Horse rescue groups report an increased number of calls from people asking for help with horses they can no longer afford to feed. Congressional and legislative committees, environmental and animal activist groups, horse breeders, and rescue facility operators are locked in debate about whether or not horse slaughter should be allowed in the U.S., or if horses can be shipped to foreign countries for slaughter. The "for-profit motive" drives many breeders, buyers, shippers, and investors.
The plight of horses throughout the United States, and, indeed, throughout the world, is closely tied to economics.
Horses are expensive creatures to feed and care for even in the best of times, and, when people struggle to feed and care for their families, horses become victims of a poor economy.
In some cases, these horses are lucky enough to find new owners or to be placed in rescue or retirement facilities. Unfortunately, at least 100,000 or so horses end up abandoned, neglected, or slaughtered each year.
Horse rescue shelters are filled to capacity and the people who run them are having a difficult time providing the necessary feed and care.
According to the Humane Society, the United States sent 98,363 horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter last year.
In 2007, slaughterhouses in the U. S. were banned. Currently, Congress is considering a bill that would ban the sale and transport of horses for human consumption outside the country, but many states and factions are opposed to such a ban because they argue owners need affordable options for unwanted horses.
The cost of transporting horses to slaughter, both in terms of money and suffering, is sometimes downplayed.
Recent reports of horses being killed by owners of auction houses because the sellers have abandoned them should cause anyone who values animals to shudder in disgust.
Another factor that has to be considered is the "for-profit motive." When a breeder deliberately breeds extra horses, knowing that some foals, colts, and fillies will not meet breed standards, those horses are then sold to the highest bidder. Ina these cases, the buyers often send the horses to slaughterhouses to make a few bucks.
Equally disheartening are the conditions under which most horses are shipped and slaughtered.
Under current regulations, horses can be transported in double-tiered cattle trucks and are often shipped hundreds of miles without food, water, or rest.
Once they arrive at the slaughterhouse, they are handled brutally and the slaughtering process is anything but humane.
It is impossible to know exactly how many horses have been slaughtered during the past ten years, but the numbers are in the millions.
An estimated tens of thousands of unwanted and neglected horses exist in the U.S.
Many see the number continuing to grow because of rising costs of hay and feed stuffs, the general economy, drought in parts of the country, costs of euthanasia and carcass disposal, and closure of slaughter plants.
Some states, such as Oregon, are strengthening their animal cruelty laws, but definitions and penalties for horse abuse vary from state to state and lack the manpower and financial resources to enforce these regulations.
Although it may take some years before responsible, controlled breeding will have a noticeable effect on the unwanted, neglected, and abandoned horse population, it is the only feasible way to come to terms with the problems associated with the current lackadaisical approach.
With a readily available market for horsemeat in European and Asian countries, many breeders, buyers/shippers, and foreign and domestic investors will do everything possible to keep horse slaughter operations going because of the amount of money involved.
So what can be done not only to establish policies for the responsible, controlled breeding of horses, but also to educate breeders, buyers, and investors in horses for slaughter?
We need well-thought-out laws and regulations that are stringent and enforceable when it comes to treating horses humanely in each and every situation. Then it will be up to responsible breeders.
What can the responsible horse breeders do?
- Make sure that no accidental breeding occurs .
- Instead of breeding your horse, rescue one.
- Work with local, state, and national groups to encourage enforceable legislation that addresses humane treatment of horses and penalizes over-breeding, neglect, abandonment, and cruelty.
- Become familiar with animal health, transportation, and cruelty laws in your state and locality, then document all violations and report them to law enforcement.
- Support rescue operations both financially and physically whenever and however possible.
- Work to help develop adequate facilities for horse rescue in your state and nationally.
- Educate friends, family, and community members regarding the costs in suffering when horses are abandoned, neglected, sold to buy/kill agents, or sent to slaughterhouses.
Responsible breeders can help solve the problems of unwanted, abandoned, and neglected horses by maintaining high standards for their own breeding programs and by making sure accidental breeding does not occur.
In addition, responsible breeders can protect and prevent abuse of horses through education, investigation, rescue operations, and the dissemination of information to the public.