Swallowing the Bitter Pill – the Horse Slaughter Issue

If you are a horse lover, chances are you have see the latest article or something similar:

Obama Legalizes Horse Slaughter for Human Consumption by madeline bernstein

Snippets from the article include “During these trying times, is the only thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on is that Americans need to eat horses?”

Someone will read this blog post and will announce that “Square Peg is pro-slaughter.” That’s not just false, it’s silly.  For the last 20 years of my life, I’ve been placing OTTB’s in homes.  If I cloned myself a thousand times and if I cloned the amazing Joe Shelton twice that many times, we could not save them all.  It’s a fact that rescuers live with every darn day.  With slaughter banned in the US,  these animals head in terrible conditions to slaughter plants across the boarders.  Those plants are not supervised by anything like the Department of Agriculture and they don’t have inspectors from the FDA imposing fines on renegade operations.  The horror is palpable.  I won’t go into it here – if you are curious, you can look it up yourself.  But bring a strong stomach and some tissue.

For now, until we can address the horse overpopulation issue horse slaughter will continue and it’s unsavory.  So why wouldn’t we afford our horses the same protections that we gave the cow that you ate at lunch yesterday?  Because we don’t want to face the reality that horse slaughter exists and that we, as the horse community are in some way responsible?   Are you ready for the facts?  Not only will protesting legalized horse slaughter not save a single horse, we have now doomed those same horses to a horrific and torturous death. Over 100,000 made the trip last year and this year will be no different, there are too many horses and the economy is not improving while horse care costs continue to rise.

Want to really save some horses?  Want to make a difference?

Then donate until it hurts to a local rescue with a strict

Quincy - OTTB (broken sesamoid) photo by Paul Van Allen

NO BREEDING policy. Encourage your friends to do the same.  Ask for the rescue’s adoption contract.  Find out if the rescuer has a breeding operation.  I’m always blown away at how many rescues have parallel breeding programs.  Wow!  How is that addressing the overpopulation problem?

Volunteer at the local Humane Society, or help a struggling neighbor keep her horse through the winter. Sponsor a rescue horse for a Christmas gift for a friend or a child. Offer your talents in marketing or housekeeping or brochure writing for your favorite rescue.  Question the folks in your local horse club when you hear someone say something like “she’s going to be off for a year and we aren’t sure that she will be sound again so my husband said we can breed her.” No seriously, have that conversation every chance you get and you will be saving lives!

Don’t have extra time or cash?  Then support rescues with the money you are already spending. Give your business to the local vet, farrier and feed companies that help out rescue operations.  If you don’t know who they are, call the local rescue, they will be glad to tell you. Promote your favorite rescue on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Encourage your local riding club to attend fundraisers for legitimate rescues.  Host a bake sale at your school  or a bowling party.  So many fun options that really will be making a significant difference!

House Music, OTTB Photo by Paul Van Allen

If you are a racing fan, support racing in states such as California, Kentucky and Illinois who directly fund Thoroughbred Aftercare and push them to support aftercare for the horses who never made it to the track.  The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is doing more than ever in history to support ex race horses.  Encourage their work with a card or a note or a call. Let them know that you appreciate their sincere efforts.

Want to take on the environmental issue of a slaughterhouse? Simply eliminate meat from two meals per week to start.  Encourage your friends to do the same.  If that works well, make sure that for another two meals per week, that you choose local and/or organic meats.  How hard is that to put your morals where your mouth is?  Lead by example and friends and family will follow. That’s how lasting change has always occurred.

And lastly, if you do decide that the old horse in your pasture really needs to go to a good home, pick the rescue or the organization mindfully and be prepared to make a cash donation for that animal’s care.  And I don’t mean $50.  If you expect the rescue to care for and re-home and re-habilitate your  horse, please be prepared to donate three to 12 months worth of feed, farrier, dentistry, veterinary and training costs.

Yes, it’s easy to get upset by reading headlines and we love to blame our legislators.  Remember that they didn’t create the horse overpopulation problem. They’re trying to address an economic issue and the moral problem of the transport and unregulated slaughter for our beautiful horses.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow and none of us  like it.  Remember that we, as the horse owning community must be responsible for the animals we produce.



5 Replies to “Swallowing the Bitter Pill – the Horse Slaughter Issue”

  1. Good job Joell, as a follow horse organization, I thought about this all night myself. You were able to quickly articulate what I was thinking and was going to address in our next newsletter. IF you are SO outraged, than help us out! Take a stand and help the horses that any of us already have in our possession that needs a home. Or as you said DONATE and GIVE of yourself. Its going to be an uphill battle, for many of us for many reasons–the horses God bless them, need us more than ever.

  2. These are all wonderful ideas. In addition to these; horses could be used to educate inner city kids who may never have seen a horse, or providing funds to operate riding stables and give some of these horses a useful life, Vetinary schools could use horses to study and NOT dissect. There are other options I'm sure

  3. As a Humane Society volunteer and foster parent for abandoned dogs and cats, I realize the issues here are complex (I'm also a vegetarian and don't wear leather goods). You have every reason to be proud of your achievements (though you're probably too busy to pause for a moment of self-congratulation).

    HOWEVER, I think the pragmatic approach you propose here is too simple. Yes, simply banning domestic slaughter may lead to other, perhaps greater abuses, such as less humane slaughterhouses in other countries. But the transportation and sale of horses to Mexico, Canada, etc. must also be made illegal.

    Yes, that would lead to overpopulation in the case of non-protected wild horses, but slaughter is a poor form of population control (imagine if we killed elderly humans as a way to reduce our population).

    As for domesticated horses, the simplest way to decrease the growing number of unwanted and unneeded horses is to limit the wanton breeding in the first place. Rather than support those states that provide aftercare for race horses, why not simply eliminate horse racing altogether? Domestic slaughterhouses would increase the incentive to overbreed race horses and sell off the less suitable offspring.

    If horse owners are abandoning their companions due to economic problems, why reward them by paying them by the pound? Why not require horse owners to pay a licensing fee that would serve as an emergency fund in the event of unforeseen economic problems? (Anyone who can't afford an extra licensing fee can't afford a horse.)

    I don't mean to criticize your motives or your ethos. Certainly, just responding emotionally without knowledge or action can make a situation worse. I simply would like to suggest you take your pragmatic approach one step further. No individual or small group can do this alone. Please use your experiences and success to energize others to refuse to accept domestic slaughter as an acceptable alternative and to go beyond simple steps such as donations in solving this problem.

    1. Dear Steven,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You have also put together some good alternatives, many of which are being tried with differing degrees of success.

      As for banning racing, I personally have and will continue to ride horses for sport, so I would be a hypocrite if I advocated banning racing. I know and work with some very dedicated and talented horsemen in racing on a daily basis.

      As you mentioned, the answers are not simple. But the point of my post is – simply stated, the slaughter industry and the legislators are not to blame, the horse community has created this problem and it's time to step up with personal responsibility not only to curtail breeding, but to actively discourage and speak out about overbreeding within our own social, showing and riding groups.

      All of the horses at Square Peg ranch had uncertain futures. Several of them were snatched from the slaughter truck. Every day, we reach out to our local community, particularly through the children and change perceptions about the value of life. That is our motive and this is our ethos.

      Together we strive to make a better world.


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