America has been sending horses to slaughter since the 1950’s, and for human consumption since the early 70’s. Sixty years later America still has a horse overpopulation problem.
Horse slaughter as a supposed “solution” to horse overpopulation has not worked, a fact made obvious by the still existing problem which has been made far worse for too many families by the ongoing drought and economic worries.
Governor Susana Martinez, State Lands Commissioner and veterinarian Ray Powell, and Attorney General Gary King are some of the voices supporting 21st century solutions for horses–solutions that improve and expand the safety net to care for horses without homes and reduce the indiscriminate breeding of horses in the first place.
Pro-slaughter organizers claim that bringing horse slaughter back to the U.S. will help horses. But a look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Report covering a nine-month period in 2005 shows that horse slaughter is unbelievably cruel, and that even when U.S. slaughterhouses were open, horses were shipped across New Mexico’s border to slaughter in Mexico. The USDA’s 900-page report with photos brings the gruesome realities of U.S. horse slaughter into sharp focus.
A horse slaughterhouse currently proposed in Missouri comes complete with a breeding farm and acreage for raising horses. Why? It’s simple. Pro-slaughter organizers see a future where American horses will be raised as a food animal to be slaughtered for human consumption. It seems a desperate betrayal when horses’ strength and determination built this country. Horses continue to inspire devotion and respect and they deserve long-term solutions with those values in mind.
Horse owners should know that asking for help for their horses is an act of compassion, and that there is no shame in seeking assistance, especially when the alternative is a starving animal. At Four Corners Equine Rescue we regularly get calls from people in a tight financial spot asking for help for their horses. Some people are incredibly relieved to know that humane euthanasia is even available. Others are unaware of organizations that can help provide emergency feed assistance or cover the cost of gelding a stallion or euthanizing and disposing of a horse.
To fix this, we can first take ownership. This is not a “horse problem,” but a people problem.
USDA records show between 80,000 and 130,000 U.S. horses are sent to slaughter each year from across the entire country. For some perspective, there are approximately 9.5 million horses in the U.S and they can live to be over 30 years old. So in a given year, about 1% of our horses go to slaughter. How can people claim this is a problem that needs to be fixed with slaughter?
Horse breed registries like the American Quarter Horse Association have the power to reduce the quantity and increase the quality and thereby the value of horses that can be registered. A mare can only have one baby every eleven months, a maximum of one baby per year. That’s it. A couple years of self-imposed moratorium on breeding horses would go a long way to fixing our problem.
My preference would be that we can work together to manage our own behavior and that humane euthanasia of horses by veterinarians wouldn't’t be necessary. But, I would rather horses be humanely euthanized by a trained veterinary professional than sent to a cruel and violent death by slaughter anywhere.
Yes, there will probably always be a small group of irresponsible horse owners. But the horse should not pay the price – we should not give a pass to anyone who is intentionally cruel or extremely neglectful to a horse.
So how can we do better by the thousands of horses who need help? Talk with friends about believable solutions for horses, like better access to humane euthanasia by a veterinarian and reining in horse breeding. And support groups that help horses by volunteering your time and donating money or items they need.
New Mexico can choose to create truly humane solutions that are good for both people and horses. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Debbie Coburn is a Founding Director of Four Corners Equine Rescue in Aztec, New Mexico, and is the chair of the statewide Equine Rescue Alliance. Debbie can be reached at Debbie@fourcornersequinerescue.org.
My thoughts on horse slaughter -
We are a nation built on principles. We have checks and balances in place to try to remain true to those principles. Cruelty, neglect and abuse are against those principles. All of those are prevalent in the horse slaughter culture. We must find humane methods of maintaining the horses, both domestic and wild. To do less is to dishonor who we are.