Monday, December 5, 2011

Horse slaughter: Getting practical

Several years ago author Jane Smiley wrote a pragmatic pro-horse-slaughter essay for the New York Times. I'm a fan of her writing (anyone here read Horse Heaven?), and I think in this article she offers a sound perspective on a tragic, unwinnable situation. There are horses that no one wants, and they require lots of resources to maintain, and all too often they end up starving. I think she wants to be realistic about what is the best that we can expect for them under present circumstances. It's not great, and no one claims its a good solution. She advocates that we manage their slaughter in a humane way, and even that seems like a pipe dream when I read what happens now.

In my mind, the ray of hope in a grim situation is this: Horses don't see the future; if we're careful, they can't anticipate the end of their life. If we are kind, they will not see it coming and there will be no pain. For unwanted horses, that's what we need to strive for. I suppose this is also true for our beloved pets.

A word on Jane
I have also read criticism of Jane Smiley on occasion, and I want to respond to potential comments in advance. Jane has been accused of being less than caring in what happens to her racers after they leave her care. I can't know the author personally, and I tend to reserve judgement on all but the most outrageous behaviors people I don't know.  I do think that her writing has  raised awareness of horses and the thoroughbred racing industry, and that she can't be completely unfeeling and write what she writes. The horse in her novel, Justa Bob, is unforgettable. Here she writes about when he goes up for auction...


  1. I am so conflicted about this. I hate the idea of horse slaughter, but at present, there is no solution for the over population of unwanted horses.

    A truly humane end at a slaughterhouse would be far better than starvation and neglect. The trouble is guaranteeing "humane end."

  2. Jean, you and I are of one mind in this regard. I would have less of an issue with slaughter if there was a guarantee of a humane end. As far as I can tell, the closest we have to a humane end available now is euthanasia by a vet. What riles me is when people think slaughter and euthanasia are the same thing. They most certainly are NOT.

  3. I am not going to wade into this (I think you know how I feel anyway), but I did want to say that I read and loved "Horse Heaven." My favorite Justa Bob part is after the auction. "This was not his sort of conveyance at all, oh, no" or words to that effect. WAAAAHHH!

    Unfortunately, after learning about the Waterwheel debacle, I will no longer support Ms. Smiley via buying a book. I was extremely disappointed in that situation, especially because of the auction scene in the book!

  4. Stacy, I agree with your position. In an ideal world there would be no horse slaughter anywhere on this continent (or world). What many people (especially non-horse people) don't realize is that American horses are still being slaughtered despite the ban in this country. They're being transported to Mexico and Canada where we have no say in their treatment.

  5. My hope and prayer is that Temple Grandin will get involved in horse slaughter.

  6. I'm with RiderWriter in finding the Waterwheel situation beyond the pale. Of course slaughter is implied in all horse racing; they can't all be champions and there aren't homes for all the horses who aren't champions. But the combination of bipsie-bopsy horse telepathy and blithely ignoring the fate of her own horses got to me - the lady's head is in the clouds, and that's not cool for the horses, who are not in the clouds but in the slaughterhouse.

    My feeling about slaughter is you don't kill your friends and eat them. I have nothing against killing rats in my barn but I would not kill my friend's pet rat. I think it's terrible to say, "Yes, but this horse is my friend only as long as it's winning, after that it's meat."

  7. I think you have a point here; our efforts might be best directed towards making slaughter as humane as possible. There are so many unwanted horses and as winter approaches more and more are going hungry.

    I'm not familiar with Jane Smiley beyond the NY Times, but I'm going to become so. Just from what I've read online the criticism on Jane Smiley seems a bit unfounded.

    Nice post, I'll be following :)

  8. Equine slaughter is not humane euthanasia. The slaughter of horses and other equines simply cannot be made humane: Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM & former Chief USDA Inspector, told Congress in 2008 that the captive bolt used to slaughter horses is simply not effective. Horses and other equines, in particular, are very sensitive about anything coming towards their heads and cannot be restrained as required for effective stunning. Dr. Friedlander stated, "These animals regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck, they are fully aware they are being vivisected." The Government Accountability Office and dozens of veterinarians and other witnesses have confirmed that ineffective stunning is common and animals are conscious during slaughter. It is simply not possible for USDA/APHIS to make equine slaughter humane and it is a myth to pretend otherwise.

  9. As much as the idea of slaughter hurts my heart, I agree that the focus needs to be shifted to more humane treatment and a peaceful end to the life of the unwanted horse. There are simply too many, and we cannot possibly "save them all".

    On the other hand (er, hoof ;o) I have many large and angry thoughts and feelings about the hundreds of irresponsible breeders and sellers out there who are continuously contributing to the problem. It infuriates me to know the likely fate of too many horses in our disposable society where so few people actually understand the real meaning of commitment and responsibility.

    Excellent post.

  10. A real scotish shower, with hot and cold water!A good debate-starting point. Let's thing about...

  11. I live close enough to Canada to see the prices that horses are going for $50, sometimes even less, to the kill buyer, and then they go on into Canada where they get slaughtered. The majority of the horses on the auction lists that I read I are not Thoroughbreds off the track, or senior horses. They are horses that people can no longer afford to feed. They tried to sell them, tried to give them away, and the auction was their last choice. Slaughter, at this point, is better than starving in an overwhelmed rescue (this is happening a lot) or being turned loose in eastern washington. It's a sad issue.

  12. Horsemom- I am in Western Washington and see the same thing. Starving in a pasture or stall is no more humane.

    The problem with killing equids, or any larger mammal for that matter, is that it is hard. We aren't designed to die, we are designed to live, as are horses, cattle, sheep, even dogs and cats. Euthanization is not easy, even via euthanol (what your vet uses). From a production standpoint, we can't have chemicals in the animals being slaughtered for human consumption.

    My feeling is that we need to have them in the US, so that at least we can attempt to regulate what is going on in the slaughterhouses. We can't regulate what is going on in Canada and Mexico, like we can here.

    Killing animals is messy business, no matter what the reason is...
    (p.s. I have a BS in Agricultural Engineering- Production Animal Confinement Systems and the hubby has a BS in Animal Science- Production Beef, Dairy and Equine from a major Agricultural University. This topic is discussed in GREAT detail at our house)

  13. I just have to say that reading that excerpt literally made my stomach turn... I work with a TB rescue in Colorado where we have OTTBs who span the range of formerly very successful racehorses, to never-weres, to injured flops.... And to picture any one of them (or my own OTTB gelding, for that matter) in that same situation makes me want to vomit. They simply have so much more to give, and are simply waiting to be given a new job. I know this is not the case for every unwanted horse but I think it is particularly the case for OTTBs (compromised quality of life due to injury notwithstanding, of course).
    I think we as the horse community owes it to the horses who provide at the least companionship and for some of us a way of life and income a better fate than vivisection. I think horse slaughter should be brought back into the US so it can be regulated and developed into the most humane possible solution. Obviously the ideal would be for the community to become more responsible with their breeding practices, but the current situation must be dealt with as it is.
    In the meantime, I think it is up to the horse community to demand these changes to the current system, and more importantly to create a better safety net for the horses who bring us such joy. While all horse owners do not have a lot of money (read: ME), I think there needs to be a movement to assist rescues and charities in providing whatever aid they can for the unwanted equine. While some unwanted horses are unwanted for a reason and can no longer serve a "purpose," there are many who go to slaughter simply for want of a new job and someone who can give it to them.
    I did not comment on this post to ask for donations or to point fingers but I will take this opportunity to ask everyone to consider donating funds, hay, grain, wormer, medical supplies, old blankets, unwanted tack, grooming implements, or time and expertise to a local horse rescue this holiday season. Working with this rescue and more specifically with the horses (restarting track broke TBs is the most rewarding experience I have ever had!) has opened my eyes to how much of a need there is for the horse community to support one another and more importantly the horses we love so much. I appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read this lengthy post, and I want to give sincere thanks to anyone who considers volunteering with or donating to their local rescue. Happy Holidays!


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