The misconception with equine slaughtering is rooted deep in what really happens. Picture over 50 horses packed into a closed off truck, some with injuries, some unable to withhold their own weight due to malnourishment. The racehorse from the track that finished at the back of the pack last week or the foal who just didn’t live up to his breeder’s expectations. The old school mare who spent years caring for the younger children first learning to ride and the Budweiser pony who pulled one too many carts trying to please his owner.
The collection of horses all piled together in a confined and crowded double-decker cattle truck. They are offered no food or water, sleep is nearly impossible to obtain, and fear runs through all the animals veins. A simple fact that is often not acknowledged is that the majority of horses sent to slaughter have not been raised for such practices. The large majority have them have been in constant contact with humans whether from pleasure riding, rodeo, horse races, heavy duty draft, ranch work or the variety of other disciplines.
They are used to being cared for by humans; fed, exercised, and cleaned and have created a trust with them. While there are still a notable few places where the horses are bred specifically to be sent to slaughter, the majority of them just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and their future becomes determined at a auction house by a mallet and a few bills. Their winning bidder has become the killer buyer who will ensure they are to be delivered to the slaughterhouse, no matter their condition. For a human broken and domesticated horse, a slaughterhouse is far from their known world.
To suddenly be mistreated and disoriented is an emotional and terrifying experience and only begins the animal’s suffrage on the road to death. A slaughterhouse does not follow the same regulations that an animal shelter does. In Mexican and Canadian slaughter plants, each horse is either stabbed multiple times in the neck using a “puntilla knife” to severe their spinal chords or administered a thirty second shock treatment; just enough to be able to tie a rope around its hind legs and hoist it up in midair. Still very much alive, the animal is left to bleed out and is slowly dismembered by the workers.
Very rarely does a horse experience death before it starts to feel the pain (Vets Stunned at Horse Slaughter Misinformation). Studies have shown that most Americans perceive that slaughterhouses use a form of euthanasia. The cold truth is it’s a far cry from being humane. In fact, humane slaughter is an oxymoron in itself. Euthanizing a horse is a cheap and painless alternative that costs a mere two hundred and fifty dollars, the average monthly price to sustain and care for the animal. “Euthanasia is the act of inducing humane death in an animal. The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek ? terms meaning “good death”.
Euthanasia techniques are supposed to ensure that if an animal’s life is to be taken, it is done with the highest degree of respect and with an emphasis on making the death as painless and distress free as possible. The method should minimize anxiety experienced by the animal prior to a rapid loss of consciousness and which is followed by cardiac or respiratory arrest and the ultimate loss of brain function” (Facts that Refute the 7 Most Common Myths about Horse Slaughter). Not only is the horse brutally mutilated and destroyed during this process, but also the resulting products can be potentially harmful and deathly to humans.
Most slaughter-bound horses have been vaccinated with a variation of drugs and enhancers throughout their lifetime, the majority of which have never been tested on humans. Phenylbutazone, or “bute” as it is most commonly referred to, is used on a variety of different types of horses – as determined by the federal government’s National Toxicology Program. We must keep in mind that Europe has adopted a policy where horses that are slaughtered for human consumption are required by law to come with documentation that they are free of drugs that would not be fit for human consumption.
The slaughter companies in northern America, most specifically Mexico and Canada have yet to require any such assurances to their exported horsemeat. There has also yet to be a system to track the past history of slaughter horses to determine their origin in case of a tainted food scare or recall According to USDA, in 2006, 92% of horses they inspected were young and healthy. This high percentage is caused by the increasing demands for exported horsemeat in international countries and has very little to do with the overpopulation of unwanted horses.
In a sense, the majority of “unwanted horses” are not unwanted at all. As recent studies have shown, there are over 400 equine rescues in just the United States that take in new horses on a daily basis. There has been an increase in the demands for horses to be used as therapeutic teachers for returning Iraq war vets, autistic humans and other physically and mentally challenged people. They are also now being used as a means of prisoner rehabilitation across the United States and other countries. In addition, more equine retirement facilities and rescues are being opened.
Just slightly more than 1% of the entire equine population ends up being sent to slaughter (Horse Slaughter Facts and FAQ). While there are numerous purposes for the use of slaughterhouses, the most popular and widely used one deals with the sale and consumption of horsemeat. This practice dates back to the early 1800’s when the French and Russians were at war. Emperor Napoleon recommended to his starving warriors that horsemeat was an appropriate alternative for food as it was protein-rich and had an almost sweetened taste to it.
Later on, when the costs of living in France had skyrocketed in 1866, the government legalized the ingesting of horsemeat as it was more plentiful and less costly than that of other animal meats (Horse Meat). In today’s society, many countries, including but not limited to Germany, France, Belgium, Chili, and Japan are still active consumers of horsemeat. The slaughtering of horses is banned in the United States, but that does not mean it doesn’t still happen under our noses. Canada and Mexico each offer their own forms, if the horse owners are willing to smuggle their animals across the border.
An estimated 40,000 horses were sent to Canada and over 65,000 to Mexico in the previous year to find themselves in slaughterhouses. Two of the most notable acts that seek to lower these numbers are The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act and The Horse Transportation Safety Act. These would provide the necessary protection for America’s equine population from slaughter effectively ban any use of double deck trailers to ? transport horses no matter where they are headed and ensure a safe and successful travel. They also ensure strict enforcement and penalties for anyone who tries to cross them (The Facts on Horse Slaughter).
The United States still breeds a large abundance of horses each year. They, however, have yet to make any provisions or laws to help determine the horses disposal and death. While many anti-slaughterists have strived to ensure that all excess equines are to be cared for, the Robert Lawrence of the Equine Industry Program at the University of Louisville estimates that this would require a sum of around $400 million dollars a year. California passed an anti-slaughtering law back in 1998, but the aftermath seemed to prove that the act backfired.
As many veterinarians had feared, there were still a fair share of horses being sent to slaughterhouses, but now they were forced to make the trek to another state or even Mexico or Canada and be met with even worse conditions along the way. If their owners did not find slaughter a good alternative and could not afford to euthanize their pets, many people simply deserted their horses and left them to starve. Abandonment is a problem that dates back to the recession and has become increasingly popular in current times. The sad truth is that there will always be horses abandoned and left to starve.
It is a practice that directly relates to the drought and economic conditions as well as the hay and farmland prices. While abandonment is a practice that will never fully disappear, the slaughtering of equines is not. When I sat down and interviewed my horseback-riding trainer, Brianna, her beliefs about slaughter were standard: “It [horse slaughtering] doesn’t exist in the United States anymore…Yes, there are still horses being killed in other ways but we don’t allow them to be slaughtered”. As our discussion continued, she proved the ignorance of almost all Americans to what is truly going on.
While the use of slaughterhouses in the United States has been banned, thousands of horses each year are sent to neighboring countries to be tortured and killed in these plants. Almost all horses sent here have been deemed in good health and are not unwanted at all, just unlucky. The use of these houses is majorly for the creation of horse byproducts, like meat. Horses are still being killed in a majority of other ways, but slaughter is by far the most inhumane and misunderstood of them all and needed to be banned completely across the world.