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Killing Them Softly

Animal advocates support resuming domestic horse slaughter

By Stacey R. Hall · January 31st, 2012 · News
The good girl in the Tom Petty song loves her mama, Jesus, America, horses and her boyfriend, too. Petty doesn’t specify if the order is a ranked one, but does equate them all to something centrally pure, something uniquely American. The horse is not on the list by accident.

Whether doodled with rainbows on girls’ school notebooks or depicted as a national symbol of freedom with mane flapping in the wind, the horse stands out as an animal loved among animals. 

“A horse is something unearthly,” says 14-year-old Brianna Gonzalez, pausing from shoveling manure that is beginning to freeze to the ground at Phoenix Equestrian Center in New Richmond. “That is why people love horses.”

Brianna and her mother, Linda Gonzalez, are the sole proprietors of the equestrian center, located about 25 miles east of Cincinnati along the Ohio River, where they board, train, teach riding and do some limited breeding.

The love of horse makes the idea of turning them into meat unthinkable to many, which led to the 2006 prohibition against use of federal funds for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to inspect horses slaughtered in this nation for consumption. 

Ending horse slaughter domestically, however, didn’t end the practice — it merely shifted it to Mexico and Canada, says Thomas Lenz, a veterinarian, past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and current senior director of the Equine Veterinary Group for Pfizer. He refers to a June 2011 General Accounting Office report that shows 138,000 horses after the ban are sent out of the nation each year, around the same number slaughtered domestically before the ban.   

Export of horses for slaughter created a new problem: The suffering associated with long-distance transport. Laura Osborn-Coffey owns horses and has worked in training and barn management in facilities across the Midwest. She saw this problem first-hand on the highway: Three trailers crammed with horses, heading north. 

“You couldn’t even get an arm between them, they were so packed,” she says.

Osborn-Coffey was so disturbed by the scared face of a chestnut pony staring out through the slats that she followed the trailers and complained to officers that pulled one of the vehicles over, presumably for lacking posted tags.

“They said there was nothing they could do. There was nothing illegal about what they were doing,” she adds. 

Transport isn’t only crowded and long, but horses may go without water, get kicked and endure painful conditions for hours or days before arriving at the final destination. Some die en route. Those that live, once outside of the nation, are also outside the purview of any USDA regulations pertaining to humane slaughter.

Economic conditions have created additional challenges for horses and those that love them. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports it costs $1,825 per year to care for one horse, and this number doesn’t include veterinary treatment or farrier services for hooves.

“It has become a question of how we maintain the quality of an animal’s life on a smaller budget,” says Scott Strosnider of the Lebanon Equine Clinic, referring to the difficulties some people are having due to rising grain, hay and fuel costs.

Julie Radgowski of Cincinnati agrees. “They are expensive and you never know what is going to happen.” Radgowski currently cares for seven horses, all off-the-track thoroughbreds that she retrains and sells for careers in showing and competition.

Both Strosnider and Radgowski report seeing increased numbers of horses undernourished and neglected relative to economic conditions. “I pass by horses out in the field with no blanket, no shelter and too skinny,” Radgowski says. 

In November, H.R. 2112 passed, which allocates funding for several government agencies, including the USDA, and removed the 2006 ban and open the door for horse slaughter to resume domestically. 

“Better to be here and regulated,” Radgowski says. “I’m not a person that wants to see horses slaughtered, but if it’s going to happen, I’d rather see it happen here. No loading on a trailer, no suffering like that for days.”

Katheryn Bullock agrees. “I do support horse slaughter, which surprises most people, especially since horses are my love, my life, my job and what I went to school for.” Bullock works on a thoroughbred farm and is a recent Equine Science graduate. It is better to have humane slaughter than to see horses starve, she says.

Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently supported the resumption of slaughter in the United States as compared to the export alternative. PETA also advocates for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, however, that would end domestic slaughter as well as outlaw any transport for slaughter, closing the 2006 loophole. 

According to Lenz, this bill doesn’t provide alternatives for unwanted horses, and misses a larger reality: Demand for horse meat (primarily consumed in Europe and Asia) doesn’t drive slaughter; what drives horse slaughter in this nation “is the availability of cheap horses.” Backyard trainers and poor breeding are contributors, Radgowski adds.

“The key is responsible ownership. Instead of breeding, buy one; instead of buying, adopt one,” Lenz says. “This whole issue has really caused the horse industry to take a hard look at itself. There are a lot of efforts to improve things.”

And it is in the horse industry where horse lovers are found most of all. Riding, competing or training, they are universal admirers of what makes the equine unique.

Brianna Gonzalez also reminds, in a sentiment attributed to her mother, “The horse’s two greatest enemies are human ignorance and flies.” ©




02.02.2012 at 10:46 Reply

Humane Horse Slaughter is a Myth

While cattle slaughter is humane horse slaughter is not. Cattle are raised and handled in groups for their entire lives. They are processed through lanes and chutes on a regular basis to get fly tags, vaccinations, de-worming, weights taken. etc. In the chute their head and neck are restrained for a few seconds while the process is applied then they are released. They get used to standing in the chute and waiting. The lane to the kill box is very familiar to them. Since they are easily restrained and stand relatively still they are easily stunned on the first attempt. Most plants have a 97% or better stun on first shot with cattle. Humane standard for kill is 95% success on first shot.

Horses are trained from birth to be lead and to trust humans. They are flight animals who are scared easily, and panic when confined. To get them to go into scary places we lead them and talk to them getting them to trust and FOLLOW us. Being pushed from behind, through the lane to the kill box is very frightening to them. Electric prods are often used to shock them into going forward. This reinforces their fear and many are terrified by them time they reach the kill box. Horses are naturally head shy and with a long flexible neck, can’t be restrained like cattle. Because of this the captive bolt often misses it’s mark on the first try. Then you have a horse in extreme pain due to a hole in it’s skull. He is in terror as the captive bolt is brought towards his head again, so he fights even harder. If he is lucky one of the next few attempts will hit the target making him brain dead. if he is not so lucky he will eventually collapse in agony and the stunner will dump him out still conscious to be strung up and have his throat slit. In horse plants the worker who slits the throat often wears chest protector and helmet because it is not uncommon to have the horse come to and start thrashing wildly. Historically US horse plants struggled to reach 90% stun on the first shot. The state-of-the-art plant in Canada is getting no better results and often much worse.

Yes, we eat meat in this country, but we don’t torture animals in the process.


02.03.2012 at 06:55 Reply

Horses are treasured companions and should never fall prey to the cruel, predatory and unnecessary practice of horse slaughter for foreign consumption.  Wherever it occurs, horse slaughter is inherently cruel and inhumane.  Horses’ instinctual flight response makes them ill-suited for stunning, so they often endure repeated blows and sometimes remain conscious during their dismemberment. Previous plants under USDA inspection had rampant violations of cruelty, as detailed in government documents. Only one percent of America’s nine million horses are sent to slaughter each year – a number too minute to affect the horse industry economy and one too easily mitigated by responsible breeding and ownership practices.  Many rehoming options, including online adoption resources, are available to horse owners.  Financial planning can mean the difference between a humane end and a tortuous end for a horse.  That responsibility and advanced planning is part of what it means to be a horse owner. It is time to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 2966/ S. 1176) and permanently ban the slaughter of our nation’s equines.



02.13.2012 at 05:28 Reply

Thank you for the thoughtful treatment of what is a very touchy and scary issue for horse owners and lovers.  Those of us that love our animals and have the means are going to euthanize them at home and care for them correctly until the end.  

But there are so many that cannot do those things, or don't want to.  Too many "horse lovers" are becoming HOARDERS and their idea of head-hanging almost starving horses in a backyard as being a "kinder option" is obviously also a contentious article of discussion.

Until we control BREEDING of these animals - they are going to continue to be used up and thrown away.  There needs to be a humane and swift option to provide those animals a way to be disposed of correctly - and we know that proper humane methods DO exist. That is what USDA is FOR.

Again - thank you for your report.  I am sharing.