Horse slaughter is the most emotional issue facing the Thoroughbred industry, and there is widespread support within the industry for proposed federal legislation to ban the slaughter of all horses for human consumption.
Among those supporting the bill is the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which originally took a breed-specific position opposing the slaughter of Thoroughbreds, but then broadened its stance.
There also is significant opposition to the anti-slaughter legislation, especially from groups and individuals in the western U.S. The issue has created a philosophical divide among those representing different horse breeds.
The February 28 edition of The Blood-Horse
takes an expanded look at slaughter and at the rescue, retirement, and retraining operations that have resulted as more and more people dedicate their lives to keeping former Thoroughbred racehorses alive and out of the hands of the "killers."
That's one of the problems with the issue. In large part, people from the Thoroughbred industry are driving the anti-slaughter movement, though only about 10% of the 50,000 horses slaughtered last year in this country were Thoroughbreds. The bill would eliminate the slaughter of all horses, not just Thoroughbreds, and that doesn't sit well with some.
The American Quarter Horse Association, with 300,000 members, represents the largest breed group, and that legislatively influential organization is opposed to the bill. The American Horse Council, which represents a multitude of breeds as the horse industry's lobbying arm in Washington, D.C., has taken a neutral stance, citing the conflicting positions of its various constituency groups.
Also opposing the anti-slaughter bill are the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, a position that has inflamed many horse owners. How, they wonder, can someone whose profession is devoted to the health and welfare of a horse be in favor of sending that animal on a long van ride to Texas, where the two remaining U.S. slaughter plants are located, and then have it killed by a bolt to the head and carved up for human consumption in Europe or Asia?
Having been recently appointed industry representative to the AAEP board of directors and as someone who personally opposes horse slaughter, I have learned that opposition to the anti-slaughter bill does not necessarily mean someone is "pro-slaughter." The concern among the AAEP leadership opposing the legislation stems from the fact there is no provision in the bill for unwanted horses. They worry horses that would have gone to the slaughter plant will be neglected by owners who either don't care or can't afford to give them proper care.
In his overview
, Lenny Shulman notes that the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation--the largest and most established program for ex-racehorses--will have 500-800 horses in its program this year. Adoption, retirement, and retraining programs have sprung up throughout the country to find homes for hundreds of others (see http://retirement.bloodhorse.com
for a list of the programs), but many Thoroughbreds will still go unwanted. That problem will not go away if the anti-slaughter legislation passes.
There are steps Thoroughbred owners and breeders can take to deal with the subject of unwanted horses. The first and most important step is to become more informed and educated on the subject. Learn what your options are for a horse no longer suited to racing or breeding. The series of articles that follow should be a step in that direction.
Secondly, Thoroughbred owners must realize they have a responsibility toward their horses, and that includes a financial responsibility. When a horse no longer is useful, to the owner or to any retirement or adoption agency, it is the owner's responsibility to do what is right: have the animal euthanized and disposed of properly.