Something to think about — unwanted horses and other musings

No, this is not another post on the BLM/Wild Horse issue, although it’s related, and there will be more posts on the Wild Horse subject soon.  There are some highly recommended links at the end of this post, so be sure to check them out.

To get into the horse slaughter discussion is to really “step in it.”  But it’s difficult to talk about the issue of how to deal with the large number of unwanted horses in this country without talking about it, and some other highly-charged issues.  So pull on your virtual muck boots and lets go — it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Things I think about on a regular basis:

– Stewardship of equines is our responsibility as humans.  Can we all agree on that?  It’s a basic premise for everything that follows.  If you disagree, send a post and lets talk about it.

– I have not been totally anti-slaughter because I can’t think of an alternative.  While I believe that many horses bound for slaughter are treated inhumanely, the vision of tens of thousands of starving and mistreated horses dying slowly because no one can care for them seems worse.  I’m pretty sure all the people who insist that we could have found suitable adoptive homes for the 70,000 or so horses that went to slaughter last year are living on Planet Pollyanna.  If all the horse rescues are already bursting at the seams, where are we going to find an additional number of homes with responsible people who have the means and the knowledge to care for these horses?

– If there was a truly humane way to dispose of unwanted horses, would it matter whether the meat was bound for human consumption outside the U.S.?  The answer isn’t a simple yes or no.  Humane euthanasia involves drugs that render horses unfit for human consumption.  In fact, given the chemicals we use in wormer — read the label! — the vast majority of horses should not be entering the food supply, regardless of what country they’re headed for.  So, I guess whether people eat them or not should be a moot point.

– If the slaughter methods used for horses are exactly the same as the slaughter methods for cows and pigs, isn’t slaughter of all livestock equally inhumane?  Why are those methods ok for meat that we eat here in the U.S., and not for horse meat?  If we can set up a space station, shouldn’t we be able to figure out a humane way of slaughtering all kinds of animals that we need for food?  I’m not saying we should stop raising animals for meat or stop eating meat.  I am saying that we should insist that the animals we intend to eat should be healthy, transported safely and comfortably, and not subjected to stress, fear or pain in the process of converting them from living beings to our sustenance. 

– Do all the horses that go to slaugher represent unwanted horses? Apparently not.  Some people who send their horses to dealers and auctions apparently have no idea that the high bidder might be a kill dealer.  That’s the waay the dealers want it — otherwise they’d have a lot fewer customers.  Depending on the demand for meat and the kill dealer’s desire to meet his quota, it might be difficult to outbid him.  One interesting statistic that I read recently indicated that horse theft dropped by 34% in California when that state outlawed selling horses for slaughter.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?  I’ve read some reports recently of horses rescued from slaughter whose original owners specifically noted in their bills of sale that the horse should never go to auction, but that’s where the horses ended up anyway.  My take on it:  don’t kid yourself about horse auctions (I’m told that the majority of horses sold at New Holland are bound for slaughter) and NEVER send your horse to an auction unless you are ok with it going to slaughter.  If you don’t believe me, stick around at the end of an auction and watch the dealers who are loading up a whole bunch of horses on a trailer.  Chances are good that they’re heading north or south to a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico.

–  Big sources of horses that go to slaughter:  The Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries — both through overbreeding and breeding nurse mares, and the Premarin industry.  Some of the results of these breeding programs are perfectly good horses.  Others are inbred nightmares that aren’t suitable to be sport or companion horses.  Horse breeders (myself included) have an obligation to produce animals that will have a decent life, and do everything we can to ensure it.  Some large-scale breeders kill or send the foals to slaughter right away if they won’t be suitable for the purpose they were bred for.  Is that wrong?  I’m not sure.

– There’s probably a lot more that we could be doing toward the goal of being ultimately responsible for the horses we bring into the world — such as making sure all horses are registered and microchipped.  Yes, microchipped.  I know a lot of people are against requiring that, but I’ve come to believe the benefits outwiegh the negatives.  Here’s a scenario:  I put specific instructions in my horse’s registration that he is never to be sold at auction or sent to slaughter.  That information is stored in a national datbase somewhere, along with the horse’s pedigree and chain of ownership.  There’s a person with a scanner at the auction house scanning horses and checking brands, and my horse brings up an alert when scanned.  The alert is recorded, along with the name of the auction house, and a contact person for the horse and the breed registry are notified.  It’s up to the breed registry whether they notify the breeder and/or the last owner of record.  The auction house risks prosecution, both civil and criminal if it sells the horse.  A local horse rescue that is funded by the state to protect such horses is notified, and they collect the horse from the auction house.  If the horse was stolen, the owner can get him back.  If the horse is unwanted, the rescue will attempt to place him and if he can’t be placed in a new home, he will be humanely euthanized, and that information will also be communicated to the breed registry.  I would be willing to pay a small additional fee to the state for each horse I sell, and/or to the breed registry when I register the horse to defray the cost of administering such a program.  The above doesn’t take into account “backyard bred” horses that don’t have a breed-registry pedigree.  I’m sure the model could be adjusted to include them.  I have a lot of other ideas about the benefits of microchipping, but I’ll save them for another blog post.  🙂 

So, what do you think of my ideas?  Here’s a link to a good article with a fairly realistic assessment of the unwanted horse and slaughter issue:  http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/features/horseslaughter-152.shtml.  Here’s a link to information about Temple Grandin and humane slaughter methods:  http://spiritofhumane.com.  Lots of information about Thoroughbreds, TB racing, horse welfare and off-the-track TB’s can be found at www.alexbrownracing.com.

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