, ignore facts like food purity and slaughter proceedure all you want. It will never validate or excuse this kind of human behavior and it certainly will NOT solve this problem.
But maybe that’s your point slaughter trolls…you like it this way.
The author went to great lengths to explain the unique place horses have in our society and the cruel and inhumane ends that await so many of them, due to the almighty dollar. For you to deduce that the article boils down to “using a horse for food is wrong” is . . . wrong. I am not here to reiterate the entire article to you, but you may want to take a second read.
I wish that all horse owners would read this article. It covers so many facets of the unwanted horse. Someone earlier had commented that people just “don’t want to know” its so true. I have come across so many unwanted horses and have been to these horse auctions and discovered the killbuyers. I have never bred any horses, but in college worked at Thoroughbred horse farms, so many horses are brought into this world in that industry and others as well. And reality hit me all too hard, when I went to my first horse auction in Kentucky, the Richmond Kentucky auction and there stood Touch Not a 20 something year old Thoroughbred broodmare that almost ended up in the hands of kill buyers. I was able to save her for $150. She was skin and bones, hair falling out, she still had her engraved halter on when she was at the sale, of course the dealer took it. I tried contacting the farm that had her last, to let them know she ended up in the wrong hands and she was safe now, but they never contacted me back. You could see in her produce report where the year earlier she had her last baby, and then in 2002 ended up at the last auction. Instead of breeding every horse and discarding them when they can’t produce, there has to be a better system, but it will take longer and longer, the longer we keep our eyes shut. I’m not trying to pick on just breeders, not all of them are like that, and unwanted horses are out there due to financial reasons, ex-racers, etc, but we need to be responsible for horses that we have or have brought into this world. I have personally made an effort to try and keep an eye out for any horses I used to know/knew of from racetracks etc, or friend’s horses, that I find in need of help and to focus on these horses that I know, since their “responsible” person may have led them to be in danger of slaughter or in bad hands. I agree with what someone posted earlier about humane euthanasia. If people really knew what happened inside these slaughterhouses, if they really loved their horse they would choose that. Would that same person drive their horse to the slaughterhouse? Probably not, they don’t have to think about it, they can just send their horse to the auction and hope that it gets a good home. We HAVE to open our eyes and protect our horses. I know their isn’t an easy solution, but its 2010 and our American horses are on foreign dinner plates as we speak, come on everyone, we have to work together, contact your local representative, I did, I contacted John Boehner in Ohio last week, and was very suprised to find that he was hesitant to support 503, and he said that some cultures find horsemeat a wholesome protein source, I was shocked and upset and now I want to change things even more. I used to be the person who sat back and thought surely the humane thing will happen with all the slaughterhouses gone in the U.S. and our horses will no longer be slaughtered. No, this is why we have to step foward and do this ourselves, horselovers for the horses.
Hey, BP, who do your work for? “Outlawing” slaughter in the US hasn’t made one iota of difference. We have always sent horses to Canada and Mexico and we still do. We are sending as many horses across our borders as the market will bear – even if there were slaughter houses here, you can only slaughter as many as you can sell just like any other business.
Not only that, while this story didn’t make much out out of the new traceability rules from the EU, it IS a big deal – a very Big Deal. Here is a link to a PDF describing the new rules and how Canada plans to comply: http://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0BwxnQ91Hgo-LOWVhMjU1ZmEtNmE0OS00NzIxLWI3ZjAtNWYyYTM1YzMxODUy&sort=name&layout=list&num=50
Canada currently has a bill up to ban the slaughter of horses completely in Canada because – according to Canadian records – 90% of horses slaughtered in Canada come from the US, and we have absolutely NO tracking system for drugs a given horse may have been exposed to during his/her entire life and do not plan to implement one. Since virtually NONE of our horses can meet the EU standards, Canada feels that they cannot guarantee the meat is safe and therefore can’t take the responsibility. They feel ending horse slaughter there is the only safe and responsible thing to do. Something OUR lawmakers haven’t yet found the guts to do.
So, you see, this IS a Big Deal for us and for Canada and Mexico, for Mexico too must comply if they want to export to the EU.
Since the overwhelming reason we have too many horses is GROSS over breeding by the big breeders, mostly the AQHA and the Jockey Club. Neither have reduced the number of horses bred in the face of the bad economy. They breed literally thousands of horses more than they could possibly sell. They pick the ones they want and dump the rest off to slaughter – foals, pregnant mares and all.
You are right that we should respect these sensitive, intelligent, sentient creatures. The ONLY way to do that is to provide euthanasia by a veterinarian. That is an inescapable responsibility for those of us who have chosen to own horses. Slaughter is NOT euthanasia and is totally unacceptable as a humane end to a horse’s life.
Do you own horses? Do you know anything first hand about the slaughter process? I do – on both counts – and I tell you, there is NOTHING worse than slaughter.
Plowboy ~ There is no validity in the points you raise because horses ARE different – they are not cattle, pigs or any of the other food animals.
Besides the fact that our horses are contaminated with substances that are banned in food animals and therefore NOT safe to eat, there are other problems.
Horses bound for slaughter are transported in double decked trailers designed for cattle, but are totally unacceptable for horses – unlike cattle and pigs, horses have long necks and they must be able to raise their heads to maintain their balance. Besides that they are crammed in so tightly that when one goes down, they can’t help but be trampled by others. They ride for HOURS like this, with no rest, food or water. Many don’t make it to the plant alive.
The slaughter techniques used were also designed for cattle. Everything from the size of the kill box to the captive bolt itself are absolutely unworkable for horses. Horses are incredibly sensitive creatures, unlike cattle that have been bred for docility for centuries. Horses are acutely aware of whats going on around them. They panic and fight, making a clean shot with a captive bolt pistol impossible. Many are shot three and four times and are STILL not sufficiently stunned. Many regain consciousness while hanging by one hind leg on a meat hook as the worker slashes their jugular and they hang there and bleed out. Since horses have about 50% – pound for pound – more blood than cattle, many drown in their own blood. These are just a sampling of the reasons why slaughtering horses is such a nasty, inhumane business.
You see, horses ARE different.
Just a reminder to the readers here:
Horse slaughter for human consumption (HSHC) is not against the law in the United States. The Federal inspectors have not been funded by the Congress; no inspections, can’t sell the meat to humans to eat. That is why there are bills pending in Congress. Yes some states make it illegal and others have made it legal but can’t get the Fed Inspectors. And as has been mentioned, the equines go over the borders like they did before and during closure of the last three plants.
And as also mentioned, there is a serious drug issue and lack of production history regarding equine meds and meat produced for humans. HSHC also encourages horse theft. That, slaughter supporters is definitely not an unwanted equine by virute of the act of theft and the angst and loss experienced by the victimized owner.
Ms. Couturier…I apologize for the name misspell. I should have known better than to trust good old “Plowboy’s” spelling. God knows the logic and points on debate were questionable in the first place. If one can’t get the little things right like spelling the author’s name correctly, how can one expect to get the bigger ones like morality and ethics?
Death is an inevitability for all living things; it’s just when and how. HSHC is inhumane and provides a dangerous product for humans to eat.
I have no legislative savvy or organizational skills. Since the proposal of opening a horse slaughter plant in my state, I have been fighting horse slaughter. I fight by writing letters. I write Senators requesting that they support H.R.503/S.B.727. It doesn’t matter what state they represent. My state Senators are vehemently opposed to these bills. Anyone against horse slaughter, has no voice here. I’ve signed online petitions. I have written the President. I am oppositional to our State Livestock Board. The Equine Welfare Alliance is very dedicated to fighting for H.R.503/S.B.727. You may also do all or some of these things.
I agree that ‘domestic animal’ status would help decrease horse slaughter. Also, licensing and regulating horse breeders would help prevent some ‘puppy mill’ style horse breeding operations. After public outcry, the BLM is currently considering alternate methods of herd management rather than cruel round ups. (Too little, too late?)
My point is, we all have to speak out and become informed. There are alternatives to slaughter.
The equine in the United States of America is a “service” animal and should be afforded the same care, stewardship and advocacy of humane death as our dogs and cats.
I will qualify a few finer points:
(1) canines and felines aren’t always treated very well either, living or dead.
(2) commercial food processing, especially mega farms and slaughter/processing facilities also have several issues.
(3) if individuals who breed equines or own them want to sell them for meat to humans then they need to follow the same rules as cattle, swine, poultry, sheep producers in this country.
1. Equines are companion animals, pets, work animals and sport animals. They can be considered service animals when used for handicapped therapy.
2. Canines and felines aren’t always treated well but, legislation is in place to prosecute inhumane treatment of these pets. Very few of us would consider using their meat for the purpose of commerce.
3. Animal agribusiness processing plants have problems. Dr. Temple Grandin has designed reasonable bovine processing plants. The problems of these plants, although not resolved, are addressed.
4. Presently, in my state, we have a representative petitioning for NO regulation of horse meat that is intended for human consumption in the United States. Her plan is to use horse meat to feed prisoners and school children. Pet, companion, sport, work and service equines are likely to have tainted meat due to routine medications and vaccinations given to them.
Perhaps we should consider sending cat and dog meat to the Orient. It may generate commerce and resolve the pet overpopulation problem. Sound familiar? It sounds similar to the pro-slaughter arguments that I’ve heard.
After reading the article “Dark Horse” I was overwhelmed by anguish.
I have to agree with those comments that call for a greater responsibility on the part of owners.
What we need is to require breeders (and sellers if no prior arrangements have been made) to make a monetary deposit for the full cost of humane euthanasia and lodge it with a national organization set up to track ownership and registration. This deposit could then be registered with the horse and transfered to subsequent owners. The older the horse is, the less the new owner would be required to reimburse the previous owner. The origination fee would still stay in escrow. If all breeders were required to provide these fees the incentive to breed more than they can realistically sell would almost immediately be removed…no buyer to pass the fee on to, the fee becomes a business loss – kill buyers will not be keen to cover these costs.
This would reduce demand for young horses, reduce irresponsible breeding, and make people realize that this animal that they are buying carries responsibilities. Finally, since euthanasia is already paid for, when the time comes, penny pinching will not be an issue.
Perhaps one of the rescue organizations would be able to set up the registration database, make some money out of it…and also act as an adoption/listing agency.
Seems like I’ve drawn a good bit of heat in response to my comments, but not much light I think.
Colleen….not my point. The point I was interested in discussing was not the inhumanity of the slaughter process (something we always need to keep in the forefront of any discussion about animal slaughter) but the author’s premise. To all who think I’m a bit thick…..no, really, I get it. We, you say, don’t want to eat horses because we love them. Well, yeah, I sort of picked that up. And I happen to love horses also, having been raised in, on and around them, but THAT very idea… horse meat as taboo….is what I’m probing here. It is a taboo, one of our strongest, and it is that I’m interested to know about. Like I said, saying you don’t think we should eat horses because you think they are special is a reason that chases its own tail. Anybody want to be honest about that?
(Yikes! My apologies to the author for the extra vowell….danged bifocals.)
To answer my own question, since I’ve got a minute, let me just propose this long view on the subject:
Since the article addresses horse eating in the USA, I think there is just no way to peel back the cover on this whole thing without putting it in the historical, sociological context of the conquest of this country.
The Anglo/European/Caucasian, dominant culture knew as night followed day that horses were an essential element for exerting military power, but it went deeper than that. The view that horses weren’t food was a very basic demarcation between we “civilized” people and the Native “heathens.” It also was a class identifier within the white culture. We have a nasty habit of defining the “otherness” of the cultures/classes we oppose by scorning their foods. (Why do you think we called them “Krauts?) If you ain’t considering the roots of our prejudices on this whole subject, you’re leaving out a pretty big (I’d even say essential)part of the story. Sorry.
Not all historic Native cultures consumed horse flesh, granted. Some actually shared the dominant culture’s viewpoint….some for the same reasons. Many did though, and for those who didn’t, it was usually more about a lack of access than any greater spiritual affinity with the horse. Some who avoided horseflesh had no problem with throwing fido in the pot. (In many cases, it was the noisy dogs who went first….assuring camp security) Hell, the reason that there weren’t any equines on the continent when the Spanish arrived was, most believe, because pre-historic cultures ate them all.
We would all profit, I’d think, from realizing that our prejudices and taboos didn’t show up in our culture yesterday. Before we wind up where we are probably all going, we’re most likely going to need to exploit every food resource we can find, and then some. Some of the rest of the world seems to have figured this out already. My question to Ms. Couturier and all who take the apparently unexamined view that eating horses is immoral, is: Where does that come from?
Thank you for your compassionately written, article. I don’t know how you made it through the auction. Sadly, we seem to be taking our current American malaise, out on our nation’s horses. Anyone who knows about the auctions, likely is aware too, of the numbers of American Wild Horses, PROTECTED BY AN ACT OF CONGRESS, that are systematically, and inhumanely, being rounded up, imprisoned and sent to the auctions. Try to call the BLM, who is supposed to be protecting them? You get disconnected. Try it: 202-208-3100 extension 5 is the BLM. You wait and then click…you’re disconnected. I don’t even think Americans know what is going on…but there’s no wholesale way to make sure they do. Thank you for your article.
I wanted to specifically address the points you raised…..
Try telling a Hindu that cows are made to be eaten, because they are not “special.”
So, meat is in the eyes of the beholder. That slaughter practices for horses are reprehensible is absolutely true. So it could be said about the slaughter practices in general, for all animals. Still, that is not the question I posed.
I agree with the proposal to classify horses as something other than livestock. Pets, service animals, recreational companions, whatever! This is already reflected in the zoning required in many states – horse properties used primarily for recreation have a different zoning than agricultural properties such as dairies. This includes boarding and training stables as well as trail ride operations. Breeding farms are a bit different – it varies by state. Someone who really knows the ins and outs of rural zoning and tax practices could probably tell you if there is some kind of incentive (tax shelter?) for breeders to produce excess animals and sell them at auction.
Yes, horses are different – think about it – they are the only animal that competes internationally along with humans in the Olympics! This goes far beyond the emotional commitment between any one horse and rider. It is truly a worldwide phenomenon of interdependence that is voluntary on the part of the human, but not so voluntary on the part of the horse. Those of us who enjoy forming relationships with horses for recreation, companionship, sport, or business have a huge responsibility to make sure the end of their lives is free from pain and fear.
I keep a 35-year-old pony on my property – when she got too old for riding I didn’t dare sell her, for fear that later owners would sell her for slaughter. She is definitely a pet at this point – just like a dog or cat, with regular veterinary care and a probable outcome of euthanasia when and if she becomes too feeble to stand on her legs. One dilemna, as horse owners, is that we’re doing such a great job of caring for our equine friends that they are living 10-15 years longer than previous generations. Of course that means they are even LESS eligible as food animals, since they are getting wormers, bute, tranquilizers during dental work, etc. Becoming active and informed community members seems like the best practice – let’s continue to push for local and national legislation to promote humane animal care for ALL domestic and captive animals.
As a fellow horse lover, and non-horse eater, I disagree. All you’ve stated is that horses are special to YOU. There are a whole bunch of people in this wide world who would disagree with you. When you take this position you are saying that all these others are either too dumb, craven or thoughtless to be given deference for their choices about what to eat. Like it or not, we are not the world’s food police. As it is practiced, and as described in this article, there are plenty of good reasons to limit, or even ban, the slaughter of horses in the USA. What I bristle against is the take-off point: That it is an immoral practice. Like it or not, that is what you I read in this article, and hear in your comment. I would suggest that we have to dig a little deeper.
Plowboy ~ Maybe I’m the thick one but exactly WHAT is your question? And what do Hindu beliefs have to do with it? We are NOT slaughtering cows belonging to Hindus – at least I hope we’re not!
OUR horses on the other hand ARE being slaughtered even though many object – especially those thousands of horse lovers whose horses have been STOLEN over the years. You can’t even IMAGINE what that’s like. Unfortunately, I don’t have to imagine. What about all the people who are deathly afraid of selling their horse ANYWHERE because the specter of them ending up in the slaughter pipeline is always there? I don’t believe Hindus have this problem a lot.
I am not a vegan, but I still object strenuously to inhumane slaughter practices. Temple Grandin has made great strides in making the slaughter process much more humane than it ever has been, but a lot depends on her rules being followed. I agree that STRICT enforcement must be used, and all too often it is not.
All that having been said, there is NO WAY to make the slaughter process for horses even close to that for cattle – when rules are stringently followed.
Stringent enforcement would NOT make it any better for horses as long as the assembly-line approach is used – and that’s what they have to do to make any money.
AS I SAID, horses are much, much more sensitive than other domestic animals, especially those that have been especially bred for docility, like cattle.
Horses retain all of their wild characteristics – strong panic response, flight response and total awareness of what’s happening to their companions. Check with the World Society For the Protection of Animals. They have decided that, due to the innate nature of horses, the assembly-line approach to slaughter cannot be made humane for horses. That’s just the nature of the beast.
And, as I posted before, American horses are contaminated with chemical residue that is BANNED for food animals. It is unsafe to eat for anyone. It is incredibly irresponsible to sell their meat for food. That’s fact too.
This all has nothing to do with my personal feeling about horse slaughter. But, it truly IS a nasty, predatory business and many, if not most, horses are obtained by dishonest means – theft, kill buyers misrepresenting themselves, at auctions and private sales, as someone who wants to give the horse a good home.
For all these reasons I don’t think we should be slaughtering horses – at least in the USA where we don’t even eat them ourselves, and couldn’t anyway because WE know how toxic the meat is.
Now, what was your question?
First, I think this is one of the best written and researched articles I have ever read on the subject. It took an immense effort and I applaud Lisa for that.
Now let me address some of the issues brought up by Plow Boy. I must admit that he puts forward his arguments with far more thought than most of the pro-slaughter people I have encountered in my many years studying the subject. (Before you get too excited PB, that is actually pretty faint praise!)
Much has been said about different cultures and whether the acceptance of horses as food animals in one culture obliges us to mandatory acceptance. Of course it does not. Allow me to offer some logical extrapolations which will prove my point.
If one takes the politically correct position that we must accept horse slaughter in our society because some of the races and nationalities that contributed to America accept it, then it logically follows that we must accept all their other beliefs, rules and traditions.
We have a significant Chinese-American population. Some in China eat dogs and cats, so should we offer their meat in our groceries in deference to them? At least one pro-slaughter radio talk show host believes we should and admitted it to me on the air, but I doubt many Americans would agree.
Likewise there are many Americans of Spanish background. Should we allow them to hold bull fights?
And why stop there? We have people in our society from middle eastern states where a father has every right to kill a daughter who has offended the family honor. Should we, out of deference to his culture, allow him to do so in America?
I could go on, but if I have not made my point by this time I never will. The argument is totally fallacious.
So why are horses different than cows and pigs?
The answer is because we breed, raise and treat them that way. The importance of that statement cannot be understated because it has both ethical and food safety aspects.
Raising a horses as companion / sport animals means that they are not restricted to drugs safe for human consumption, but it also means we emotionally bond to them.
Put another way, we have a symbiotic relationship with horses. There are many such partnerships in “lower” life forms and it is rare that they are ever betrayed.
Moreover, each society extends a circle of compassion to certain animals and not to others. In the US, our horses have always been in that circle….until, of course, someone decides to betray them for a quick buck.
So essentially, when we tell foreigners that we love our horses but will betray them if they are willing to pay us for their bodies, then we are saying something very telling about our ourselves and our culture.
Thanks for asking. My original question was:
(And one that has, so far, only drawn responses along the lines of..”But I really love horses, and the way they are killed is cruel…” Like Iâ€™ve said, I got that)
What is really the source of our cultural (not yours, personally) aversion to eating horses? This article forced me to face up to this question.
What was obvious to me, and what has been reinforced by the comments so far, is that the slaughter of horses under any circumstances is morally repugnant to its opponents. It is time, maybe, that they understood how this stance undercuts their credibility and effectiveness in achieving reforms. Do you think this moral arrogance is lost on their opposition? They get it too. They understand that what you say you want, and why you say you want it, is a bunch of hokum. If the creed is to be “No horses eaten, ever, for any reason”, at least have the integrity to come out and say it. Donâ€™t hide behind descriptions of slaughter practices that can be reformed. Donâ€™t distract with sentimental descriptions of large brown eyes and faithful serviceâ€¦.just say what you mean.
And you know why, I suspect, this wonâ€™t be done? Because on some level our wish to vilify horse eaters canâ€™t be defended in any terms that will make sense to the rest of the horse eating world. Hellâ€™s bells, Iâ€™ve never eaten horse, nor would I ever want to, and it canâ€™t even be defended to ME. We need to think about that, Iâ€™d say.
Now, as to Hindu cattle: The point was to call attention to the absurdity of any one people or culture having the moral high ground to declare any animal as “food” or “not food.” As far as I know, the only (almost) universal taboo in that category is that we agree we should not eat each other. Your position that horses shouldn’t be eaten is as absurd to an average Icelander as it would be for a Hindu to tell the average resident of Wyoming that a cowboy is nothing more than a serial animal abuser and a defiler of the sacred. The citizenship of the animal in question really is beside the point, don’t you agree? What you are saying to the person who eats what is taboo to you is that they are somehow spiritually and ethically stunted. As I said earlier here, there are contextual reasons why we believe this in the USA, and those reasons don’t travel too well. The unpleasantness of that history might explain why now the commenting readership of Orion wishes to believe that it only comes from our enlightened ability to appreciate the error of their ways. At a time when American arrogance in dictating proper behavior to the rest of the world is likely at its zenith, Iâ€™d think that this is something weâ€™d be wary about.
First, I’m not pro-slaughter anything, especially not horses.
Second, if you want to place this on the absurdist level of comparing the killing of horses to homicide, we’ve ended the debate for me before it can get started.
But, if you want to try, I’d ask you to examine this statement of yours:
“The answer is because we breed, raise and treat them that way.”
You’re going to have to do much better than that if you want to persuade the true pro-slaughter folks. If you can’t, you’ve yielded your ability to convince. You’ve lost me already, and I’m not even the opposition. Really.
Let’s pass H.R.503/S.B.727. Those politicians opposed to these bills claim that anti-slaughter arguments are merely emotional. They need to learn from the problems at DeKalb and Kaufman. Some of them being:
Expensive water treatment as related to the disposal of horse blood. Horses have a greater amount of circulating blood than do cows. Canada has problems with this also.
High rates of work related injuries in the processing plants due to the nature of processing horses. This may require new and/or larger hospitals.
The foreign owned plants in DeKalb and Kaufman payed very little tax. In essence, giving nothing back to the community. You will find this at kaufmanzoning.
Unstable double decker loads increase vehicular accidents. Horses are not cows and do not travel well in double deckers. They thrash and panic. Thus there is an additional burden on field medical personnel.
Of course we are not the world’s food police, but have you actually read this article? Just because there is a demand in other countries does not mean that our culture has to change in order to supply it.
It seems as though we all agree that horse slaughter is cruel. We would prefer not to eat horse meat. Domesticated horse meat is likely to be tainted.
Can we please move on? What is the problem? The majority of folks don’t want our horses to end up at slaughter and don’t want to eat the meat. The European Union recently put strict regulations in place to monitor foreign horse slaughter facilities and horse meat. You know what that means folks. Many of our horses will not be eligible for slaughter in Canada or, at some point, Mexico. Why do you think animal agribusiness and some politicians want open plants here? Now, read the bills, and take a stand on H.R.503/S.B.727
This is the most informative story I ever read with all the facts about horse slaughter and exportation of meat. I never heard it anywhere any better any more complete.
Thank you for posting this. I do believe I’ve seen you story about the beaded pony mare somewhere.
Thank you for this poignant article.
Is “Pat” a 501-C-3 charity?
I’d like to send her a donation.
EJB….of course I would, and do, support the House/Senate Bill.
Please don’t be snide. Of course I read it. I read between the lines as well. Funny what you can find there. The reaction my simple questions got tells me there is a lot of validity to what I saw. If your opponents say it is only emotional, you might want to consider that they see something you don’t, or can’t, see.
Forgive me for saying this, but your comments remind me of the Baptist who couldn’t sleep nights worrying that somebody, somewhere was enjoying himself.
I think that you are right. WE don’t have to supply anything to the rest of the world. Consider for one moment though that there are people with equal and even greater standing in this country who do want to do that. They don’t share what has presumptively been described here by many as “our values.”(Some of them are Native tribal governments….what does that mean to you?) If you needed confirmation of just how un-homogenized we are as a culture, this issue should do the trick. If all you (not you personally, understand) can throw at those people is poorly veiled arrogance over their unenlightened state, well, how successful do you think you’ll likely be? Seems pretty axiomatic to me.
At any rate, I’ve said my piece. Some disagree and that is why they race ’em. Thanks to Orion for providing this forum. Over and out.
Your dissertation could not be any truer. I go to the local slaughter auction where I live every month to track numbers and amounts paid. Your article still brings tears to my eyes even though I see this every month. its so true. Money? odd how greed is supposed to the root of all evil and here is a example of it and yet religious people will defend it as a way for these [people to make a living honestly. How is this honest./ just because its not against the law does not make something morally or correctly honest. It sickens me every month. Same thing Mennonites, Amish and hueterites, scavengers of life at best, parasites most of the time.
I will defend teh racing leages, tehy are not perfect but at least they are fist in line to start trying to do something about it, they didnt create this overnight and it wont repair itself that fast either.
Plowboy said “Forgive me for saying this, but your comments remind me of the Baptist who couldnâ€™t sleep nights worrying that somebody, somewhere was enjoying himself.”
How ironic you would see it that way Plowboy. No, I often have trouble sleeping, but it is because of the terror I know is facing wonderful, innocent horses, not because someone might get pleasure or money out of inflicting it.
I noticed you did not address the dog meat and bull fighting levels of my extrapolation, so you clearly do not understand reasoning through extrapolation, but never mind.
Let me be clear on one point. I would never waste my time trying to convince the committed pro-slaughter types of anything. That would be a monumental waste of energy.
No, it is the thinkers, those with open minds unclouded by dogma or financial interests that we must speak to. We are talking about an ongoing struggle to define our culture. It is a living, changing thing and only by challenging our assumptions and exposing the hypocritical, cruel and unfair can we improve it, or for that matter prevent its further degradation.
It is no small matter. It is what we are as Americans.
This makes me cry. I hate the way ignorance victimizes the helpless. Thank you for putting this out there. Hopefully some good will come out of it. You are a fantastic writer.
I had planned to bow out there, but I’ll address your other points, sure.
Bull fighting is not food production. As you may see if you reread my posts, I’m not advocating animal cruelty on ANY level, especially not for sport.If your premise is that killing any animal, no matter how quick and humane, is ALWAYS cruel, well…if you are a vegan I’m bound to accept that. But, I’ve framed my issues in the context of food production. That is what this is about (or at least it is purported to be about).
If you want to raise, butcher and eat a cat or a dog, who am I to say you are a lower form of life than me? For every kind or species of animal, there is an animal lover, but as long as you don’t want to eat MY dog, what license do I have to say you shouldn’t?
Truly, I’m agape at the selective stance some here take on this point. If somebody wearing a red tie and lapel flag pin dared to get in your face and demanded that you adhere to his “Murican” values, you’d most likely (and justifiably) go into full-on hyperventilation to remind him that just because he feels that way, doesn’t make it mandatory on your part. My friends, this is no different. If you want to become your opposition, this is a great place to start.
I’m glad you are back Plowboy. Cultural dress vs treatment of animals and people are very different issues. In the Middle East women wear facial veils. Women from the U.S. generally do not wear veils when they visit the Middle East. It is acceptable for women from the Middle East to wear veils in the U.S. The women in the Middle East are treated very differently in their country. There would be a heck of a lot of ranting and raving, aka full-on hyperventilation, if we chose to put females in the role of those in the Middle East. It’s not about clothing. It’s not about food choices. It’s about ethics. It’s about taking a stand one way or the other. Slaughter facilities in the U.S. closed for several reasons. The primary reason was due to our cultural aversion to cruelty. Trust me when I tell you that there are huge problems with equine processing.
I guess I’ll have to say this (yet) again…I take it as a given that we are capable, of making the processing safe, humane and environmentally acceptable and it is not a pro or anti-animal cruelty stance I take here. If we are not doing thatâ€¦shut it down until we do. If your premise is that it is impossible to do those things, you might consider that the facts about best animal slaughter procedures are working against you and you need to be honest about what is really your issue. If you say that it IS possible, you’re being even more honest but you need to take the next step too.
Cruelty is a red herring argument, and the fact that we keep coming back to this tells me that I’m breaking my first rule about not engaging in discussions with ideologues.
And I’m afraid you’ve utterly lost me on the example of veil wearing Muslim women. If you don’t understand the difference between proscribing behavior and prohibiting behavior…well, I’m really lost as to how to respond. Stick to food. It is what this is about, and why I should be able to tell you what food you should want to eat?
Tell you what…try this thought experiment. Read this sentence:
“The slaughter of innocent fetuses is an immoral activity, and un-American”
Now, substitute “horses” for “fetuses.”
I’m going to presume here, but I’m betting that your political stance on reproductive rights gives you a negative response to the first one. (If I’ve typed you wrong, my apologies, substitute any social or political agenda that you resist)Now, if so, why not the second one?
If you don’t want to be dictated to on personal liberty issues, you don’t go around dictating to others. The freedom to eat what one chooses is as basic as reproductive, associative and religious freedoms in this country…or at least it used to be. Is that so difficult to appreciate?
I can’t help but think about that scene in one of Moore’s first films. There was a lady in Flint who had a sign in front of her house that read: “FOR SALE: Rabbits. Pet or Food.”
Now there is somebody who understands this sad old world.
Plowboy, It’s really easy to go buy meat in a grocery store. It’s cut up and prepackaged and I’d be willing to bet most of us have never really had to do anything other than that to obtain it. You pay your money and you take it home and cook it. Us first world humans have no idea where meat really comes from. We know in theory, but we’ve never had to experience it first hand, ya know. I bet there are some exceptional cows too. A few years ago I was at my Uncle’s farm in Texas and I stood out in the field where all the calves were roaming with their mother’s and they all gathered around me in a circle. The bravest calf would step forward and touch his nose to my hand and the others would follow suit. It taught me something about life. Animals are sentient beings and they experience many of the same feelings us humans do. Unfortunately there’s this nasty thing called the food chain, and meat is a bloody business, no matter where it comes from. I personally will look forward to the day when they can grow a chicken breast in the lab, sans chicken.
For sure, it should be required of all carnivores to kill something they will then eat at least once. THEN decide if you are up to the responsiblity. In my family, I was the only one of four children who would eat the lamb I raised. My sisters? Wasn’t gonna happen.
“I guess Iâ€™ll have to say this (yet) againâ€¦I take it as a given that we are capable, of making the processing safe, humane and environmentally acceptable and it is not a pro or anti-animal cruelty stance I take here. If we are not doing thatâ€¦shut it down until we do.”
We might make the meat safe by simply eliminating most of the effective equine drugs (there are almost no effective pain killers or anti-inflammatory drugs approved for cattle), but I have come to the conclusion that it is not possible to make horse slaughter humane.
I have watched for 8 years as one revelation after another has emerged. First it was the horrid USDA photos of horses arriving at slaughter plants in Texas. Then it was the undercover films of horses being stabbed in the spine in Mexico to the cheers of fellow workers. Then it was the horrible series of undercover films that came out of Canada. All of these have been verified. Even the investigators were shocked at what their cameras found!
Since every single example was a horror show, I began to ask myself why none of these operations were able to achieve anything close to humane handling. Then I read a series of articles on the physiology of brain activity in sociopaths and animal abusers.
When ordinary people see suffering, parts of their brains associated with pain show increased activity, but when sociopaths and animal abusers see pain being inflicted on helpless people or creatures, their pleasure centers light up. The more advanced the creature, the more the reward centers glowed.
So in the end, it is extremely simple. You define a job where people have to participate in or even monitor a highly sensitive animal being butchered, and good caring people experience painful sensations. Sociopathic or abusive personalities, on the other hand, experience pleasure. This virtually guarantees an abusive atmosphere.
This insight explained everything when I read it. It explains why the fellow workers in Mexico cheered at a desperately struggling horse, and it explained reports I have of these workers being happy to work for miserable wages and long hours without complaint. They enjoy their work!
Other studies have shown that the rate of violent crime is much higher in communities with slaughter operations.
It is not unlike the predictable mess that the Catholic church created when they decided their priests should be celibate. They created a work environment where a person would have to sacrifice his normal sexual urges (pain), but a pervert would have almost unlimited access to helpless children (pleasure). We all know how well that worked out.
So no Ployboy, I do not take it as a given that it is possible to have humane horse slaughter.
Commercial horse slaughter is clearly not humane. The AMVA claims that captive bolt and bullet methods of ‘euthanasia’ are humane only under the circumstance that the shot is delivered by a skilled vet while the horse’s head is restrained. Most people choose chemical euthanasia their horses. Anyone who thinks that we can implement a processing plant that is environmentally sound should visit a town with a bovine processing plant. Usually the animal blood is burned. The stench is terrible. Horses have a greater amount of circulating blood than cows.
If people similar to Rep.Sue Wallis R-WY want to euthanize their own horses and eat them, I do not necessarily have a problem with what they eat. If Sue wants to open her own taco stand, I have a problem with horse meat tacos sold to the public. The meat is likely to be toxic.
The commercial production of horse meat is cruel. Commercial horse slaughter is not and cannot be environmentally sound.
Large foreign owned plants get huge tax breaks due to a desire to attract big business. These ‘businesses’ promise jobs and revenue. Who would work there? Sociopaths! I have had the pleasure of looking into the eyes of an individual who worked on the bovine kill floor. His eyes were empty and dark. Relatively speaking, these plants do not bring the revenue that they promise.
These are some of the reasons that I do not want to reinstate a ‘business’ that has failed previously in the U.S. and, is failing elsewhere. Especially, not in the interest of big agriculture, big oil or big anything. The last thing we need is something else that is difficult to regulate. Think about it plowboy. I’m not taking a poke at you. We have discussed cultural preference. We have discussed cruelty. We have discussed the quality of horse meat. We have discussed environmental problems. We have discussed commerce. We can discuss genus and species of equidae vs bovidae, but pro-slaughter does not seem to listen. Pro-slaughter wants cash for carcasses as a solution to horse overpopulation. Simple as that. Animals are their property and they have the right to do what they want. Women are property and Middle Eastern men have the right to do what they want. Fetuses are property and one has the right to do what one wants. All of these statements may sound culturally fine, but there are limits. Some limits are a no brainer. I take a stand on reproductive rights. I don’t want a fetus around me. Some may think they are cute but, I would have a big problem if someone decided to eat one.
Your position seeems to be that NO animal slaughter is humane. If so, you’ve not been very forthcoming about your agenda. What’s up with that? If you want all animal slaughter to stop….why all the back-bending to avoid saying it?
Food animals are different than animals bred and raised for other purposes. Honestly, I’m not a radical vegan extremist. Horses, dogs, and cats are breed for a different outcome than food animals. Historically, man has chosen the purpose of each animal based on reasons that are beyond the scope of this discussion. If Sue wants to breed her own horses to feed herself and family that is fine. If she forces me to accept a commercial plant where the meat is used to feed school children and prisoners, that is where I draw the line. I am also against cruel transport of horses. I am held to strict regulation when I transport my horse across state borders. Why? There is concern that my horse might spread disease to other horses (esp. spongiform encephalopathy.) This is not an all or nothing debate. Either no animals are slaughtered or all animals can be slaughtered? The problems related to horse slaughter are multiple and complex. More complex than the problems related to animals bred for food. In the Orient, there are no puppy mills that supply the food source. Unleashed pets and strays face grave consequences. That’s their (Asia’s) deal, not mine. We have laws that protect some animals for better or worse. Horses need to be protected as well. Do we redefine livestock as cloven hoofed or define by the way in which we treat and care for them? Are elephants livestock then? I will not allow Sue to push the envelope. We are not that hungry. We can resolve animal and human overpopulation differently than China. The word is out, and horse slaughter is not going to fly in our culture. Civilization is different. We live in an era of the internet and video phones. You have the right to do as you please within the limits of state, country, and world. In that order. You have rights but, animals and other people have rights as well. In our state, country and our world that’s a fact. I’ve just written a thesis. I’ll never persuade you but, you are not going to feed my horse to school children and prisoners. You are not going to open a processing plant either. There will be no cruel transport of sick and injured horses in my realm. So, is it that I’m a vegan and you are a kill buyer?
Excuse me for saying this, but I think that you seriously need to sort out just exactly WHAT your issues are. They seem to morph and shape-shift. That’s cool though. We don’t all know our own minds, and there are lots of gray areas out there. On this one, I’d just suggest that your line between food and not-food is pretty darn subjective, and that is my entire point I’ve been hammering away at here. ALL of us have those subjective lines that we draw about what we want to put in our mouths. We don’t get to say what others put in their mouths though. The idea that somebody is “forcing” horse slaughter on you is patently absurd to me. To live in this world peacefully means that you’re going to have to accept the fact that others are doing things that you would not do, and doing them without your consent. When you cross that line of imposing your choices on them (which our friends on the right seem to excel at)you are sailing off into pretty deep waters. Good luck with that.
We’ll not get past that point, so let’s just say that is where we’ll leave it. Enjoyed the repartee. Thanks.
My mind and these issues are multiple and complex. I’ve given you the reasons that I do not want a commercial horse slaughter facility here. I believe that the foods, especially those sold to the public should be monitored for safety. I don’t think it is a good plan to feed horse meat to school children and prisoners unless they are not my children and not my prisoners. I believe that commercial horse slaughter/euthanasia/processing is stinky, messy and cruel. I don’t want a plant in my back yard. I find it wrong to force me to produce all kinds of documentation to transport my horse when commercial horse transport is cruel and unmonitored. I don’t care what people eat. Sue Wallis can ingest excrement and expire, for all I care. Theory and practice are two different things. Thanks Wade.
I could not read the whole article. Disturbing!
I cannot for the life understand how anyone can argue that how horses are treated and then slaughtered is anything moral. Somewhere along the way humans were brought up with the mentality that because it will eventually be dead it does not deserve any respect in handling before hand. Are we not all going to die sometime? Is that the same excuse used for our elderly parents when we ship them off to the cheapest nursing home? leave them home alone without visiting them? Forget they are alive and figure they will soon pass and then we can move on with our own lives. How shallow a nation we have become to treat life with no more than our time while thriving but cast away when frailty approaches.
I see no difference in the attitudes of KBs and those associated with the slaughtering of our horses and how people treat the elderly, handicapped, and mentally incapacitated, etc…
If one’s choice would be to eat horse flesh then take your animal to the knacker himself and deal with it your self and eat it. But for those who think it a means of making a living…well, you are just a waste of the air we breathe. I call you lazy,and a cull on society. I hope your children send you off to a nursing home to forget you. I see no difference.
If we in the US eat horses flesh then it needs to be handled in a way that is safe, clean, humane, and without being commercialized. None of which are being practiced currently. If we continue as a non- horse flesh eating nation, then quit supplying other countries while being a focus of our irresponsibility as horse owners and breeders. AQHA (among others) are not making any effort to restrain their breeding practices. Money seems to be the driving force while the very animals pay the price. Get it together people.
Thank you for your extremely well researched and candid article about this terrible American tragedy. I should say world tragedy, because anyone that sells a horse to slaughter or eats the meat is to equally to blame.
I have been following the horse rescue blogs on Alex Brown Racing.com for months, and in mid July, I had the pleasure of helping one of the rescues “bail out” a 9 year old Arabian cross gray mare. About four or five people chipped in the money to the rescue and soon she was safe. Luckily, she has already found a permanent home.
I live in a major city, where having a horse would not be possible for me, so I am participating in rescues by donating money where it is needed.
I encourage anyone reading this to go to AlexBrownRacing.com – discussions/rescues to see all of the people that are doing there best to help these majestic animals. The network is growing day by day and the generosity and love for “our” horses has no limit.
I encourage anyone to get involve by finding a rescue on line or in your community. Donate money, and if you can, donate your time. They will appreciate it. Many rescues have 501(c)3 status so your donation is tax deductible. Network with friends to see if you can help the rescues find homes. If you have the room in your heart and the funds to do so, either save a horse at an auction, or adopt one from the rescue. Adopting will free up a space for another horse from the auctions anyway, Write to your state, and federal representatives, and the White House, to demand protection, not just for the horses at auction, but those that are rounded up on public lands by the Bureau of Land Management (see the Cloud Foundation on line for information). We can only save one horse at a time, but together we can make a huge difference.
I totally agree with Erin and BP. As a horse owner for many years I know that it is very hard and expensive to keep older, unserviceable. Better they are euthenazed/slaughtered humanely than ignored on some plot of land. My hat is off to those who run horse rescue operations, but there are not enough to go around. We need to think of how they do it in Europe, breeding is much more strictly controlled in the first place.
I Blaisdell said:
“Better they are euthenazed/slaughtered humanely than ignored on some plot of land.”
This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the position of anti-slaughter advocates. I know of nobody who is against euthanasia. The term means “good death”. It is the least we can do for our equine partners.
But if you think slaughter is the equivalent of euthanasia, you have been tragically misled. Slaughter is a long, brutal process that starts when the horse leaves the auction packed in with other horses, often in trucks designed for smaller animals.
I suggest you look at the USDA photos of horses arriving at US slaughter plants that are posted on http://www.kaufmanzoning.net under “FOIA photos”. Look at foals born on the truck, at horses with broken legs and at others with eyeballs hanging out and tell me that is what our horses deserve!
One thing is certain, slaughter and euthanasia are not the same. Slaughter of horses is a terrifying experience for them . Euthanasia is a peaceful death. Over-breeding and the economy have created the “unwanted” horse. There is actually no such thing really as somebody will want it.
The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act , H.R. 503/S.727, needs to be passed in order to stop the use of double-deck trailers to haul horses.
Also the EU has passed strict requirements for horse meat since most contains chemicals that are not to be given horses intended for human consumption. Hopefully this will decrease horse slaughter.
Horses are not livestock ,they are classed as companion animals like our dogs and cats.
Slaughter is very different than euthanasia. The pro-slaughter people term the captive bolt method of slaughter ‘euthanasia’. Unfortunately, they also classify horses as livestock. They are opposed to legislation that impinges on their rights. They believe that if H.R.503/S.727 passes;
1. Cattle slaughter will be regulated.
2. Gun ownership will be banned or over regulated.
3. The livestock boards will have to act on horse abuse cases.
4. Extreme animal groups will have too much power. They equate HSUS with PETA.
5. The perception of horses becoming more than property will have to change.
Cruel transport is a reality. Horse slaughter in the U.S. may become a reality. The New Holland auction is a reality. Thankfully the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition exposed the slaughter industry. EU regulation is a positive step.
I am sick to my stomach with this story…This is an election year…contact your local Congressional and Senate offices and tell them that they need to lead a change to end this evil practice…someone will listen if it becomes a sticky wicket to the election In the name of God, please, somebody needs to protect these beautiful horses lives!
I’d like to point out the fact that 99% of the horses in this country are pets. They are huge, hungry pets, that use a tremendous amount of resources. I don’t care if you bought your daughter a pony, or are a grizzeled old cowboy chasing cows on his quarterhorse (when an ATV would be much faster & way less work), these people choose to take responsibility for a huge, hungry pet that will live for 25 to 30 years. The slaughterhouses are only a reaction to the irresponsible horse owners out there, who appear to be the vast majority of horse owners. Maybe it is time to rethink your love affair with the horse & stop attacking the slaughterhouses. Maybe it is time to try for you reveal the truth & true costs of horse ownership & try to disuade horse ownership. Please stop attacking the slaughterhouses who are only cleaning up the symptoms of your glorifying of the horse.
To say that the slaughter houses are “cleaning up the symptoms of glorifying of the horse” is just another cheap attempt to blame those who care about horses for the acts of those who abuse them for money. It is absurd.
Slaughter plants do not run around trying to clean up anything (even their own pollution in most cases), they kill horses to make money. To try to paint it any other way is to demean our intelligence.
It is like the propaganda that claims all the ills caused by the current recession are just “unintended consequences of animal rights people closing down the US slaughter plants.”
That might be the case if closing the plants had significantly reduced the number of American horses being slaughtered but it did not. It only changed the location of their slaughter.
This article brought tears to my eyes – but I still believe horse slaughter is important and should be allowed.
9 million horses have an enormous environmental impact. As some have pointed out, they require vast acreage to feed, and vast sums of money to care for. Often they are crammed into severely degraded pasture and half starved to death. We simply do not have the money or land to spare to care for these animals.
Furthermore, these enormous animals can provide a lot of useful meat. If we don’t use that meat, we will just increase the number of cattle that we slaughter instead.
At least these horses have been loved and had good lives. They’re the ultimate free-range, humane, grass-fed livestock. Cattle, on the other hand, live miserable lives from start to finish. In my opinion, saving horses just shifts the misery of animal suffering onto more cows, because that demand for meat will have to be met with another animal. (Or, perhaps, other nations will start factory-farming horses to fill that demand – which we all agree is NOT what we want!)
As for euthanasia, euthanizing an animal and discarding a useful carcass seems needlessly wasteful. (When I die, I certainly hope that my organs will be re-used by someone else, or perhaps my body can be dissected by students.)
I love horses as much as anyone, but let’s be realistic here. We have too many. We have got to do something with them. Instead of banning slaughter, why not build and regulate horse-specific facilities where they can be slaughtered as humanely as possible?
Alternatively, my German veterinarian friend says that in Germany, they don’t have this problem because horse breeding is strictly regulated. Perhaps forbidding people to breed horses is the solution.
Hi Lisa Thank you for the article more people need to be aware of the sick and cruel world of horses. Henry and I were involved with off the track TB’s for about seven years. With people like canter we adopted three TB’s from the track. We have moved on to BLM mustangs, Which are the most amazing equines thus far in our personal journey.Its funny in the horse world when you mention “mustang” people react! some good and some bad, its kinda of like having a rottweiler or pitbull its sad that this true american HORSE gets so much guff.
“Alternatively, my German veterinarian friend says that in Germany, they donâ€™t have this problem because horse breeding is strictly regulated. Perhaps forbidding people to breed horses is the solution.”
Germans also regulate prostitution — does that make it good? The reality is that horses like dogs and cats are overbred.
Does anyone have any information/realiable stats regarding the size of the horse auction at New Holland, PA, particularly any estimates on horses bought for slaughter and shipped to Canada?
It is very difficult to collect stats from New Holland. Slaughter and transport of horses intended for slaughter is so secretive. I know that herds of wild horses are being sold for one dollar per herd. I guarantee that these horses are purchased by KB’s, not some kind rancher who wants to adopt. The pro slaughter camp refuses to consider any alternatives that address overpopulation and humane treatment of equines. I hope this election results in victory of politicians who favor H.B.503/S.B.727.
Thank you for responding.
Could you clarify your comment about wild herds being sold for $1 as to what state this happens in? This is an abomination since we know that millions of taxpayer dollars are used to pen them up while we have hundreds of millions of acres of public lands where they should remain free.
I hope H.R. 503/S.727 passes also, so it’s important to get out and vote!
The herd was sold in Rock Springs, WY. Herds on public lands are protected but, supposedly these were abandoned or ‘estray’ horses. How does one define estray. Very, very loosely. A request for documentation was made to Wyoming Brand Commissioner. A request was made for the Wyoming Livestock Board to partner with HSUS in order to clarify this and other potential events. The Casper Star Tribune newspaper was requested to investigate. None of these requests were addressed. These horses were supposedly tame, aka estray, yet no attempt was made to re-home.
I truly believe that most of this country is uninformed of the reality in the West. Most ranchers and cowboys do not want to pay to have a horse disposed of. They want to make money from the sale of the kill. They cannot bury a horse or put the carcass in a landfill. The meat is toxic and threatens scavenger wildlife.
It is possible that a slaughter house will open here. They plan to sell this meat for human consumption here and abroad.
I could go on and on, but I won’t.
I love Horses. They are so sweet! I wish we could do anything to save horses. I hate seeing horses get injured or even killed!
Went to my first horse auction with a knowledgeable friend. She took me to the KB barn, where all the horses were destined for the trip to Canada. Little weanlings that would go for $10, healthy, friendly horses, a majestic pair of black percherons who remained firmly stuck to each other in the hours leading up to the sale (they went to KB for $300). I am a single mom with zero funds, but I fell in love with a starved gelding who was tied up with one foot of lead rope for hours on end. A friend volunteered to help me pay board and I outbid the KB by $10 and brought him home. He was 200 pounds underweight (and still the KB’s bid). 6 weeks later, he is putting on weight and is a beautiful, well mannered Saddlebred. He is sweet as pie and doesn’t have one bad habit. My daughter can ride him with just a halter and he has a beautiful gaited trot. The thought of “Luigi” on a truck to Canada with all the others I met that day (who are never far from my thoughts) just makes me ill. Thank you for continuing this discussion!
“I truly believe that most of this country is uninformed of the reality in
This is very true. WY is another world although beautiful, it is cruel and horrible. I just can’t get over what I am learning and will try to inform others. Besides that, the fact that ranchers know horsemeat is toxic and still give it away is incredible. Thank you for your input. The stats from the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition make sense.
Unfortunately, I don’t see how HR 503/S727 will pass now.
The thought of â€œLuigiâ€ on a truck to Canada with all the others I met that day (who are never far from my thoughts) just makes me ill.
People honestly don’t know what goes on during auctions and afterwards. Thanks for sharing.
Please understand that none of the pro slaughter people “give” a horse away for meat or otherwise. They want to make money. If they were giving horses away, many would be re-homed. This makes the situation even more disturbing. They sell weak, sick, and unwanted horse, whose meat is tainted.
I just returned from traveling the Dakotas. I spoke to many pro slaughter people. These people actually believe that captive bolt slaughter is humane. Many believe that wild horses are pests of the range. Others simply believe that slaughter is the only reasonable answer to overpopulation of both wild and tame horses. These are the same people who slaughtered natural predators. Some of the people that I spoke to well educated horse trainers, wildlife toxicologists and the like, all pro slaughter.
Please do not give up on H.R,503/S.B.727. I believe that if Republicans and Democrats are made aware of the reality of slaughter most will block it. Horses are nice and pretty, etc. but politicians will not listen to emotional arguments.
Horse slaughter causes serious environmental problems related to the disposal of blood. Horse meat is tainted. That is the reason it is no longer a primary ingredient in pet food. Foreign owned plants benefit from many tax breaks. There are other ways to control wild horse overpopulation. Puppy mill style horse breeding operations need to be regulated. They can slaughter and slaughter but the true problems will not be addressed slaughter. If they think that Americans are going to start eating horse meat, they are sadly mistaken.
“do not give up on H.R,503/S.B.727.”
It’s stuck in “limbo”. Various state legislatures are writing bills that really intend to produce disinformation. I just don’t think the majority of people realize that horse slaughter is going on in Mexico/Canada or else there would be outrage. I’m just learning about this now, and it’s devastating what happens to our horses.
“There are other ways to control wild horse overpopulation.”
You mean with PZP? According to Ginger Kathrens, the chemical can produce permanent sterility. There are a number of groups holding protests against BLM’s roundups especially this weekend.
“Foreign owned plants benefit from many tax breaks.”
You mean tax breaks here?
“Puppy mill style horse breeding operations.”
Which states are doing this mostly? – do you know?
There is pro slaughter propaganda ‘out there.’ Rep Sue Wallis, R-WY is behind much of it. R.T. Fitch discusses Wallis’ twisted pro slaughter arguments in his newsletter, “Straight from the Horse’s Heart”
There is an anti slaughter petition on the Animal Rescue Site. I believe that it helps to circulate and sign some of these petitions.
Dr. Patricia Fazio published her research on PZP. (Google her name) PZP rarely causes permanent sterility. For fifteen years PZP has been successfully used to control wild horse populations in Maryland and Virginia. Keep in mind that PZP is only used for wild horses.
You can find many stats, including tax records, from the Dallas Crown and Beltex plants on Mary Nash’s site, kaufmanzoning.net
John Holland from the Equine Welfare Alliance publishes some good stuff.
I believe that irresponsible breeding operations can be found throughout the U.S. I visited one ranch that has 20 to 30 broodmares foaling annually.
The public and many legislators in Washington are unaware of the horrors related to horse slaughter. I found it interesting that Wyoming’s political candidates claim ‘to know nothing about the horse slaughter issues.’ Please believe me, these politicians are ranchers! They are the puppets of animal agribusiness.
I hope this information will help you.
I will be traveling for about one week. If you have more questions, there may be a delay in my response.
I am confident that, if people like you are informed, most would block the reinstatement of a horse slaughter plant in the U.S. I spent six months objectively researching the facts in order to provide reasonable anti slaughter arguments. I wrote many letters to Washington after I was shut down in Wyoming.
EJD – thank you for the additional information! Knowledge is power and I appreciate the hours you put in to researching this. Hopefully many of us can keep spreading the word, backed up with good documentaion.
EJD and other readers:
The Cloud Foundation needs many people to comment on BLM’s proposal to further use long term PZP on Cloud’s family. In addition, BLM is targeting Cloud’s family for permanent removal.
Please read this information and respond if you wish to BLM or to the Cloud Foundation who will send the letter for you at http://www.thecloudfoundation.org/
“There is pro slaughter propaganda â€˜out there.â€™”
You’re absolutely right. The sources you provided are valuable although very hard to read because of the cruelties they highlight.
It’s also hard to fathom the American Quarter Horse Society promotes horse slaughter, because as they say there are 80,000 – 100,000 unwanted horses in the U.S. per year. So they are currently trucked to Canada and Mexico.
We can’t give up on this though. The industry needs to provide sanctuaries for these animals once they reach old age or when they can no longer “earn” their keep. Again, thank you for your responses.
Keep me posted.
This article goes to show that not all horse stories are as heart warming as Sea Biscuit. When a child on my uncle’s farm back in the 50’s I was told that the work horses, when they died or got too old, were sold to make dog food. Later I learned that some people eat dogs. This article was the first I ever heard about horses being consumed by humans. Thanks Lisa for all your research and for conveying this sad story in such an elegant way.
After reading Lisa’s article “Dark Horse”, I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and shame that this can happen in the United States. Horse slaughter is profanely inhumane, and it occurs openly and for profit. Lisa’s ability to write about this topic and be in such close company with those she must despise, demonstrates the bravery and conviction of a dedicated journalist. Her words weave together seamlessly, and though the story is tough to read, she gently and honestly guides your understanding about a serious issue which many of us knew nothing about previously.
I thoroughly enjoyed Lisa’s book “The Hopes of Snakes,” and was thrilled to learn that she had written an article about horses for Orion Magazine. The subject of “Dark Horse” was new to me, and I was deeply disgusted by the inhumane slaughter practices of such sensitive animals. I appreciated the mix of Lisa’s first-hand investigation with reports from other witnesses of this horrendous practice. Thank you for including this piece, and for the wonderful discussion, which gives layman like myself an opportunity to learn more about what people can do to stop these practices.
No animal should be treated the way these horses are. Thanks Lisa for telling their story.
this must stop !!!!
Very good article Lisa. Have you thought of doing an article on the BLM and its current practices with regard to our wild horses and burros?
My wish for 2011 is empathy and care for all of the creatures of the planet and the planet too.
Euthanasia is one answer to horse slaughter in North America. The biggest problem, however, is over breeding. One rancher near here breeds dozens of horses each year for the rodeo circuit. Most of them don’t buck hard enough, so he takes them directly to the local slaughterhouse, bypassing the kill buyer. Another quarter horse breeder, looking for sympathy in the hard economic times, stated that she had to breed a hundred horses just to get one ‘good’ one. The rest go directly to slaughter. Ending horse slaughter would take away their livelihood, but successfully abolishing illegal drugs would take away the livelihood of drug dealers, and do THEY deserve any sympathy? Horse slaughter is big business, lining the pockets of very few, not much unlike the ‘factory farming’ that has quickly become the common method of cruelly producing the cheap food we think we are entitled to.