Using USDA FOIA Breed-Specific Data and USDA National Agriculture Statistics, a Wild for Life Foundation study found that on average 19% of horses being sent to slaughter are Thoroughbreds. In the six-year period from 2005-2010, this translates to 23,500 Thoroughbreds trucked, slaughtered, and butchered annually.
While all animal slaughter is horrific, the horse trade is particularly heartrending: Horses are flight animals and instinctively recoil in terror at the sights and sounds of the abattoir, making them elusive targets for the men charged with shooting them in the head. As a consequence, many will require multiple hits, and even at that, some may still be conscious (or will regain consciousness) when shackled, hoisted upside down, slashed, and exsanguinated. The lavish attention and winsome names while earning, a bitter lifetime ago.
In 2012, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) released undercover video from yet another Canadian equine slaughterhouse, Les Viandes de la Petit-Nations in Quebec, the fourth of the four licensed slaughterhouses to be exposed for cruelty. Some key findings from the CHDC investigation:
…40% of the horses were not stunned (killed or rendered insensible to pain) after the first captive-bolt shot, with one needing 11 hits over a four-minute period.
…Video shows a bloodied pistol brought out from the suspension/butchering line, suggesting that horses who should have been unconscious or dead upon reaching that stage were not.
…The government inspector paid to ensure a humane kill was seen observing the stun box for a total of 3 1/2 minutes over a period of two days.
World-renowned veterinarian and Tufts professor Nicholas Dodman reviewed the tapes:
“I estimate about 20%, appeared terrified, positively shaking with fear and making vain attempts to escape.”
“The stun box itself was clearly set up for cattle with a caliper-type head/neck restraint to assure cattle’s immobility. Clearly, horses would not tolerate such a restraint because of their flighty disposition. This meant that many head-shy or apprehensive horses were moving their heads to-and-fro and presented the operator of the captive bolt pistol (CBP) a moving target. Since that target – the brain – is approximately the size of a grapefruit and is positioned inside a skull with the dimensions of an office trash can, it is clear that the risk of the operator inaccurately hitting the target is high.”
“The fact that the floor of the stun box was slick, made so by blood and other body fluids, meant that some panicked horses were slipping, sliding, and falling as they tried to propel themselves forward or backwards.”
“Many horses who required a second or third shot, and some who were only given one shot to the head, retained muscle tone for some time, with some running in place or lurching from side to side, indicating that some level of consciousness was likely still present as they slowly expired.”
“My final conclusion, after reviewing 150-plus horse slaughters in this series of videos, is that the process was terrifying for most of the horses and, in many cases, horribly inhumane.”