Sunday, the Paulick Report published a press-release announcing the retirement-to-stud (to a farm called “Country Life”) of 4-year-old Graded Stakes Winner Super Ninety Nine. It’s the type of story that racing apologists love – a career celebrated, an idyllic retirement, a happy ending. Never mind that stud is its own kind of exploitation, this, to them, is responsible aftercare – an industry taking care of its athletes. But in truth, an overwhelming majority of the done-earning never see places like “Country Life.” This is the fate that awaits them.
According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, last year, 152,814 American horses were shipped to foreign abattoirs for the shackle-hoist-and-slash. A “Wild for Life Foundation” study (2002-2010) found that on average 19% of the slaughter-bound are Thoroughbreds. Even if we were to use a lower percentage (the racing industry, of course, claims 19% is too high) – say, 13% – the number of erstwhile racehorses who exited via the butcher line last year practically matches the Jockey Club’s estimated “foal crop” (21,275).
In 2012, 13% yields roughly 23,000 slaughtered Thoroughbreds (of 176,000 total American horses slaughtered), while the crop came in around 21,000. In 2011, 17,000 slaughtered against 23,000 born. And on and on: (from the “Wild for Life” study) “The study clearly demonstrates that an amount equal to 70% of the annual Thoroughbred foal crop on average, died at slaughter during the years 2004 through 2010.” In other words, in all likelihood, most retired Thoroughbreds are being slaughtered. Imagine that.
Paul McCartney once famously said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Not everyone, of course, but you get the point. For the record, all animal slaughter is horrific. All of it. And the animals we routinely raise (in the cruelest of conditions), slaughter, butcher, and eat are just as intelligent and every bit as sentient as horses. But, consistent with this site, the focus here is on horse slaughter, perhaps the worst of racing’s wrongs.
Last year, 59,812 American horses were slaughtered in Canada. Thanks to the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, we know, more or less, how they died. The following comes from a 2010 undercover investigation at two of the country’s four equine slaughterhouses: Bouvry and Viandes Richelieu.
Three veterinarians reviewed the footage:
Dr. Debi Zimmerman:
“As a prey species, horses are naturally fearful and suspicious of anything they have not been conditioned to accept. All things at these slaughterhouses would fall into the category of unnatural, fear-producing stimuli; not the least of which is the vocalizations of fearful horses, the strange plant workers, the metal chute systems, the loud droning of machinery, the blaring music (at Bouvry), horses being felled in-front of or beside them (Richelieu), the smell of warm blood in the stun box and that spewing from the throats of horses only a few feet away from them, and the stench of excrement in high concentration in the chute system that is released from fearful and dying horses.”
“Every second a horse must remain isolated and confined in a strange situation, can be agonizing. Many horses were left over 3 minutes prior to being shot, including one horse left while workers hosed down the kill floor and went for their 10 minute break (#75), and one horse at Richelieu (Horse #1) which was left in the stun box for 20 minutes. One obviously panicked horse at Richelieu, flailed about in the stun box for nearly 3 minutes, before the shooter finally attended to him.”
“At Bouvry, many horses demonstrated voluntary movements, or obvious rhythmic breathing, upon being suspended. This indicates these horses were likely conscious as they were being hoisted high into the air with one leg bearing their entire weight, and while their necks were slashed on both sides (which entails using a sawing motion of the knife). A full bleed out takes minutes, and as some horses had their feet chopped off within 45 seconds of the throat slash, some horses may also have experienced the pain associated with this procedure as well.”
“At Richelieu, horses were routinely subjected to excessive whippings on their bodies, excessive use of electric prods (both stick and hand-held), and some struck repeatedly across their faces (i.e.: Miniature horses).”
“[The shooter] allowed a horse that became cast in the stun box, to flail about for almost 3 minutes while he carried on a casual conversation with a co-worker; he forced horses to step over the legs of fallen horses which had not yet been removed from the now very crowded stun box, and, he led horses through improperly closed gates on which they subsequently struck their heads. The shooter also whipped an older and obviously lame horse (#93) 19 times.”
“The fact that a .22 calibre rifle does not typically deliver a kill shot, along with the high rate of mis-shots delivered by the shooter, this excessive time lag between stunning and bleed offers numerous horses the opportunity to regain consciousness while they are being processed.”
“In addition to this psychological pain, these horses also suffered physically in numerous ways. These included slips and falls, fractures, numerous mis-shots with some horses requiring a second or even third bullet; some horses regaining consciousness before or while being suspended by one leg, and/or when their throats were being slashed: excessive traumatization during assembly; excessive whippings of their bodies and across their faces (Richelieu), and excessive use of electric prods (Richelieu).”
Dr. Mary Richardson:
“Far too often, the shooter was not able to render the animal unconscious on his first shot. Then, the horse experiences great pain for a prolonged period before the next shots are fired. It often took 3 or 4 bullets before the horse lay still. …sometimes [the time between shots] was several minutes.”
“The next step is shackling the back leg, and hanging the animal to bleed it. Before this is done, the animal must be unconscious. I never saw one attempt on the tapes to make sure of this.”
“Too often, the horse would be hung up, and then show conscious movement, and then have to be shot again, sometimes several times.”
“Because there were no attempts to ensure unconsciousness, it is possible horses are dying by being bled out…”
Dr. Mel Richardson:
“Loud music echoing off the walls, horses whinnying in fear, people yelling and using whips and electric prods and the smell of blood and death all equate to equine hell.”
Another Canadian plant (Natural Valley)…
In Mexico, a small puntilla knife is used to sever the spinal cord. Paralyzed but often still sensible, the horse is shackled, hoisted, slashed, and exsanguinated.
Twyla Francois, Canadian horse-slaughter expert:
“[They are] so frightened. You can see them in the [auction] ring, that they search the ring looking for a friendly face. We have been comfort for them, and then we take them to slaughter. We see this at the slaughterhouses too, where they’re still seeking out affection from even the slaughterhouse workers themselves.”
“And one thing we saw that really broke my heart was, you would see the workers walking by the pens and the horses would rush the pens, looking for comfort from these men who were going to kill them. It just seems like such a betrayal. …nothing can prepare them for the journey they have ahead of them after they’ve been given up.”
Defend that, horseracing.
In dismissing a lawsuit brought by the HSUS et al. on Friday, U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo opened the door for equine slaughterhouses to resume bloodletting in the U.S. (closed here since 2007). Plants in New Mexico and Missouri are at the ready. To many advocates, this is a crushing defeat. But as a practical matter, the court decision is neutral, neither good nor bad for horses.
A narrow focus on banning U.S. slaughter is misguided. It can’t even be argued that allowing it here will result in more deaths: In the last five years that American houses were operational, the average number of butchered American horses (both here and abroad) was 106,831/year. In the five years since (2008-2012), the average comes in at 132,593. Last year, 176,223 American horses were strung up and slashed on foreign (Canadian and Mexican, mostly) soil. Here or there, nothing changes unless both domestic slaughter and export-to-slaughter end. But what matters most – all that matters, really – is supply and demand.
On this site, we are mostly concerned with the racehorse part of the chain, which at roughly 19% (Thoroughbreds, that is) of the American slaughterbound is not insignificant. But equally in need of a voice are the tens of thousands of wild horses (who should be sterilized), spent beasts of burden (someone needs to tell the Amish that that era of equine servitude ended over a century ago), old trail horses, suddenly inconvenient backyard pets, and “retirees” from other “disciplines” who join racing’s refuse on the kill floor.
On demand, if people want something, business obliges. But if the supply is strained, the price will rise, perhaps discouraging at least some French and Japanese consumers. In the meantime, this is a reminder for horsemeat connoisseurs…
Slaughtering horses is neither necessary nor inevitable. From auction to dinner plate, it is simple commerce; it has nothing to do with humanely ending the lives of unwanted equines. The advocacy group Veterinarians for Equine Welfare says that slaughter is never an acceptable way to end the head-shy, flight-inclined horse’s life: “Rather than aiding horse welfare, as slaughter proponents contend, horse slaughter results in very tangible animal cruelty and suffering while engendering abuse and neglect.” USDA oversight (dubious as that is) or not, nothing can be done to sanitize slaughter. Nothing.
Recently, Europeans have grown increasingly concerned about the safety of American-sourced horsemeat being shipped to their continent from Canada. Here are the relevant facts:
…Tens of thousands of American racehorses are sent to Canadian slaughterhouses each year for the express purpose of human consumption.
…American racehorses, practically all of them, receive phenylbutazone (PBZ, bute), an anti-inflammatory, as a matter of routine.
…PBZ has a laundry list of grave, if not potentially fatal, effects in humans: According to an FDA newsletter from 2003, “Phenylbutazone is known to induce blood dyscrasias, including aplastic anemia, leukopenia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia and deaths. In addition, phenylbutazone is a carcinogen, as determined by the National Toxicology Program.”
…PBZ does not have a safe withdrawal period like some other drugs administered to food-producing animals. Dr. Ann Marini, author of a Food and Chemical Toxicology medical paper on the subject, says (Horseback, 2/8/12) that “if a horse is administered one dose of phenylbutazone, the horse cannot enter the food chain.” Ever. Accordingly, PBZ is banned for use in food-producing animals in the US, UK, EU, and Canada. In short, Dr. Marini says (Toronto Star, 7/30/11), “there’s no horse in (the U.S.) that is eligible for slaughter for human use.” Not one.
Armed with this information, which has been readily available for years, how, then, can American horsemen continue to dump bute-laced meat into the food supply? To those paying attention, the answer is obvious: Men who would allow their erstwhile pet-racers to be strung up and slashed aren’t likely to lose much sleep over a Frenchman’s health. Horseracing’s moral bankruptcy, yet again.