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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Great Debate

The slaughter debate is raging over on Fugly, so I thought I would post my take on it here. This was actually the item I sent in as my "tryout" post for the blog.

The news that horse slaughter was again made legal has hit the news. Obama has signed a bill funding horse meat inspections and it is expected that slaughter plants will reopen and new ones will be built in the coming months.

News Articles -

This is, of course, a very controversial issue and has opponents and supporters alike. Most horse owners are vehemently against it, stating that horses are like cats and dogs and should be exempt from our diet. In reality, horses straddle a very “gray” area legally. They are technically livestock, but most horse owners view them as family members and pets. There are many cultures that consume horse meat, as well as cultures that will not eat things we consume daily, like cattle and swine. It is important to keep in mind that America is a melting pot, and that many people from many cultures live here. Who are we to say that they cannot follow their own dietary preferences?

As to the topic of slaughter and its impact on the horse industry; no, we don’t like to think of our beloved ponies going to the plant. In fact, horses that have a good home, are successful in their given sport, are well trained, quiet mounts, etc. will keep their places for the most part. There will always be those unscrupulous breeders/owners that will haul an animal to the auction when it is no longer useful, there is nothing that can be done about that, but really, would you rather see them shipped to Mexico or Canada, enduring countless hours of transport to the border to be loaded on double deckers to meet their grim fate at the hands of a knife wielding Mexican slaughterhouse worker or to be transported to a more local plant that can be regulated?

I am not “pro-slaughter”; I am pro-logical solution. You have to remove the emotion, step back and evaluate things in a logical manner. This is hard, I know. But do try.

If we allow the plants to open, require stricter monitoring of the transport, holding, and slaughter procedures; appoint state-approved veterinary supervision of each plant on a full-time basis. Make inspections a regular and closely scrutinized. Require retrofitting of old plants to handle the specific needs that horses present (keep in mind that most current plants were built to handle cattle) and make specific requirements that must be met to build and operate new plants. Put in place regulations regarding condition of the animals to be shipped, make it illegal to ship horses of inadequate body condition and of poor health.

Let’s face it; there are thousands of “surplus” horses in the country. Many are the products of indiscriminate breeding, the racing industry, and the collapse of the economy. The ideal situation in most horse owner’s minds is to have them living out their lives on a farm, running free for the rest of their time on the earth. The reality is, these places do not exist. Do you want a couple of dozen unwanted horses dropped off at your place to have to feed and care for for the next 20 or so years? No one does, that is the problem. Horse rescues can only do so much; there is not an unlimited number of homes willing or able to take a horse that may never be rideable or useable in any way. Horses are expensive pets, we all know that.

One solution suggested by many advocates is low cost euthanasia. Ok, so now you have 1000 lbs of poisoned carcass, now what? Rendering is not free, neither are most landfills (I have been involved in a situation involving euthanasia and a landfill, not pretty), many areas do not allow burial of large animals, many owners have nowhere to bury a horse, and you can’t just dump it in the woods or the back pasture as it can poison scavenging wildlife and local dogs. There is also a risk of groundwater contamination. One means of low cost/free euthanasia is often viewed as too violent and traumatic to the owners. Euthanasia by bullet is very effective and humane, if done correctly. However, finding someone willing to perform this task that can do so reliably is difficult, and once again you have 1000 lbs of carcass, albeit untainted by poison, to dispose of. Burial is an option, as is rendering, neither of which is inexpensive. Burying a horse usually involves the use of heavy earth moving equipment and a suitable location away from groundwater supplies. The carcass can be donated to schools if there are universities nearby that are interested, but this is usually not a viable option. While some big cat rescues will take the remains to feed to their animals, many horse owners find this repulsive.

The slaughter plants could provide a pressure release valve to the overpopulation of unwanted horses in this country. It is not a nice thing to consider, most horse owners are horrified at the very thought. However, there IS a place for them. I believe that if handled carefully and regulated closely they can again become a viable solution for the excess horses that are currently starving because the owners can no longer feed them, that are unsuitable as mounts or pets, that are abandoned to fend for themselves, and that are trucked thousands of miles to suffer a long trailer ride, a stay in an overcrowded feed lot and a cruel death in a foreign plant.

I love horses, I love my horses more than anything in the world. I would NEVER allow one of mine to suffer the indignity of a slaughterhouse. Most horse owners will say the same thing. These are not the horses we are discussing. Yes, there still will be horses that were once champions and beloved companions going to slaughter. These will not be the majority. Each plant should be required to check each horse for identification marks or microchips and confirm that the horse was legally sold by the current owner. Once a horse leaves your possession to live with a new owner, you have relinquished control of that animal unless there was a contract stating otherwise. If you are uncomfortable with that concept, don’t sell your horse. If you can no longer care for it or no longer want it, but are afraid of it going to slaughter eventually if you sell it, put on your big girl/boy underpants and take responsibility for its fate. Euthanize the animal and see to the disposal of the remains, and realize that you are going to have to pay for any expenses incurred.

It is a cold, harsh truth, but it is just that, truth. There are more horses in this country than can ever be absorbed. Think about what I have said, logically, for a while. Do you have a better solution?


  1. Just popping out of the willows to say 'Happy New Year', but also I want to tell you how much I enjoy your tacky tack blog - I always find it entertaining, enlightening (never knew anything about astride til tuning in to your blog), and often thought provoking (ie. slaughter post) as well.
    Keep up the great work, I'm watching, reading, and enjoying as I've been doing since the start.

  2. I seen an article that said Temple Granden was asked to come help redesign facilities. She designed the cattle processing facilities. To make them more humane. Look her up she is autistic and an amazing woman!!
    I dont agree that most horse people are against humane slaughter.

  3. I am anti slaughter in an ideal world. We are not there. I am adamantly anti the current unbelievably cruel slaughter practices and shipping the horses to Canada or Mexico just upped the ante. The unfortunate reality is that we need HUMANE slaughter. Temple would be a great idea. I will personally put down or shoot my own horses and call the renderer. I think most responsible horse owners feel the same way. We live in a society of irresponsible animal owners. Good post.

  4. *CLAPPING HANDS* I applaud you for speaking up. And everything you said makes complete sense and is written in a clear, concise, non-emotional way.
    I did a post recently about this issue as well and had a few anti-slaughter, emotionally critical comments, but these people never offered any common sense options....just criticisms of slaughter plants.

    Like Temple Grandin says, "Let's just do something to make a difference and not waste time complaining"


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  6. I do agree with your logical approach to the slaughter debate. The current writers of the fugly blog posted a video on their other blog snarkyrider that showed facilities in Europe that I think could be a better approach than the current system. The treatment of the horses was very humane. The horses were lead in individually to the room were they were killed. They were not scared or harmed before the slaughter. They were killed by a well placed shot to the head from a gun. After the shot they were removed from the room and the room was cleaned of blood before the next horse was lead in.

    Personally I wouldn't want my horses going to slaughter but at least it was a humane end for the horses in the video.

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  8. am very glad you posted this article/blog. I read your page as a humor source because the self righteous attitude you take and the disdain you show over simple color choices occasionally baffles me. I was expecting a huge rant from you as to how slaughter is not the option, every horse should be rescued and put in a pasture when unfortunately that is not a viable solution. It is a nice dream, and while some horses can be saved, sadly not all can, plus there are those horses out there who are a danger to themselves and others do to bad experiences with humans, or lack of experience. Slaughter houses are a necessary evil due to the stupidity of humans. Everyone cries about the slaughter houses, but I have yet to hear anyone offer logical, realistic solutions to the problem.

  9. tnt89 - I am glad you find my writing amusing. I used to be one of the "Slaughter is eeeeeevil" people, but over the years, seeing what is happening to the horse industry and having some various life experiences that have perhaps hardened me somewhat emotionally, I have the ability to look at things like this in a cold, logical manner. Being able to do that has given me a different outlook on things. I am all for humane treatment however, there is no reason for anything to suffer undue cruelty. It's not their fault.

  10. If "they" (investors? large-scale breeders? advocates? Increased fees on horse-traders?) actually did pay to retro-fit cattle facilities, or build brand-new ones that were specifically for horses AND they build enough of these facilities throughout the US so that horses don't spend 20+ hours in transport, AND there's funding for enough inspectors to make significant impact on how they're operated, then I'd probably be fine with horse slaughter, too. I'm not sentimental. Under the right circumstances I'd eat horse meat (ie: if I was in Europe where there are horses that are raised strictly as meat animals and slaughtered humanely in small facilities). But I highly doubt anyone is actually going to bother investing in these changes to the current slaughter model. Too much effort and money. And even then, it doesn't address the issue of them being given drugs not meant for food animals; there's virtually no way to track it since they aren't being raised as meat animals and often kill buyers have no history on the animals they buy. You say there are thousands of unwanted horses out there (implying that slaughter is somehow a solution). But what about all the unwanted horses that can't legally be slaughtered? Too young, too pregnant, lame, blind, too skinny. How does slaughter solve the problem of those horses? If we, as a society, have to find alternative ways to deal with them, why not the rest? As I see it, horse slaughter is mainly a tool of the lazy and greedy. Sure, the kill-buyer option has probably helped out some genuinely desperate horse-owners along the way, but that's not who it MAINLY serves.