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.