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Horse Racing Injuries and Horse Slaughter – Prevention Through Breeding Control
I have been aware of horse slaughter since I was a child. It was a well-known fact. Thoroughbred former thoroughbred horses that have come through the barn have one shot to enter the hunter/jumper ring (as riding horses). If the horse didn’t stay in the barn, we knew the horse would end up at the dealer, and the return of the dealer meant that the horse was going to the slaughter.
As a child, horse slaughter was simply a fact. Now, it’s almost a must. I do not agree with horse slaughter, nor do I want any horse to end up in a slaughterhouse, but our society produces too many unwanted horses.
I receive emails on a weekly basis from several different horse industry and horse welfare news outlets. Every time I read one of these legislative “updates,” I wonder: when will the horse slaughter law begin to deal with the cause of unwanted horses?
Although anti-horse slaughter groups have successfully shut down horse slaughterhouses in America, horse breeding has only increased. If the horses at auction don’t end up at slaughter, where will all the “undesirable” horses go? As with the millions of unwanted dogs and cats that are euthanized every year, it would be nice if we could say that unwanted horses are “humanely destroyed.” But horses just aren’t that easy to put down. In addition to being large, difficult to transport, house and feed, putting horses down costs several hundred dollars. For “humane” treatment, horses need not only food, water and vaccinations, but also hoof care and often special nutrition, veterinary care and stables.
When will the horse slaughter law kick in 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) undesirable. If a horse owner sends an “unwanted” horse to auction and the horse does not sell, what happens to the horse? If the previous owner can’t or won’t take care of the horse, who will?
It’s the same with overpopulation of dogs and cats. It is better to have a humane society take an unwanted pet and euthanize it than to have the pet return to a home where it is not wanted or cannot be cared for. But then again, horses are extremely difficult and expensive to care for. Some say that rehoming unwanted horses is not a big deal because the total number of American horses slaughtered annually “only” equates to about 1% of the total American horse population. Based on the current horse population (about 9 million in the US), 90,000 “homeless” horses is still a lot of horses. With rising hay prices, rising gas prices and less and less affordable land, most horse people in any part of the country will tell you; “you can’t even give them these days.”
Some anti-slaughter activists like to argue that “horse kill buyers” outnumber good families looking for a pet. Really? If a “nice family” is only willing to spend $100, maybe $150 on a horse, will they be willing to spend another $150 on vaccines when 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 transportation and thousands of dollars worth of spasm surgery? Slaughter buyers, yes, may bid with families (occasionally), but that doesn’t mean the family has the means to care for the long-term health of the horse.
To reduce horse slaughter and unwanted horses, we need a better plan.
There are currently no horse slaughterhouses in the United States. Despite the efforts of anti-slaughter groups, American horse slaughterhouses have been successfully shut down, but now the horses are just being shipped across the border to Mexico and Canada where the treatment and killing of the animals is even less humane than by American standards.
In many ways, the US slaughter ban has already harmed horse welfare.
For reference, American slaughterhouses used retractable pneumatic screws to render horses unconscious (in theory) before slitting their throats. However, in Mexico it is common practice to stab horses in the back until their spinal cords are severed.
In many ways, the US horse slaughter ban has already harmed horse welfare. Now anti-slaughter groups are trying to completely ban the export of horses for slaughter. Despite the fact that this new law could easily be circumvented by “horse traders” simply labeling horses being transported across the border as “for riding” instead of “for slaughter”, we must first consider reducing the unwanted horse population before tackling that problem. butchers a horse.
Let’s 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 data from the Jockey Club, in 2007, 56,000 thoroughbred mares were bred.
– According to the Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred racehorses averaged 25 starts per lifetime in 1950; by 1994 the average thoroughbred ran only 14 races.
What it means? More thoroughbred runners less racing means more waste. Due to excessive breeding of purebreds, not only that Thoroughbred Times to conclude Thoroughbred thoroughbred horses are less healthy than 60 years ago, but they are also used less.
Furthermore, why haven’t we had a Triple Crown winner in thoroughbred racing since the confirmed 1978? Is it possible that the only prerequisites for breeding a thoroughbred horse are mares with papers and money to compensate the stud?
I guess even in 1978 horse breeding and racing wasn’t an incredibly easy or cheap “hobby”. Then again, not every backyard horse owner could afford a.) a thoroughbred paper mare, or b.) a 500 mile haul to the stallion. Today, cheap, run-down racetracks abound and far outnumber the celebrity-studded racing events profiled on TV. It is now considered “easy” for anyone to think they can produce the next Kentucky Derby winner. For $250 someone can pick up a lame and unproven (and maybe even unbred) thoroughbred mare and breed her to an equally lame or unproven stallion for only $300. Boom! For less than a car, you too can own the next Derby Champion!
Of course, many thoroughbred horses that go to meat are actually well-bred, expensive horses. Some can have stud fees of $500,000 or more. For the most part, racehorses don’t retire to greener pastures if they don’t win. They mostly go to auctions. Even when trainers do their best to find a new owner and a new job for the horse, thoroughbreds off the track aren’t just for everyone. Most need experienced leaders and trainers.
With the 2008 Kentucky Derby set to hit the starting gate on May 3rd, what will the average American see in the racing industry? Horses worth millions of dollars? Great, happy horses that are cared for better than most people?
I wish the goings on at the average American thoroughbred racetrack were televised. Horses run on tracks no aka Churchill Downs, Belmont Park or Pimlico don’t have the luxury of being considered anything but expendable or replaceable. And besides, with reality TV all the rage, is there anything else that has been cut [pun intended] but to watch broken horses run in $500 loser races very unlike a second chance?
The vast majority of horses that won’t see a glamorous camera lens pointed at them (in addition to closed circuit surveillance) are bred to only be good for a year or two. These “modern” thoroughbreds, the ones at your average, dirty, shady, track, were not bred to run the Kentucky Derby; they are bred to MAYBE, MAYBE win their owners and investors a few thousand dollars. The main purpose of the average thoroughbred is to honor the owner with the recognition of owning a racehorse. Thoroughbreds are, by nature, bred to be hot, a trait that does not serve them well outside of running. They are no longer bred with long lines, not even large strides. They are bred to run and move straight, fast, and that’s it. Apart from the few races they CAN run, thoroughbred racehorses serve a limited purpose.
Interestingly, even Kentucky Derby winners are not safe from slaughter. With the killing of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand in a Japanese slaughterhouse in 2002, the horse racing industry has proven time and time again that it doesn’t even value its most prized asset.
Therefore, even well-bred but only “middle” caliber racehorses, such as those bought and sold at the Keeneland auction for an average of $100,000, may never win, even on a small racetrack. Hoping to “clean up” on the ghetto tracks, these “Kentucky” bred horses are still worthless unless the gains come early and often.
The main purpose of today’s “modern” Thoroughbred is to honor the owner with the recognition of owning a racehorse.
Fortunately, there is a good chance that a thoroughbred horse bred in Kentucky could possess some very nice athletic attributes that could result in a good hunter/jumper, dressage or racing home. however, the original breeders, owners and trainers of racehorses are generally not concerned with where the horses end up. The racing industry wipes its hands of losers without regard for the welfare of the horse. Slaughter, new career, love of home – who cares! Whatever takes them off the training and boarding bill, the racehorse owner is fine.
As the American horse community, we need to start looking for a way to fund “unwanted” horses that are considered “trash” either through euthanasia, or when applicable, retraining programs. Or more importantly, let’s limit the breeding of racehorses to owners and trainers who devote their resources only to the provision of the horse throughout its life, regardless of its winnings. If the racing community had to shell out money for the lifelong care of their horses, the unwanted horse population would dry up.
The horse industry needs a plan, a good plan, to help reduce the number of unwanted horses. Stopping horse slaughter will only be beneficial when we stop having too many horses. To stop horse slaughter, the Humane Society of the United States needs to do one of two things:
1.) Provide shelters and resources necessary for retraining or humane euthanasia of unwanted, unadaptable horses
2.) Take giant steps forward to restrict the breeding of all horses, not just thoroughbreds
Additionally, the HSUS should ask the racing community for some money to begin covering the humane destruction or lifelong care of the horses it produces. Now that the Kentucky Derby is underway, why don’t some of these trainers, owners, breeders and jockeys who make BIG money in the horse racing industry give some money back, to the horses themselves?
If the racing community had to shell out money for the lifelong care of their horses, the unwanted horse population would dry up.
Let’s stop breeding low quality thoroughbreds, close the worn out racetracks and start rehabilitating and retraining a humane society that can help with these unwanted horses either through rehoming (realistically) or humane euthanasia.
And frankly, let’s stop breeding poor quality horses of any kind. The thoroughbred racing industry is not solely to blame for horse slaughter or unwanted horses. However, thoroughbred horse racing is the most deserving and high-profile entity in the equine world. For those who judge horse slaughter, thoroughbred racing is an easy target for its money, power and fan base, but there’s no better time to expose an institution to its dirty little secrets than when it’s in the national media spotlight (rest assured, Premara’s horses ended up with global coverage on the Oxygen network, we’d be all over it too).
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