Ask anyone in the equine industry today, and they would most likely all agree that there is a huge problem with horse over population in the United States. It has been an ongoing issue for the past few years. There are several factors as too why there are so many unwanted horses. There are also several solutions to fix the problem in the equine market. Breeders, trainers, horse brokers, owners, and basically anyone involved with horses want to solve the problem.
One of the factors due to the increase of unwanted horses is the poor economy. Horse ownership has turned into a luxury, because of the cost of maintenance. Horses can't be sustained on just grass from a field. They require hay, grain, vitamins, and possibly additional supplements on top of that. Hay and grain prices have risen, because of the high cost of diesel fuel used to harvest, and transport the product. Boarding a horse at a horse stable runs anywhere from three hundred and fifty dollars, to four hundred and fifty dollars per month, and up depending on quality of care. Since the cost of owning a horse has become so pricey, many people have decided to not own horses anymore. Simply selling a horse, or even giving it away isn't an easy thing to do. There is very little interest in any horse trading.
People are breeding more horses than there are homes for. Breeding horses has become a popular hobby for many people involved in the equine industry. Many breeding farms, or horse owners breed anywhere from five to twenty or more foals a year. Larger scale breeding farms may breed a hundred or more foals in a year. The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), is one of the biggest horse registries in the world. Nearly one hundred and fifty thousand new foals are registered each year in that registry alone. There are approximately three hundred equine registries in the United States. Each one of these registries has breeders who produce new foals each year. When you consider the amount of foals born under each registry, and as well as foals from unregistered horses there are nearly (if not more) a million new foals being born each year.
One of the most controversial solutions to stop the problem of over population is slaughter. In 2007, the remaining equine slaughter plants in the United States were shut down because of the lack of funding to pay USDA to inspect the meat. Many people involved with the dying horse market believe that by bringing funding back to bring slaughter back to the United States, the unwanted horses such as the old, sick, crippled, and dangerous can be easily disposed of, and make the horse market slowly revive. However, after the USDA quit inspecting the meat, thousands of American horses are being shipped to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered.
Many believe that slaughtering horses is a humane way to relive the excess unwanted horse population quickly. Since it’s us who bred so many horses, it’s our responsibility to reduce the numbers while utilizing the meat for food, and bi-products for other uses. Anyways, what’s the difference of slaughtering pigs, cows, chickens, goats, and sheep? They are all livestock. Slaughtering horses is a cheaper option than euthanizing them, as it can cost two hundred or more dollars to euthanize and dispose of the body. Because the cost of euthanasia, unwanted horses may starve to death if the owner cannot find them a home or afford food. Slaughtering them would mean less suffering.
Many people like to believe that the only horses used for slaughter are the old, crippled, sick, dangerous, or miserable horses. While some are old, lame or sick, hundreds of horses killed are young, healthy, ride able and fit. USDA/APHIS studied and recorded 92% of American horses killed in American Slaughter Plants were in good health. Kill buyers sell horses to the Slaughter Plants by the pound; therefore they prefer a normal weight horse over a skinny horse. “Wild for Life’s” case study revealed that seventy percent of all registered Thoroughbred foals born are slaughtered each foal crop.
Unlike the old, crippled, sick and used up dairy cow you eat in your hamburger, the majority of horses slaughtered are rejects from breeding farms (rejects meaning that they weren't born a desired color, gender, size, or the right body type/conformation), untrained youngsters, broke saddle horses, show horses, breeding horses, race horses, pet horses, 4-h horses, wild horses, or PMU foals.
Meat buyers pack as many horses as they possibly can fit into trucks designed for hauling of livestock such as goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle. Often during transport , double decker trucks are used, which are outlawed in the United States as a way to transport horses for slaughter. These trailers are not designed to accommodate average sized horses. The horses spend long hour trips hunched over, packed tightly together through extreme climates such as excessive heat, and bitter cold. Horses on the bottom deck often get showered in manure and urine.
Death and injury is not uncommon during transport. Horses can become injured from kicks, falls, being slammed into walls, or hitting their head. Livestock trailers also have low set ventilation openings in which horses can get their hooves caught in resulting in broken legs. Some of these livestock trucks are roofless, exposing horses to the elements such as rain, snow, or beating sun. These types of trucks also endanger horses of breaking their necks, or decapitation from road signs, over passes, traffic, low branches, and more. Horse's do not receive food, or water in transport which sometimes can be over four hours at a time.
The slaughtering process is fairly similar to that of a cow. A captive bolt strikes the animal, to knock it unconscious. However, a study shown proves that the captive bolt is much more ineffective on a horse versus a cow as it is more difficult to get an accurate shot on a horse since they are not restrained like cattle are. This is because a horse has a longer neck, and has more ability to struggle and move. Also, horse's brains are set back further than a cow, which means the captive bolt, or gun must be positioned at the correct angle, and distance to accurately kill the animal. Most of the time, it takes several attempts before the animal is actually dead. Some slaughter plant's kill horses with a gunshot to the head, but this doesn't make for a fast or instantaneous death either. Several shots may need to be applied to the horse and often it is left conscious while it flounders on the ground until the horse bleeds to death.
Mexican Slaughter Plants have no standards or regulations. The horses are either killed by gunshot, captive bolt, or a hand held spike is repeatedly stabbed into the horses back or wither area to sever the spinal cord. The last method mentioned does not kill the horse, but instead immobilizes the conscious horse. The horse remains conscious through the bleeding out, and skinning process.
By looking in my horse's First Aid box I found many chemicals, and substances that have "Do not use on horses intended for human consumption" labels on them. Some of the toxic and deadly substances that remain in horse meat is fly spray (a toxic insecticide that is absorbed through the skin or be given to the horse orally), de-worming treatments, and prescription medications. Horses are not raised as food animals in the United States and removal of the horses treated with these banned substances is inadequate as there are no testing procedures to determine if the horse is “toxic”.
Humans who eat horse meat are at a high risk for being poisoned by one of the many FDA banned substances used on horses prior to being processed. One of the most common and serious drug used on horses is Phenylbutazone, known better as "bute". On horses it's used as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, developed for treating severe cases of arthritis, and for other reasons but it was found to cause serious and lethal idiosyncratic adverse effects in humans.
Many horses slaughtered were previously race horses, or riding horses, and the chances of them having been treated with something such as bute or any other veterinary chemicals or substances is quite likely. It can take anywhere up to sixty or more days for the toxic substances to wear off. Horses stand in kill pens for only a few short days before being processed, nowhere near long enough for the substances to wear off. Both Mexican and Canadian Slaughter Plants claim to test horses for the banned substances but upon several studies, F.V.O found several violations at the plants.
Isn't it better for the unwanted horses to be killed rather than starve to death in its pasture? The horse's owner should be responsible for the horse, and letting the horse starve to death because the owner cannot afford to feed it is irresponsible. While it is difficult in this tough economy, there is always something the owner can do. Some 501c horse rescues hold “low cost euthanasia clinics” to the public, where veterinarians are willing to euthanize the horse and dispose of the body for a reduced amount. In some states, some horse rescues also have “hay banks” which are food banks for horses. If horse owners are having difficulty feeding his or her’s horses, they can get free hay to help them feed the horses until they are financially stable and can afford their own.
Another option for horse owners is to make it public. While it is a very troubling economy, posting the horse on a free online classified service or even Facebook, may find the horse a home. There are a lot of online forums that network with each other. Horses that are danger of starving can be shared across the country to millions of people within seconds. More times than not, there is someone who will take the horse.
Won't re-opening slaughter bring more money to the U.S.? This is a yes and no answer. Yes, it will provide low skilled workers with jobs. However, the three Slaughter Plants previously in business (Dallas Crown in Kauffman, Texas and Beltax Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas and Cavel International in DeKalb, Illinois) were all owned by Belgian owners. Each year the United States exported more than forty-two million dollars of horse meat, and the majority of the profits would go to the foreign owners.
Horse slaughter is a cruel, and unnecessary solution to fixing the problem of unwanted horses in the United States. The only way to humanely reduce the number of horses is too stop breeding large amounts of new foals each year. Until horse breeders, and owners realize that breeding even just one less foal a year can affect the future, we will continue to have the ongoing problem of starving, homeless horses.