Food For Thought (that leaves a bad taste)


I’m supposed to keep a focus in this blog about how equine body language, psychology and behaviour relate to training issues with horses. However, in all honesty, it’s been a whirlwind week at work and I am way behind schedule on my “to do” list and now I am soon needing to catch a plane from Calgary across the pond for a clinic this weekend in Ireland. So… I thought that since there is so much debate rearing up again about the issue of horse slaughter that I might take this opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

Having said that - prepare yourself – this will not be a very appealing blog

On September 4, 2007, I read an article in the Toronto Globe & Mail entitled “Will Canadians Stomach A Horse Meat Industry?” This heading combined with a dramatic photo of a herd of wild mustangs galloping through the Nevada desert understandably caught my attention. A quote from the article that sums it up is that “Canada is the next target in a growing movement to rid North America of its horse slaughterhouses

Then, a month later on October 15, I read an article in Newsweek magazine about the plight of so many of America’s wild mustangs and the slaughter issue again reared its ugly head. It seems that despite safeguards and assurances it is widely believed that many of America’s Wild Mustangs are indeed destined for slaughter houses in Mexico.

The Globe also quotes Steven Rei, an American anti-horse slaughter lobbyist and founder of the National Equine Rescue Coalition as saying that there is “proof that Canada is already benefiting” from the shutdown of American slaughterhouses. The Globe also quotes Shelley Grainger, director of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition’s eastern region as saying “This is all happening under the radar. Ask most people, and they have no idea that horses are even slaughtered in Canada for meat.” Ms. Grainger also says that there is no need for any horses to end up in a slaughterhouse and says “The fact is that my horse is my pet, just like my dog and my cat. We don’t slaughter our pets for people to consume. Horses are a part of our culture in a way that traditional livestock aren’t

So, now what you may ask is my point? It was glaringly obvious that the Globe & Mail was sensationalising this story because they know it is and will continue to be a topic of hot debate. However, I work a lot in Europe and I can tell you unequivocally that in countries like France, Belgium and Holland where people do eat horsemeat that the equestrians there are no less loving and considerate of their horses then we are here in North America. My point is that while many Europeans do eat horsemeat they are also very conscientious horse enthusiasts. The real difference between Europeans and North Americans in this regard is not their heartless lack of ethics or morality but our denial and lack of accountability.

Take for instance the statement by Ms. Grainger that our horses are like our dogs and cats and that we do not slaughter them and eat them. This is not entirely true. While we as a culture do not eat our dogs and cats the sad fact is that everyday in North America there are thousands upon thousands of dogs and cats that are euthanized because there are no homes for them. The real issue with closing down the American slaughterhouses is not whether we should or should not be eating horsemeat. The real question that nobody seems to want to ask is what to do with the horses that nobody is willing to care and provide for?

According to the Globe article in just one year (2006) in the United States there were 88,000 “unwanted” horses slaughtered. Yes, you read that correctly, 88,000!

The Newsweek article states that while there are approximately 28,000 wild mustangs living “free” in the United States there are as many as “30,000 horses, rounded up but unsold, living in federal corrals at a cost of $20 million to $50 million per year.”

So, while the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition calls the act of slaughtering and consuming horses “repugnant”, and the media may want to beat the drum of righteousness on behalf of the animal rights activists, I suggest that instead of attacking those who are attempting to deal responsibly with the issue of the unwanted horses that perhaps they should be taking on the very real challenge of what to do with all the thousands upon thousands of horses that nobody is willing to maintain?

In the state of Kentucky alone the thoroughbred racing breeders produce an average of 30,000 horses per year, year after year, and over the long run most of these horses are finished racing (if they race at all) by the average age of 7. And then what happens to the vast majority of them? Do you really want to know?

The reality is that if the Canadian slaughterhouses are closed due to public outrage then the horses will not be “saved” they will only suffer longer and more undesirable shipping experiences to what would most likely be even less humane slaughterhouses in Mexico. This is why, ironically enough, also according to the Newsweek article, “the American Association of Veterinary Medicine and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have come out in favour of selling unwanted horses into slaughter on the grounds that it’s the humane choice for animals that would otherwise be neglected or abandoned.”

So I ask you if the issue here is whether we should or should not be eating horses or is it really the unasked question as to why our culture ignores the fact that so many people breed and/or own and then throw away horses as disposable pets? As long as people keep breeding an oversupply of dogs and cats because they want to have cute little puppies and kittens then tens of thousands of pets will be euthanized each year. And as long as people keep breeding horses for pets, sport and recreation then we NEED the Europeans and the Asians to consume them, even if we find this reality tasteless, because we do not have enough realistic and viable alternatives in place that will allow these poor horses to live out their days naturally.

In a perfect world we would not need to find homes for all these unwanted horses. But it is not a perfect world and closing down the slaughterhouses will not solve anything and will, in fact, only make an already sad situation worse. We need to focus on the source of the oversupply of breeders and the lack of public demand for these horses instead of blaming and attacking those who are willing to do the dirty deeds that must be done until more humane and viable solutions can be found.

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Comment by Kimberley Kinsey on April 30, 2009 at 10:18pm
I agree with Lee Kelly. If you can't keep your horse or find a good home for him, then put him down humanely. Don't send him to slaughter where he will be put through hell before death comes. It is not fair to them. I don't like euthanasia either but it is kinder then starving and pain and fear.
Comment by Lallanslover on April 26, 2009 at 1:14pm
Reading the ongoing posts to this blog, and reflecting from a UK perspective, I can only add that I do think there is an absolute need for a well regulated equine slaughter industry, on a local level nationally.
Of course, I wish with all my heart that it wasn't so, but what are the chances of that ever happening...really, when will back yard breeders stop flooding the market (all over the world) with animals that are not fit for any purpose, and are ultimately destined to be abused by the ignorant or neglected by the heartless? When will all owners take the ultimate responsibilty and buy a horse 'for life', rather than selling it on when it is no longer fit for their intended purpose? I can't imagine that it will ever happen, so there needs to be a viable alternative.

What really worries me is the trend for long distance travel to slaughter. It's inhumane to transport any live animal across continents to provide the meat industry...all animals destined for such a fate should be transported on a hook, and NOT on the hoof. With this in mind, correct and controlled local slaughter houses are a necessity. Those who have campaigned for the closure of such facilities need to look long and hard at reality and at the misplaced sentimentalism within their own hearts.

I have no issue with anyone eating meat of any kind, so long as it is produced in the most humane fashion possible (though I'm vegetarian myself and have been for most of my life), but those who do should know exactly where their meat is coming from, and be forced to witness it's production from start to finish. While some may campaign to end horse slaughter, yet munch on a mass produced burger, they remain hypocrites...
Comment by Brenda McArthur on April 25, 2009 at 5:54pm
I agree whole heartedly with Chris. I operate a horse rescue that is currenlty caring for 34 horses. I watch many die here that were neglected but at least I can provide them with a humane end with peace. I believe that we need to focus on the source of the problem, our human nature tends to make us want to fix things without getting to the source, like many in horse training, if the horse won't do what you want, put more force instead of focussing on why. I believe we need to make the race horse industry accountable, aren't they the ones that make the money on these poor horses?? They breed thousands every year to try to get that perfect one, they run them to the ground and then discard of them. I have been to the Ontario Livestock Exchange where they buy the horses by the pound and watched so many young horse go for slaughter, many appeared to be fine. I will never watch the loading again, what a terrible horrific sight! We also need to focus on regulating the slaughter and trucking as opposed to pointing fingers at the ones that eat the horse meat. There needs to be more restrictions as opposed to wasting energy on something that will only make things worse, what will happen if the slaughter houses close?? Will there be illegal slaughter then? Will more horses starve to death? I know I would get more overwhelmed here at the rescue than I already am!!!
Comment by wilson on April 25, 2009 at 8:08am
I believe that those who have such strong opinions about the slaughter of horses should be there with a lead rope and halter in their hand to save each and every horse that is no longer wanted or needed for whatever reasons there may be!
Comment by Geoffrey Pannell on April 24, 2009 at 1:10am
Well said Chris, I said the same thing months ago in the discusion about slaughter. It will be in teresting to see if you get the same comments advocating a blanket ban or if people will listen to what youv'e said and start to talk about how to make the kill lines suit horses. There are ways to slaughter horses without stress and if the anti-slaughter people put pressure for these systums to be adoped the problem is solved. The europieens are not about to stop eating horse meat, nor do we have the right to ask them. Imagine for a moment that it is banned in Cannada as well as the USA, all those horses will be transported to Mexico to be slaughtered, and you would have no hope of getting regulations through in a 3rd world country. Ideally there should be slaughter houses all over the States and Canada ,so the horses don't have to be transported very far at all. Smaller operations are more likely to comply than big corporations. We have all seen the video of the animals still kicking as they are hung up , that is not a sign of life, its a reflex action. All animals move post-mortum . Just for the record , I don't work in a slaughter house!!
Comment by Deborah Wilson on April 23, 2009 at 10:03pm
...yes,why are we breeding and breeding,and then neglecting and destroying,over and over again.
Its seems to be an endless cycle.And who is continuing to suffer,either in captivity,or on route to
the slaughterhouse ? Although I deplore the visuals of the slaugherhouse,the desparate fear,in the horse's eyes...the long journeys in the trailers..what about the thousands of horses that are in someone's field,or barn..not being treated,or fed etc...I think there should be a ban on breeding for
starters.There are so many wonderful people out there willing to take in the "throw away" horses...
but the numbers are just getting to big,the economy is in the dumps for now..and people are desparate.I have read of farm owners that go to bed at night with there own 3 horses in a paddock,
and wake up the next day with a donkey, and a few other new horses.
I think our society is one of consumption and waste,and as a result..our appreciation and dedication
for things that require a committment...well its just not what we do.
What plays on my mind about horses,is how we as man ,have invited them into our lives,our wars,
our entertainment,our progress...and with all of their spirit,they have given us their strength...and how do we thank them ?
Comment by Anne Gage on April 23, 2009 at 5:04pm
There should certainly be better standards in place for ANY animal going to slaughter - be it horse, cows, pigs, chickens. There should be better standards in place for anyone wanting to breed animals. But, what is needed is a change of consciousness in our society about all animals. So that no matter if they are kept as pets or to eventually become food, they are treated with empathy, kindness and respect. Just imagine what that world would be like!
Comment by Dorothy McDonall on April 23, 2009 at 2:55pm
Speaks to my point of being humanely treat to the end ...
Comment by Lee Kelly on April 23, 2009 at 2:00pm
ok first we need to put a stop to overbreeding, the race horse industry needs to do better by the horses they breed. What ever happened to getting your vet to provide a quick and painless end to your horses life?
And as far as (horses sent to slaughter) the point of being killed quickly and humanely!!!! I think you need to do your research these horses are strung up and bled still kicking. Not a humane death in my opinion. No I do not support the irresponsible horse owners that let them starve either. And as far as putting a bunch of loose horses together in a transport trailer, (no food or water)some weak and lame, to be trampled and kicked to death by others on route is a horrendous prospect as well. I think we need to stop breeding and cut the population, have your stallion gelded today.
you might want to follow this website it is very informative-

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Comment by Chris Irwin on April 23, 2009 at 12:11pm
Thanks, Ann. Much appreciated. I'll do my best! Cheers!

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