Horse Slaughter Exposed

The Mitchell Centre on horse slaughter within the horse industry

Horse Slaughter - Main Page

I have read many articles on the subject of horse slaughter, some written by the “Animal Activist” type person, some written by the “Horse Establishment” type person. Both types of stories do have a lot of points based on facts.

The Activist types do tend to write their stories based on a lot of emotion and a true passion for horses, and “yes” they do take liberties and have a flair for dramatics. But to me it is refreshing to see, at very least, someone in the horse industry is excited about something!

Reading the Horse Establishment type story is like reading excuses made for getting rid of the unwanted wart.

The authors of these stories give a lot of facts and numbers, and the “opinions” of experts. They quote statistics and studies and they will all tell you there is a need for disposing of the old, sick, crippled, starved horses.

And I agree there is a need, but what happened to their owners? These Experts leave you with the impression that all the horses that are going to slaughter are old and sick and crippled. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Experts” - there is a word that should send a shiver down your back. As we all know “Experts” are just drips under pressure. Some one asked them a question and now, like it or not, they have to say something and come up with an answer. Nine out of ten times it’s something stupid. This goes for both the activist and the horse industry types. Both have their “Experts.” Neither has ever told the whole truth, only what suits their position.

How about the truth? That would be a novel idea! So now it’s my turn to try to shed some light on the situation.

Ah…I already know what you are thinking! What makes my opinion different from anybody else’s? Whose side is he on? Well, I’m on the horse’s side. That’s why I started this rescue - to save young healthy, sound horses from going to slaughter.

So far close to 1,000 horses have moved through our Centre in the last 4 years. Only a handful has been over 15 years old. Less than 10 were crippled and 6 of those 10 are still productive brood mares.

I also speak horse and a lot of the time I look and smell like one too - oh well, they are my friends. You are whom you associate with.

I don’t give a damn about animal activist and I think the Horse Industry is generally up to its eyeballs in horse “pucky”. In other words I’m hated by both sides equally! Plus I have been involved with horses for over 40 years. Now where to start, “In the beginning” nope that’s already been used.

I guess the best way to start would be by giving you the numbers of horses that have been going to slaughter in Canada. These figures were supplied by the Canadian Food Inspection Branch of the Federal Government and The United States Department of Agriculture. Both I would say are reliable, to a point.

319,992 horses went to slaughter in the last 5 years in Canada. That is an average of 63,998.4 a year. I could have said 64,000 a year but I don’t want to be accused of embellishing the facts.

The horse Industry will always tell you, slaughter is dropping. Every year they say the same old line, “slaughter rates are down” blah blah ,blah. The truth is the slaughter rate in Canada has only dropped by 3.75% in the last 10 years.

Maybe they should try a new line. Or really find out the truth.

The animal activists feel that the country should be up in arms over the numbers, storming the government and hanging anyone involved in such an outrageous industry.

But here is another fact; only 2% of Canadians have ever ridden a horse and only 1% own. That leaves 98% of population who haven’t got a clue what’s going on.

Most Canadians think owning a horse is for the rich or the “well to do” - you know the type “snobs”. So why should they care?

Canadians don’t know what is at stake here, no one has even attempted to tell or educate the Canadian people the benefits arrived from horse ownership.

They don’t know the history of, or how much as a Nation, we owe to our equine heritage.

And most don’t care. They have enough to worry about just trying to make ends meet.

The activists show graphic pictures of horses going to slaughter, some pictures they show are more than 20 years old and then they point fingers and just generally piss people off - so they get nowhere.

And year after year it has been that way and yet the slaughter goes on.

How many of you have ever walked though a horse feed pen that is fattening, say 20 to 25 thousand horses for slaughter?

I have.

How many of you have gone into a meat pen holding 500 to 600 weanlings, yearlings and have them follow you like lost puppies.

I have.

How many of you have ever even been to a processing plant of any form dealing with food animals?

Yes I have.

If you ever did bother to take the time you would see for yourself that most of the horses that go to slaughter are not the old, the crippled, the sick or the injured. The plants only take these horses because no one else wants them; especially their owners and they pay little to nothing for them.

Sick and injured horses don’t gain weight and are not profitable. But they do keep up the plants image of being needed by the Horse Industry.

Also, for every horse that is processed there is another that is being fattened, so the numbers, no matter who supplies them, never reflect the actual amount of horses slaughtered and “waiting to be slaughtered”.

Also I should point out to you the numbers quoted by the Canadian Food Inspection agency are for horses actually killed in Canada for human consumption abroad. They do not reflect the number of Canadian horses exported to U.S. plants for slaughter nor do they reflect the number of horses exported “live” to foreign countries, for slaughter.

So can you really trust the numbers? No! They are in actuality much higher.

I don’t normally like to compare horses to anything; to me, horses are a race unto themselves, unique in the world. Highly intelligent and very emotional, and when trained properly, extremely loyal and fun loving.

But I can compare Industries, The Horse Industry and The Auto Industry; it’s not that much of a stretch. Both are modes of transportation and both operate on the same principals of business management; MONEY. And to you who are new to the horse world it may make the slaughter issue a little easier to understand.

From beginning to end the two Industries are the same. You have your Auto Manufacturing with many different makes and models. On the horse side you have your horse breeder, again many different breeds and types of horses.

There are vehicles, which have very specific uses, so are there horses that have specific uses.

To keep you’re vehicle operating you require good mechanics to maintain and keep them running properly. In the horse world, horses need trainers and veterinarians and dedicated owners to look after and maintain them.

In the end vehicles end up at the wreckers or Auto recyclers as they like to be called nowadays. The horses on the other end don’t get recycled when they are no longer wanted or needed. They go to slaughter or as they like to be called “Processing”.

There are whole ranges of sub industries that are very similar in both Auto and horse worlds but I’m not even going to go there. I think by now you have the drift of where I’m going.

Have you ever known anybody that has purchased a vehicle they couldn’t afford? How about buying an expensive vehicle and then lose your job? Know anyone who has had their vehicle repossessed for lack of funds? Or buying a vehicle and then realize you don’t like it? Has life’s ups and down ever forced you to sell your vehicle and get another in better times? Ever had a career change and had to move across country? Or how about going back to school and you need the money. And the list of why you have to sell goes on and on.

All you have to do now is take out the word “vehicle” and enter “horse”. Do you see what I’m getting at? The difference is when you sell your vehicle no one’s going to eat it!

What is the major factor governing both Industries?

You know it well! “Money” and the pursuit of money. It is also the biggest reason horses go to slaughter.

It’s not the only reasons; I could write you a book on the excuses I have heard in just the last 10 years alone. The second “biggy” is lack of equine education or “horsemanship” for both people in the industry and people starting into horses for the first time.

Reading books on horses, taking clinics and lessons, watching videos and writing tests on horses are all well and fine and a very good start, but that doesn’t make you a horseman.

Buying a horse that, as we say, “drives your truck, baby sits your kids and does your personal banking on Fridays”, or as you would say, “well broke”, doesn’t make you a horseman.

I love this line quoted by one of the great horsemen, John Lyons; “the only problem training horses from videos is, the horses haven’t seen them first.”

Horsemen are only produced with years of working with and training of many different types of horses. And by having the ability to listen to your horse.

There is an old poem written in 1863;

A good horseman can hear his horse alk.
A Great horseman can hear his horse whisper
Many horsemen cannot hear their horses scream

The Horse Industry and the Slaughter Industry are one and the same. They are connected at the hip.

In many cases meat buyers are horse dealers. You see their adds in your local papers all the time. “All types of horses bought, sold or traded, best prices paid.”

I hate to say this but we are after the truth here, some of the meat buyer/horse dealers are the most honest people I know in the industry. To them a horse is worth so much a pound, head on or head off. If they can sell a good horse that comes their way (and many good ones do) for more money than slaughter price they will, and if they can’t? They still make their money at the plant.

To the activist it’s a dirty business, to the meat buyers it’s only business. And if they didn’t do it someone else would, all in the pursuit of, you guessed it, money!

Activist groups across the country would collapse without their fund raising. Even in the rescue business money is a key factor.

We can’t rescue horses without it nor can we feed or maintain them without it.

In 2002 for example, we received $72,000 in donations, we purchased $84,000 worth of horses back from slaughter. It cost us $26,000 to feed them and another $20,000 plus to vet them and $4,000 to just trim their hooves. It didn’t take us long to get as they say “inverted” but we got lucky and managed to place over 200 horses and survive for another year.
Here is another interesting fact, as I have said close to 1000 horses have passed through here, although we are a charity and can give out tax deductible receipts for horses donated, we have only had 5 horses donated in the last 4 years, the rest we bought.

People don’t want tax-deductible receipts for their horses, they want money.

We have even had cases were people who have money and could use a tax receipt will still send their horses to slaughter rather then face the embarrassment of having their horses recognized at a rescue.

Oh yes! It has happened many times especially if the horses are registered or branded.

I personally know the head buyer for the plant at Fort Macleod, Alberta. I also know the buyer for one of the Texas plants. Both have over the years sold The Centre horses. Both have complained about the lack of horse sense they see in the people involved in the Industry. Both know and have stated, the only problems horses have are their owners. Both have wished us luck and have said many times that people will follow the money every time.

The buyer from Fort Macleod sounded almost like that old Fram oil filter commercial when he said “I’ll get them now or I’ll get them later, but I will get them” so far I haven’t been able to prove either of them wrong.

When you hear experience talk in the horse world you had better be willing to listen, no matter whom it comes from.

So how do so many horses of all ages end up going to slaughter?

That is one of the easier questions to answer. Their owners take them or send them with someone else. They take them to horse auctions and leave them in what is called the loose horse pen. And with no one there at the auction to talk for the horse, their chances of being bought by a private owner are few.

If the prices are low and the horse has no reserve on him he will go to the highest bidder. Whoever it is. No matter how well bred the horse is or isn’t or even if it is ridden in the ring or walked in.

I have been at the meat pens, waiting to load horses that we have purchased, while horse owners unload their own horses and have them weighed and pick up their cheques.

They also trade them in, just like a used car. And who do they trade them to? The meat buyer/horse dealer - that’s who.

When some horse owners decide to get out of the business or just get rid of that unwanted horse or horses, they don’t care who gets them.

It’s fast money they want. They take the loss and run, after all it’s the horse’s fault they had to can it.

Have you ever heard the words “guaranteed slaughtered”. That’s when horses that are insured for whatever reason, don’t live up to their owners expectations, off they go to the plant and a form is signed saying they have been slaughtered, then it’s good-bye horse, hello money for the owner.

I have seen perfectly healthy horses go this route, just because their pervious owner didn’t want anyone to have his/her horses, or to profit from them.

I read an article on slaughter just last week in one of the Canadian horse magazines. The author suggested that most of the horses that go to horse auctions have issues or behavioral problems.

Tens of thousands of horses go through Canadian and American horse auctions every year, from coast to coast. There is NO WAY that many horses have “issues.” How do weanlings, yearlings 2 and 3 year olds have issues? Most are barely halter trained, if at all.

The author’s comments were just another excuse to justify slaughter for the industry.

I’ve been to hundreds of horse auctions over the years; it’s always the same - a couple hundred people watching the sale and a handful of people buying. Including the meat buyers/horse dealers.

Excuses, and more excuses, that’s all you ever hear and that’s exactly what they are. The real question should have been why did their owners bring them there in the first place? The answer is simply for the money and it’s a quick and simple way to move an unwanted horse.

There are many good people in the Horse Industry who are trying to make a difference for the betterment of horses everywhere. But their efforts get over shadowed by others, whose only concern are financially motivated.

The Animal Activist will tell you that slaughter can be stopped by legislation, by forcing plant closures. They point to California where anti-slaughter legislation is in effect and say that they have saved countless horses.

The truth is California horses now get sold to “Horse Brokers” in Arizona and Nevada. These brokers are the same as our meat buyer/horse dealers, and if they can make a buck selling the horse privatly they do. If not it’s off to slaughter they go.

Many come to Canada for slaughter.

We have bought lots of California horses with registration papers listing their place of birth and previous owner right out of the meat pens.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture 112,074 American horses have come to Canada for slaughter in the last 4 years. You cannot legislate an end to slaughter, you have to Educate.

So it goes on, the Animal Activist types say this, the Horse Industry types say that, and on and on it goes until no one bothers to listen.

Lets recap the real reasons why horses go to slaughter, before my two typing fingers fall off;

1) Money! The pursuit of it and the need for it.

2) Horse ignorance or the lack of horse knowledge displayed by people in the horse industry as well as new people entering the horse industry.

3) Owners of horses who don’t know the meaning of the words “responsible ownership”.

4) Attitude - after all its just a “business”.

That’s it, just that simple.

written by Paul T Mitchell
The Mitchell Centre for Equine Rescue and Education