The Horse Slaughter Debate: Your Response

Sue Copeland crunches the numbers on horse slaughter and shares her readers' response to the slaughter issue.

In my November ’06 Horse & Rider column, “Save The Horses?” I asked for your thoughts about the unwanted horse dilemma and proposed bill to ban equine slaughter (H.R. 503), which passed the House last fall. (As of press time, the Senate had not yet voted.)

Practical Horseman. All Rights Reserved.

You responded. Surprisingly, nearly all of you sadly agreed that, without slaughter, the tens of thousands of horses that would otherwise be sent there each year (90,000 in 2005 alone) could face a life of neglect and potential abuse. You also overwhelmingly agreed that slaughter is but a symptom of a much bigger problem: over-breeding. I’m going to include portions of a sampling of the responses I received. Before I do, though, I’m going to share some enlightening math I did in an effort to help solve this problem.

As we know, H.R. 503 doesn’t address the funding required to care for, euthanize (and dispose of) the horses currently slaughtered. The American Association of Equine Practitioners estimates an average cost of $5 per day to provide a horse’s basic needs. That means the funding needed per year, per horse is approximately $1,825. (This does not include veterinary and farrier care.)

Here’s The Math

$1,825 X 90,000 (using that 2005 figure) = $164,250,000 per year needed to support unwanted horses rescued from slaughter–just for basic care. That doesn’t factor in the “unwanteds” added annually.

Since horses can live 20 years or more (some sent to slaughter are youngsters), you can see the enormity of the financial burden.

So I wondered if there was any way breed registries could add a special fee to existing registration fees, to help offset that burden. That way, people who breed would help solve the byproduct of their additions to the population. Then I did more math:

In 2005, 11 major U.S. breed associations registered 294,546 horses. (Of those, the American Quarter Horse Association accounted for 165,057; the American Paint Horse Association, 42,557.)

$164,250,000 ? 294,546 = $557.76. That’s the additional amount needed per new registration to fund the rescue of those 90,000 horses. Like that’s going to happen.

Short of a voluntary moratorium on breeding, what’s the answer? And will breed associations, whose members produce hundreds of thousands of foals annually, go for it? When breeding volume goes down, so does their association income, which in turn pinches other member programs. Talk about a conundrum.

Fortunately, better brains than mine are studying the unwanted horse issue. In fact, the American Horse Council has put together the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which met for the first time last fall. Representatives from the AAEP, AQHA, APHA, Jockey Club, and other breed and sport associations gathered to discuss this very issue. No silver bullet emerged, but at least they’re talking about it.

That’s a start.

P.S. A few of you support a slaughter ban to reduce the price of horses, so the market will “self-correct.” The theory being, fewer people will breed if horse prices drop. However, you can already buy registered horses for less than $100 at many sales. In fact, figures from one reputable sale in the Western U.S. reveal solid Paint weanlings being offloaded for $50 and $75. How much lower can they go?

What YOU Think of Slaughter. Letters from H&R’s Readers.

Sue’s grim conclusion is accurate. Without lawful slaughter the numbers of horses that would be living without proper care and attention would be astronomical.

I don’t believe there can be a way to limit horse breeding. It seems every horse owner feels it is their right, whether for business or pleasure. 

But humane transportation and humane slaughter is achievable. We must use our resources to guarantee a peaceful end to the lives of these loving and noble creatures. 

Judy Monchamp

As someone who has had to put horses down, but hopes I will never have to send one to slaughter, I agree with you, but suspect you will get hate mail on your fine article. We all have different opinions, but when someone advocates passing laws that compel other people to abide by their opinions, it’s time to be very careful. 

Jon Blakistone 
Wimberely, Texas

My home is in DeKalb, Illinois, less than five miles from Cavel International, Inc., one of three horse slaughter facilities operating in the U.S. Letters pro and con slaughter besiege our local newspaper. Those against it are filled with passion and love for horses, but contain little logic. 

Those supporting it would have us believe only unwanted horses are on the trucks arriving there. None of these are unwanted horses. Each is wanted if a profit exists in its slaughter. 

Personally, I’m not offended by it. I just don’t want it done in my neighborhood. I’ve accepted the possibility that horses I’ve raised, trained, and sold may have cycled through owners only to be slaughtered a few miles from their birthplace. 

I see the solution as this: Pass H.R. 503. The “invisible herd” will grow, horses will get cheaper, including registered ones. Fewer foals will be born, and maybe U.S. horses will be shipped to another country for slaughter. 

Finally, realize the destiny of every animal is in the hands of its owner. Even if you don’t take your horse to a sale barn or dealer, when you sell him you have set him on a trail that may end at the slaughterhouse. 

Or, try to regulate the practice with common sense. First, require that horses be quarantined at the border, tested, vaccinated and meet all U.S. and state health requirements. Second, enforce all hauling, safety and handling regulations, with severe penalties for those who scoff at them. Third, there will always be mishaps [in the slaughter process] and animals will suffer, but these incidents must become the exception.

Rob Hellmuth 
Dekalb, Ill.

I work at an auction barn in Canada. We have regular horse sales and have two meat buyers that come. I feel bad for those horses, but if they shut the boarder to the transportation of slaughter horses, and if they shut down the slaughter plants, where are all those horses going to go? 

At our last sale a pony was sent through. On the manifest it stated that this pony was only to be sold for meat. He was not a nice pony; he was ready to charge at one of the guys. Do you want that at your house with your children? 

Then we saw a horse go through with a front leg so deformed he couldn’t be used or ridden. What do you do with him? He should have been put down when he was young. But this horse that can sell for $200 at the auction could cost $500 to euthanize and bury. 

I bought my daughter a POA pony, for $575 from a meat buyer and gave this pony a second chance at life. My daughter got her confidence on him and I couldn’t love him enough for that. All my horses are very well looked after. But there are millions of horses that aren’t. 

Everyone seems to disagree with how a horse is killed at slaughter (a captive bolt to the head). How do they think a cow, bull or calf is killed? I don’t hear people talking about passing legislation on the cruelty of that. You can’t look one way with out looking the other way. 


I wish every horse had a perfect home for all of his/her life, but that, sadly, is not reality. If 90,000 were slaughtered in 2005, with probably similar numbers for 2004 and 2006, then who is going to take care of them when there is no slaughter? I will contact my Senator ASAP to tell him not to vote for the antislaughter bill. I’m also going to keep your editorial to show to anyone who wants to argue the cause. 

Annie Shirley 
Camden, S.C.

Thanks for addressing this emotional issue with some common sense. I think slaughter is a far kinder fate than people allowing a horse to wither away because they are “uncomfortable” making the tough decision on what to do with “Black Beauty.” 

I’ve been fortunate to have the ability to euthanize and bury my horses when their quality of life was compromised. But I recognize that not everyone has that option. Until a better alternative comes along, America needs the slaughterhouses. 

Yes, they should be carefully monitored to make sure the horses do not suffer needlessly and yes, there should be care in their transport and housing. But this is still a better fate than the neglect I’ve seen when humans lose interest. 

Frankye Pepito 
Cedar City, Utah

My thoughts on horse slaughter have always been negative. As I was reading, I realized I’d never really thought about the other side. You brought up some very good points. Where would all of those unwanted horses go? 

I agree: As horse owners we need to be more responsible. Stop breeding mediocre horses that are going to end up unwanted and find a humane way to deal with the insane, lame or otherwise unserviceable equines. 

So, as much as I’d like slaughter to go away, I also oppose the ban. Or at least until we get the number of horses and buyers in sync. 

Phoenix, Ariz. 

The problem with horses is their size. Although I think we over-breed cats and dogs, at least most people can manage a puppy or a kitten. And, we have humane societies in most communities. However, most people can’t manage a young or even adult horse and yet I see foals everywhere in the spring. 

I was upset when a young woman told me that she and her husband had bought a registered Paint mare. They’d never owned a horse before and their plan was to breed her and sell the baby to pay for the mare. I tried to explain that the chances of selling a young, unbroke horse for what they paid for their mare was remote. How do you get people to understand that they are adding to the problem of unwanted and abused horses? 

Annie Watman 
Monroe, Wis.

Every day I drive past fields and backyards where many horses are in very poor condition. I call the SPCA at least once a week to report them. Some people contacted by the SPCA improve their horses’ conditions. However, many send the horses to auction; they lack the funds to put the horses down and get the bodies disposed of. 

Many people complain about slaughter, but about 99% of us do not have the resources to help in numbers that could make a difference. I feel it’s kinder to have these poor animals put out of their misery quickly and humanely than to suffer for months or even years in poor conditions. 

So instead of stopping it, let’s concentrate on improving the conditions under which horses are cared for and shipped to slaughter. 

Via email

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