When comparing companion animals to livestock, most people can distinguish a clear difference between the two categories. Companion animals are the animals that we as owners dote all our attentions on. We buy them toys, fancy foods, beds, little jackets for the winter, etc. Livestock are animals that are generally seen as those that carry many of our physical burdens and provide us with food. When it comes to horses, many owners today fall under the category of pet owners. We buy them toys such as Jolly Balls or Hanging Horse Treats, we buy the most expensive supplements and feed, the best quality grass and/or alfalfa, we spend loads of money on good quality bedding, and many of us easily spend $100-$200 (and sometimes even more) on winter blankets. So why then do horses fall under the category of livestock instead of companion animal? We no longer need them to carry our burdens across acres of land and we in the United States do not eat them. Some horse people feel that if horses were designated as companion animals, many would be saved from slaughter.
Horse slaughter is a topic amongst the horse community that is about as touchy and hot as abortion is amongst the normal population. The more uninformed horse people feel that slaughter is completely unnecessary and savage. However, according the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practioners), “Changing the legal definition of horses to companion animals under state law could adversely affect horse owners and breeders and not necessarily better protect horses.” Because the USDA currently recognizes the horse as livestock, the government is better able to regulate the horse industry, the welfare and the overall treatment of horses.
If the horse were to lose its legal designation of livestock, the few slaughter facilities left in the United States would no longer be held accountable for the humane slaughter of unwanted horses. There are thousands of unwanted horses in the U.S. They are generally the result of uneducated backyard breeders, poor regulation of wild horse packs, and various other issues resulting from uninformed, overzealous people. Currently, because the USDA recognizes the horse as livestock, the government is able to uphold strict federal inspections of slaughter facilities in the U.S. and the Safe Commercial Transport of Equine to Slaughter Act. Another very positive side effect of the horse being designated as livestock is that the equine industry is able to qualify for grants to support research in equine disease, reproduction, and other aspects of the industry. A little known fact among the non-horse community is that most of the very advanced reproductive technology used with humans today was originally used on horses. For example, embryo transfers, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and other methods. Much of the money obtained to do such beneficial research has been awarded through grants.
The very unfortunate truth about horse slaughter today is that is it absolutely necessary. The even more unfortunate truth about it is that because there are so few slaughter facilities in the United States, unwanted horses are packed into trailers headed to either Canada or Mexico with little regard to their safety during transport. Neither Mexico nor Canada hold any regulations for humane horse slaughter. I have heard horror stories of the slaughter simply involving slitting the horses’ throats and allowing them to bleed out or attempting to break the horses’ necks. The humane way to slaughter a horse is to render them unconscious with a captive bolt gun which simply makes the horse brain-dead so they feel no pain when the actual slaughtering process occurs. This is the same technique used for cattle. A metal rod is shot straight into the brain.
Another aspect of horse slaughter that upsets many uneducated people is the human consumption of horse meat. The meat is mainly consumed in Europe. Horse meat is very lean and protein rich…perfect for people in third world countries. I don’t think I myself could ever eat horse meat because my love and connection to these wonderful creatures is so deep that it would be like eating a family member! Count me out….no reservations for the Donner party here. To make such a simple statement as “ship off the meat to the poor starving kids in China and Africa” sounds so idealistic and overly easy. However, when one considers the over-population issues that are ravaging the world and its billions of residents (an average of 75,000 who starve to death every day), one day, it may not sound so idealistic. It is a simple and freighting fact that the world population is growing daily and the ability of the agricultural community to supply food to the general populous is not keeping up. The particular lecture that I am drawing all this information from downright scared me. In my notes it states “famers must produce as many calories in the next 40 years as in the entirety of humanity to feed the world.”
The land used to produce this food is quickly disappearing; being turned into housing developments, business centers or shopping malls. Most of us U.S. citizens do not feel the effects of this growing problem but it is something that truly shocks me. I have faith in our scientific community to put all their combined eight plus years of schooling and training together and figure out some solution but I feel as though this situation should never have happened. I’m getting off topic! My final word on over-population: sex education, birth control and education in general! Of course, all easier said than done but I will leave that for another day.
The main point I am trying get across in this piece is that while horse people with idealistic, negative views on slaughter and the livestock-designation may have good intentions to save the thousands of unwanted horses, these opinions and views come from a lack of education and an abundance of passion. As the former Supreme Court Justice Louise D. Brandeis said, “[t]he greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” If backyard breeders had more education and purpose with their breeding, the issue of unwanted horses would not be so rampant. There would also be a need to better regulate the packs of wild horses that still roam many parts of the United States.
If I don’t sound like a broken record by now, well here it comes…education is the key. Re-opening slaughter facilities in the U.S. is essential for the humane treatment and slaughter of unwanted horses. All these major issues stem from human faults. Once upon a time, there were slaughter facilities that also had a training facility on the property. Trainers would try to find possible horses that could be saved from slaughter and go on to live successful lives. Unfortunately, more often than not, the trainers would find career-ending conformational deformities or mental issues so beyond repair, that these barns full of hope were slowly closing down. My own beloved home-away-from-home, Lynchland has saved many a horse from slaughter and they have become some of the most loved and talented horses on the property. The owner of the barn, Jackie is very educated in the ways of equus and is able to find horses that have potential. She never gets herself into any situation with a horse that she knows she cannot handle. To reverse Louise D. Brandeis’ quotation, the greatest hope for the horse lays within the people of zeal, well-meaning and educated, and with understanding.
To see some of our rescue horses, feel free to check the Lynchland website: http://www.lynchlandstables.com/