Friday, October 5, 2007

All right, hope everybody has time to read 1,000 comments...

This was mentioned in the comments of my last post, and it is time to discuss it here. I suspect it will be my most controversial post ever, but I'd like to get my 2 cents in and you're all welcome to respond. I know some of you will disagree with me 100% and that's fine. As always - we have free speech here and you are welcome to speak your piece.

I also want to note that this post refers to conditions in the United States and Canada. My understanding is that slaughter is very different in Europe and you can literally march a horse into your local butcher shop and have it shot in the head. That would be something I wouldn't have a problem with. Nor do I have a problem with shooting them in the head and feeding them to hounds or big game, as long as they are not traumatized at any point in the process. A bullet to the head is humane euthanasia. When I refer to slaughter in this post, I am talking about the process here in America - the auction, the loose horse pen, the double decker where they are kicked and bitten, days without food or water, and the captive bolt/throat cut method of slaughter.

Everybody (well any of you with an IQ over 80) recognizes that there are more horses than good homes and certainly more unbroke horses than homes with the knowledge to train a horse or the money to send one to a trainer. It's a fact that there are too many horses - but what can we do about that?

The horse world is split about 50/50 about slaughter. Some horsepeople believe slaughter is a necessary way to dispose of the excess horses. Others, like myself, believe slaughter simply provides an easy way out to those who overproduce crap horses, thoughtlessly break down horses, etc.

Now that slaughter has ended (for now) in the U.S., many horsepeople are upset that the horses are going to inhumane Mexican slaughterhouses. Well, for anybody who thinks slaughter in the U.S. was somehow "humane" merely because USDA inspectors were present, watch the video. (Warning: Extremely graphic). The fact is, the captive bolt was designed for animals like cows that are not known for their quick movements. It is not a humane tool to take down a thrashing, panicking horse. But it is true, Mexico is (more video) worse.

My opinion? Any slaughter of horses is unacceptable. It provides an easy way out for irresponsible owners and one that puts cash in their hands for their bad behavior. Slaughter rewards bad ownership. Even if it were humane, it would still be bad news for horses for this reason. It allows someone to breed a ton of, as my friend very descriptively calls them, shitters, and still walk away with a profit, particularly if all said shitters have done is eat grass and received no vet, farrier, or other care.

I do not think that we should keep slaughter legal in the U.S. as the lesser of two evils. I think that it's a great thing that it has been made illegal BUT now we DO have to come up with solutions for the unwanted horses. The solution, in my opinion, is no different than the solution with dogs and cats: euthanasia. Now, there are a couple of issues here:

1. Equine euthanasia/disposal is expensive, assuming you can't simply shoot them in the head and bury them with a backhoe on your own property. Like it or not, the government is going to have to pick up the tab for low income horse owners. Yes, your taxes may go up. Yes, this sucks, but it's no different from having to pick up the tab for all the dingbats that keep popping out children they can't afford.

2. Policing the borders to make sure American horses don't go to Mexico (if and when that is outlawed - right now it's totally legal). Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, I know. We can't keep the illegal immigrants out, how are we going to keep horses in? I agree, policing the border is kind of a lost cause. The government isn't going to do it. A better option is fighting to make double-decker transport of horses illegal in ALL states (it currently is not). Then, you go after them on transport violations. Transport violations = revenue. The states LOVE to police things that bring in MONEY. That is why you get pulled over for speeding but the double decker going to Mexico goes merrily on its way. If you can make hauling horses in a double decker punishable by a big ass fine, you will start to affect the profit margin involved in slaughtering horses. That's how you stop horse slaughter.

3. We have an awful lot of vets marching around out there with the "moral" belief that they won't euth a healthy horse. Well, that's cute. Did you want to take them home and feed them? As long as the average citizen doesn't have access to the drugs to do it, I believe that the government needs to mandate some vets in every part of the country do euthanasia as requested on absolutely anything. There are going to be train wrecks. There are going to be the breeders who, oopsy, have 72 weanlings and lost their job and can't feed them. If private rescues can pick up some of that mess, great, but if they can't, euthanasia beats the hell out of starvation or slaughter. Anybody who thinks there is some third solution is dreaming. As long as we have "freedom," people are going to mass produce animals that they cannot afford to feed, and that are so poor in quality that no one else wants to feed them either. Having to make some disappear is a reality. Euthanasia is much kinder than slaughter.

4. Do you know what improves most human behavior? It's not the law. It's the fear of social censure. Fearing that one's friends and family and (worse yet) adversaries will know that you did something bad and scorn you because of it is a far greater inhibitor to bad behavior than any law on earth. Almost everybody feels the need to "fit in" and be liked and thought of as a good person. However, for years, the horse industry has allowed breeders to discreetly dump their culls/mistakes/broken down failed training experiments at auction and has turned a blind eye to it. The horse dealers work with the breeders/trainers to quietly make those horses disappear, leaving the breeders/trainers with a handful of cash. This has to end. We need to start "outing" the people who routinely do this, so that those of us who are anti-slaughter can vote with our dollars and choose not to do business with them. I am tired of seeing hardworking individuals struggle to pay for retirement board on their seniors while Mr. Big Rancher who has 500 acres ships his old broodmares off to kill. No, we can't legislate responsibility but we can sure as hell publicly embarrass the people like Mr. Big Rancher and hurt their business, and it is time we did that. Likewise, we should be able to know who the responsible breeders/trainers are, who do retire their old horses at their expense, and who do euthanize instead of slaughter, and choose to give them our business. I mean, look at this dun mare. She is not a shitter. She has a big old leg but she's sound and I'd bet any kind of money she came from a good breeder...once upon a time. Yet, someone dumped her off to die.

When I go to the Woodburn, Oregon auction, I see these nice Saddlebreds getting dumped. OK, who's the asshole? They dumped this mare and foal a few months ago. Mare was just panic stricken, it was awful. Damn near flipped over in the parking lot on the concrete trying to get loaded. They actually DID go to a home and not slaughter but they got lucky. There can't be that many Saddlebred breeders in the Portland/Salem area, so tell me, somebody knows, who is responsible for this?

There is a ton of retirement boarding out there, some of it at very low cost, if you don't have your own property and can't afford to keep a horse who has become unrideable at your current boarding barn. Yes, you may have to ship it a few states away. I am sick to death of hearing people who show A circuit whine that they can't afford to keep the horse that broke down carting their ass around a show ring. YES, YOU CAN. If you can afford to show freakin' A circuit, you can afford retirement board somewhere in the South or Midwest where it is cheap! $150 a month is NOTHING to you - do not lie and say that it is. Buy one less pair of shoes, for fuck's sake. Learn to braid your own damn horse, that alone should save you the money required. I'm all for finding a good home if the horse is still usable for light work (and has the right disposition for the kind of rider who only does light work) but when all is said and done, the ONLY way you guarantee a horse a safe future is keeping them in your possession.

All the pictures in this post are horses that were thrown away by someone to go to slaughter. The mare at left has a brand on her left shoulder that had been deliberately cut and obliterated to hide her origin. Nice. If this post ever gets back to one of their former owners, all I can say is shame on you. How incredibly sad that rescuers who never met your horse care more about him or her than you did.