Groups That Oppose Slaughter Ban Target of Letter

Blue Horse Charities has stepped up the campaign for passage of legislation to ban horse slaughter with a strongly worded letter and a full-page advertisement on the back page of the Nov. 8 edition of Daily Racing Form.

In a three-page letter mailed to industry organizations, constituents, and the media, Blue Horse Charities alleges the American Quarter Horse Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have cooperated to stall passage of the legislation, currently in the House Agriculture Committee.

"When a bill is in the House and doesn't get out of committee and doesn't get hearings, someone has his thumb on it," the Blue Horse Charities letter said. "We would like to identify three groups who we feel, because of their stated positions, have their thumb on this one."

Blue Horse Charities, formed in partnership with Fasig-Tipton Co. in 2001, said it doesn't necessarily have a bone to pick with members of the three organizations, but with the organizations "that purport to represent them. It is our opinion that these organizations are listening to those to whom approximately $500 a head is good enough reason for putting tens of thousands of horses through the terror and misery that precede a grisly death."

Fasig-Tipton matches funds contributed through Blue Horse Charities, which enables consignors to donate one-quarter of 1% of sale proceeds. No one is required to donate, nor are they solicited. The lack of funds and facilities for retired racehorses led to the formation of Blue Horse Charities.

John Hettinger, a major shareholder in Fasig-Tipton who formed Blue Horse Charities, said there are about 110 co-sponsors of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. He said the bill is gaining "considerable momentum."

When asked about the letter that alleged the three organizations are stymieing the bill, Hettinger said: "This what we've been told, and this is what we feel. They've come out with things in writing that would lead anyone to believe that."

Hettinger said the main thrust of the issue is responsibility. "I believe that owning a horse is a responsibility, but that's not an idea that has a lot of currency today," he said. "The horse deserves kindly treatment when he lives, and a peaceful death."

The organizations targeted by Blue Horse Charities have been proactive in terms of making their positions public via policy statements. Representatives were somewhat surprised by the allegations contained in the letter.

The AAEP, at a board meeting in May 2002 issued a position statement that, in part, said: "The AAEP advocates the humane treatment of all horses and believes the equine industry and horse owners have a responsibility to provide humane care throughout the life of the horse. However, a small percentage of horses are ultimately unwanted because they are no longer serviceable, are infirm, dangerous, or their owners are no longer able to care for them.

"The AAEP recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, and provides a humane alternative to allowing the horse to continue a life of discomfort and pain, and possibly inadequate care or abandonment. The AAEP encourages, fosters, and provides education regarding responsible ownership and management that will reduce the number of unwanted horses. In addition, the AAEP supports and commends the efforts of equine retirement facilities and adoption groups."

This year, the AVMA endorsed the AAEP position statement after New York Rep. John Sweeney, who chairs the Congressional Horse Caucus, introduced the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

The AAEP received a copy of the Blue Horse Charities letter. Sally Baker, director of public relations for the AAEP, said the organization is deciding how to respond to the letter, which isn't dated but was mailed in early November.

"We're very disappointed by the tone of the letter and the allegations made not only against the AAEP, but all veterinarians," Baker said.

AQHA officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Late last year, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association approved a policy in favor of banning the slaughter of Thoroughbreds at slaughter facilities, and earlier this year, Breeders' Cup followed suit. However, the organizations did not come out in favor of specific legislation as was announced by the Society for Animal Protection Legislation.

The Blue Horse Charities ad in the Form includes a cartoon by Pierre "Peb" Bellocq called "Fork In The Road." It depicts a horse van heading up a road that branches off to a life of retirement and a road that heads to a slaughterhouse. The ad credits supporters, including the Utah Quarter Horse Association, and attacks people "who profess to be anti-slaughter but do not back any legislative efforts and do not come up with any alternative solutions of their own."