Friday, December 02, 2011

That issue, you know the one

Horse slaughter as it exists is a horrible, inhumane, cruel and horrid industry. It is also a convenient scapegoat--a symptom of another, deeper problem in the horse industry. We have too many unwanted horses in this country and not enough people taking responsibility for them.

Let's be clear, the bill recently signed by our president allows the horse slaughter industry to resume production DOMESTICALLY. Within U.S Borders. Horses are still being slaughtered in North America, specifically in Mexico and Canada. They are still headed for slaughter, they just have to travel further to get there.

But horse slaughter is still just the symptom, folks. The problem is there are unwanted horses in the United States. Lots of unwanted horses. And with human nature being what it is, if there is a way to take someone else's misfortune and make a profit, humans will do that. To deny that is to turn a blind eye to reality and dealing with the symptom merely pushes the problem down the road. Until we face head to head and--as a whole community--take responsibility for the number of horses out there, the problem will not go away and the market will have supply that meets the demand.

We in the horse industry--owners, breeders, business people--need to step up and take this problem on within our own circle of influence, not keep blaming the slaughter industry for cleaning up our mess. Talking about what is in horses, trying to wean people off it as a delicacy is a good tactic--reduced demand leads to decreased profit for the killer-buyer and the lure is less, but it will always be there for some people. Just as there are still going to be unwanted horses in this country because we make too many of them and we are not all good at taking responsibility for each and every one that gallops through our lives.

Unwanted horses

Oh yes, they exist. Hard for any little girl longing for a horse to believe, but it's true. The rescue groups have been hammered since the recession started and they do an amazing and admirable job of finding homes for a lot of horses. But even they can't home every horse out there and I've seen some really nasty vitriol spewed at rescues that made the choice to euthanize a horse they deemed unadoptable. And those horses are out there. Look at your barn. Really look. How many horses are tended every day? How many horses haven't seen their owner for months?

We have an old Belgian mare in our pasture that has never been ridden, possibly never even had a halter on. She lives out there and eats, but she's not ridable. What if her owners stopped paying her bills? Luckily, Peter would probably just let her stay since she maintains her weight without additional feed, but what if she got sick? What if she wasn't at a barn where the barn owner would simply call the vet and have her euthanized? What would her fate be then? What about a family who has to make the choice between feeding their children or feeding their horse?

There is no easy answer to any of these questions. Is starving a horse more humane than sending it to auction, possibly to slaughter? Would I do it, no. But I know I have options. Good, bad, right, or wrong--desperate people don't always see those options. Our job in the community is to be sure their horses have those options.

Horses as food

Horses are raised in the U.S. as pets, companions, competitors. They are smart (most of the time), playful, and delightful creatures. And we make too darn many of them. The backyard breeders, the various breed industries, the race industry, all of us--in breeding for perfection, we've worsened the gene pool and filled the auction houses with the results. Sometimes those imperfect horses are still someone's dream come true. And sometimes they are not. The downturn in the economy has swelled the corrals at horse rescue organizations across the country to bursting. And--like it or not, and I don't--the ban on slaughter in this country has actually made the situation worse.

Would I eat Calabar? Gah, no. Not unless we had a Donner Party situation going on and I'm not even sure I could then. (Likely, I'd let myself die and he'd eat me to survive and wouldn't that be ironic.) But I have the luxury of landing squarely in the "Friends not food" corner when it comes to horses. Yes, horses are a luxury item, as much as it doesn't seem that way when you are knee deep in mud and poop. That gives me a different perspective, and gives me the ability to see horses as different beasts than cows and to realize the practices used to slaughter cows don't work for horses. We are supremely lucky and blessed that our horses do not stand between us and the survival of our families, that they are in fact lovely parts of our family--not potential food sources. On the flip side, there are those that view horse meat as a delicacy. Our job, our responsibility as horse owners, is to shut down the slaughter industry from within. Providing people with a special food delight simply because we aren't tending to our own is not acceptable.

In this country, we raise cows to be food. We should be doing it in a more humane and sustainable way, but they are raised for food or food production. There is a spark in a horse's eye that I just don't see in cows, sheep, or oysters. (Okay, so oysters don't have eyes, but you know what I mean.) I won't eat octopus, either, because they have proven to be problem solvers which leads me to believe there is more going on there than you realize. But would I begrudge a rancher the choice to eat one of his own horses if that were his decision? Nope. Does that make me inconsistent? Possibly. Will I ever be a vegetarian? Not likely. Would I eat my own horse? I think I answered that as best I can in the light of our current circumstances.

But what else can we do? They can't all be released into the wild and they won't all be adopted. Period. Heck, there really isn't enough space for the real wild horses we do have, but that is another soap box for another day. Today is about those of us in the horse industry putting on our big person pants and figuring out a solution for the real problem. What do we do with all these horses? How many Thoroughbreds are born each year and how many wash out on the track a mere two to three years later? They don't even have to wash out on the track to end up in the slaughter house--Secretariat's own brother was hours away from oblivion when he was rescued. No, horses just have to end up in a situation where no one knows or cares where they are.

Our responsibility

Horses are not cars. I could sell my Miata tomorrow and be glad I had it and not really care where it went and if someone didn't change its oil regularly. (Mostly, anyway.) If for some unforeseen and horrible reason I could not care for Calabar any more (and believe me, I would do anything--ANYTHING--to prevent that), I would never lose sight of where he went. Never. They'd probably have me arrested as a stalker, actually. Lena has the same bargain from me, as does Forrest. They are my responsibility to take care of and watch over until I can no longer do so or until they pass on to the next realm.

My other responsibility is to not add to the population, no matter what a delightful and well-bred mare I have. Lena has beautiful confirmation and is a truly striking horse. Her bloodlines are fantastic in the world of Cutting, despite the fact that she outgrew her calling by nearly two hands. Don't get me wrong, I get tempted sometimes. But that's one more thing I choose not to do, one more being I don't have to be responsible for tending, caring for, and finding a home if I can't do that anymore.

That is the deal, in my mind. We as a community have the responsibility to make good choices for these glorious beings we have brought into our lives--either by buying or breeding or adopting. They cannot make those decisions themselves. Sometimes their owners can't make those decisions themselves. The horse community needs to step up and fix what is in our own house and that is what will ultimately shut down the horse slaughter industry. Not laws, not regulations, not horse rescues. You. Me. Us.

I've seen what we can do when we put our minds to it. We just have to put our minds to the right thing. The horse slaughter industry exists for a reason. Let's remove that reason. There can be no profit if there is simply no supply to meet the demand. We owe it to these glorious creatures that allow us to fly without wings. We owe it to ourselves.

And finally

I have hesitated for years to address this issue here, offer any opinions on Facebook, etc., because I know it's a heated issue and I grew up a soother, a balancer of great emotions. In other words, controversy is my anathema and I want everyone to see the other side. That is not always possible, so I hope I have done a good job of expressing my opinion and the things I consider are part of the real issue.

If you don't agree with my opinions, that is your right. I just ask that any comments made be civil and on topic. Thank you for reading.


Sarah said...

I agree with so much of what you wrote here, and I totally admire your bravery in putting it out there. I'm still trying to collect my thoughts around the issue and by the time I get around to maybe writing a post about it it will be old news:)

First, I am TIRED of hearing this was Obama's decision. Whether you are a fan of our president or not, you have to admit he isn't stupid, and that would be a very stupid move. The provision was thrown in there by Congress in a HUGE Ag bill, and Obama signed the bill to keep the USDA functioning. OK, there's my one soapbox:)

The other thing we need to look at are "breeding incentive" programs. I'll say it, the AQHA is the worst offender. There are SOOOO many crap quarter horses being bred out there it's frigging ridiculous...these ranches that churn out hundreds of mediocre or worse foals every year, and then send the worst of them to auction as yearlings, barely handled with shit conformation, make me so angry. There is NO market for these horses, none.

The Thoroughbred industry also has some soul searching to do. Thankfully, there are a ton of wonderful rescue organizations for OTTBs out there, and TBs as a general rule (though there are ALWAYS exceptions) are bred to win races, so they are often athletic and easy to transition into another riding discipline. Yes, I know this is not always the case, and there are many debates out there about how they are breeding horses with no hoof or whatever, but I've still found the majority of OTTBs as sound or sounder than other breeds, and they were bred to be ATHLETIC, so they can transition to almost any horse sport. Some of the mediocre stock horses being bred? I swear half of them look like they are going to fall on their face if you push them beyond a jog.

ANYWAY, I don't know the answer. If I really trusted this Country to enforce humane methods to slaughter horses, I would say, ok, yes, it's MUCH preferable to traveling out of the Country to Mexico or Canada to meet their ends. However, I don't believe it's possible to slaughter horses humanely on a mass scale, or at least I haven't seen evidence of it. I wish we still had local rendering plants, that would come to your house, put a bullet in the horse's head while they were grazing, and haul the carcass away. Awful, yes. Humane? YES.

I know some organizations are running free or low cost gelding clinics, and I think that's a great start. We HAVE to stop these horses from existing in the first place. As for the Racing industry, they need to invest some of the millions of dollars they make off the horses into ensuring they have good homes or a permanent retirement if necessary. That would go a long way to rehabbing the industry's image as well.

Sarah said...

Crap, sorry, I forgot one major thing...most horses are SO not safe for consumption because of the drugs in their system, particularly TBs who have raced...they are almost guaranteed to have bute and steroids and who knows what else in their system. The same with so many older, unsound horses. When you look at it from a consumer health standpoint, how can we justify horse slaughter?

Jessica Boyd said...

Sarah, you are so right. All of the breeders need to stop and take stock.

I had a lot more in the post about why we shouldn't eat horses, including the crap Thoroughbreds get given, but that made the post even longer than it was!

Thank you for your support and for reading. I appreciate it. :)

Dave (aka Buckskins Rule) said...

I've been wavering on whether to post on this subject. Needless to say, you beat me to it, so I'm just going to link to your posts. They are well written, and convey my own sentiments.

As to Sarah's second comment, I'll reiterate the opinion I left on FB. If someone is going to take a bite of horse flesh, I hope the meat is tainted with all manner of veterinary products. Is that mean? You bet, but it's how I feel.

Suzanne said...

Well stated...