Horse Racing Injuries and Horse Slaughter – Prevention Through Breeding Control

I have been aware of horse slaughter since I was a kid. It was a well known fact Thoroughbred ex-race horses that came through the barn had one shot to make it in the hunter/jumper ring (as riding horses). If a horse didn’t stay at the barn, we knew the horse would end up back at dealers, and dealer returns meant the horse was going to slaughter.

As a child, horse slaughter was simply a fact. Now, it’s almost a necessity. I don’t agree with slaughtering horses, nor do I want any horse to end up at a slaughterhouse, but our society produces far too many unwanted horses.

I receive emails on a weekly basis from several different horse industry and horse welfare news streams. Every time I read one of these legislative “updates”, I wonder: When is horse slaughter legislation going to start with the cause of unwanted horses?

Though anti horse slaughter groups have successfully shut down horse slaughterhouses in America, horse breeding has only increased. If horses at auction don’t wind up at slaughter, where are all the “unwanted” horses going to go? As with the millions of unwanted dogs and cats who are euthanased every year, it would be nice if we could say unwanted horses are “humanely destroyed.” But, horses are just not that easy to put down. Besides being big, difficult to transport, to house, and to feed, horses cost several hundred dollars to put down. For “humane” treatment, horses need not only feed, water, and vaccinations, but also farrier care and often special nutritional, veterinary, and stabling.

When is horse slaughter legislation going to start with the cause of unwanted horses?
Horses end up at auction if they can’t be sold privately, can’t be cared for, or are (simply) unwanted. If a horse owner sends an “unwanted” horse to auction and the horse doesn’t sell, what happens to the horse? If the previous owner can’t or won’t care for the horse, who will?

It’s the same with the overpopulation of dogs and cats. It’s better to have a humane society take an unwanted pet and euthanize it than have a pet return to a home where it isn’t wanted or cannot be cared for. But again, horses are extremely difficult and expensive to care for. Some say re-homing unwanted horses is not a big deal since the total number of American horses slaughtered per year “only” equals about 1% of the total American horse population. Based on current horse populations (about 9 million in the US), 90,000 “homeless” horses is still a lot of horses. With hay prices up, gas prices up, and affordable land becoming more scarce, most horse people in any part of the country will tell you; “you can’t even give ’em away these days.”

Some anti-slaughter activists like to claim horse “kill buyers” are outbidding nice families in search of a pet. Really? If a “nice family” is only willing to spend $100, maybe a $150 on a horse, will they be willing to spent another $150 on vaccines once the vet comes out? What about hoof care every six weeks? Hay, grain, shavings? Proper fencing? Does the nice family have money set aside for emergency transport and thousands of dollars worth of colic surgery? Kill buyers, yes, may be out bidding families (occasionally), but this does not mean the family has means to care for the long term health of the horse.

To minimize horse slaughter and unwanted horses, we need a better plan.

Currently, there are no horse slaughterhouses operating in the United States. Despite anti-slaughter group efforts, American horse slaughterhouses have been successfully shut down, but now horses are just sent over the border to Mexico and Canada where the treatment and killing of animals is even less humane than under American standards.

In many ways, the U.S. slaughter ban has already hurt horse welfare.
For reference, American slaughterhouses used retractable pneumatic bolts to render horses unconscious (in theory) before slitting their throats. However, in Mexico, it’s common practice to stab horses in the back repeatedly until their spinal cord is severed.

In many ways, the U.S. horse slaughter ban has already hurt horse welfare. Now, anti-slaughter groups are attempting to ban horses exported for slaughter altogether. Despite the fact this new law could be easily circumvented by horse “kill dealers” simply labeling horses transported across the border as “for riding” instead of “for slaughter”, we need to first think about minimizing the unwanted horse population before tackling the issue of horse slaughter.

Lets look at some facts:

  • According to the USDA, 45,000 horses went to slaughter in Mexico in 2007, and another 26,000 went to Canada (total, 71,000+).
  • According to the Jockey Club, 56,000 Thoroughbred mares were bred in 2007.
  • According to the Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred race horses averaged 25 starts per life in 1950; by 1994, the average Thoroughbred ran just 14 races.

What does this mean? More Thoroughbreds running less races equals more waste. Due to over breeding of the Thoroughbred, not only does the Thoroughbred Times conclude Thoroughbred races horses are less sound than 60 years ago , but also, they are less used.

Moreover, why have we not had a Triple Crown winner in Thoroughbred horse racing since Affirmed in 1978? Could it be that the only requirements for breeding a Thoroughbred horse are a papered mare and money for a stud fee?

I imagine, even in 1978, horse breeding and racing wasn’t an incredibly easy or cheap “hobby”. Then, not every backyard horse owner could afford a.) a papered Thoroughbred mare, or b.) a 500 mile haul to the stallion. Today, cheap, seedy racetracks are numerous and vastly outnumber the celebrity packed racing events profiled on T.V. It is perceived as “easy” now for anyone to think they can breed the next Kentucky Derby winner. For $250, someone can pick up a lame and unproven (and possibly even unraced) Thoroughbred mare and breed her to an equally lame or unproven Thoroughbred stallion for as little as $300. Boom! For less than a beater car, you too can own the next derby champ!

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