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.

horse slaughter photo gallery
auction to slaughter photo gallery

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.”

On Wednesday, Emma’s Secret, a four-year-old filly from Finger Lakes Racetrack, died in what is termed a “non-racing” accident. Apparently, the young horse (roughly the equivalent of a human teenager) “bolted out of [her] stall, out of [the] barn, ran into [a] gate” and suffered “severe head trauma.” She died alone. No family. No friends. Even her “connections” were unfamiliar, having just been claimed on September 17th.


And so the question remains, why? Perhaps the anxiety of having to adjust to yet another “handler” – her 4th in two years – caused a single moment of panic. Then again, this may be nothing more than one horse’s way of saying, “Enough.” Enough. Goodbye, Emma’s Secret. Your shackles of servitude are gone forever.

On January 27th of this year, Dr. Orlando Paraliticci, a private vet working for trainer Jane Cibelli, was caught injecting a nerve block, called “P Bloc,” into the Cibelli-trained horse Raven Train. Raven Train was scheduled to run that day in a $16,000 claiming race. According to the Paulick Report, “Paraliticci quickly left the stall, saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.'” Paraliticci was banned from Tampa Bay Downs (TBD) on February 3rd and eventually (May 15th) suspended 90 days by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (FDPMW). Eight months later, Cibelli has finally been disciplined.

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Cibelli’s punishment is a 60-day Florida suspension and dismissal from TBD for the remainder of the meet. Implied here, is that Cibelli’s personal relationship with TBD official Margo Flynn was an impediment to immediate justice, at least at the racetrack itself. In defending the meager sentence, the state says that without a syringe or positive blood test – “a nerve block administered in this fashion is not likely to produce a positive test” – it had to rely solely on Paraliticci’s word. But when Paraliticci indicted both himself and his employer, he had to have known that the state lacked any evidence beyond a witness to some unspecified injection. It seems, then, that his word – admitting guilt when he probably didn’t have to – should have been at least as damning as a dirty syringe.

For deadening a horse’s leg on raceday, the guilty parties received two and three months. At the very least, TBD is a corrupt venue. At the very least, the FDPMW is a weak regulatory agency. At the very least, Dr. Orlando Paraliticci is devoid of professional ethics. And at the very least, Jane Cibelli is unconscionably negligent. But because everyone in racing knows that vets do the trainers’ bidding, especially one with as forceful a personality as hers, Cibelli is most likely an animal abuser. Reid Nagle, a Cibelli colleague who is outraged by this case, suggests that if this were England, Cibelli would be banned for life. Sorry, not good enough. Jane Cibelli should be in jail.

The New York Racing Association reports a half-year (ending June ’13) operating loss from racing operations of $10.3 million. But when the Resorts World Casino (at Aqueduct) slots money is factored in, that loss magically becomes an $8.2 million gain. With attendance and handle trending in the wrong direction (down 18% and 5% respectively from the same period last year), the state’s big three (Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct) are growing more dependent on racino cash with each passing meet, a condition their harness counterparts know all too well. The following, posted last year, offers more insight into NY’s horseracing subsidy…

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Racinos, horseracing tracks with Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), are New York’s answer to stabilizing (saving) a gravely ill industry, especially at the harness level. Currently, 9 of the 11 NY racetracks house VLTs: Saratoga (Harness), Finger Lakes, Buffalo, Monticello, Batavia, Tioga, Vernon, Yonkers, and Aqueduct. Each track is entitled to a 26-32% cut of net revenue, plus 8-10% for marketing, plus up to 4% for “capital improvements.” Since the program began in 2004, this translates to $1.023 billion for purses and $571 million for marketing and infrastructure. But has this government largess helped racing right its ship?

In July 2012, the NYS Comptroller’s office filed this report. It concludes:

“We found that, despite the influx of VLT monies since calendar year 2004, handle at their associated racetracks has continued to decrease. In fact, total handle on live racing in New York decreased from $53 million in 2004 to $46 million in 2010, a decrease of 13 percent. …we are unable to determine whether the millions of dollars that pay for increased purses, rather than for education, are having their intended effect.”

In response to the audit, Lottery Director Gordon Medenica:

“Anecdotally, we know from all our facility operators that there is almost no overlap or synergy between the casino patrons and the horse racing patrons at the facilities. Many of the facilities lose money on their horse racing operations…but consider it simply a cost of doing business for having the VLT license and operating the gaming facility.

In the past, one could characterize the facilities as horse racetracks with gaming machines, but now it is much more accurate to describe them as casinos (with a legally required track on the property). …As mentioned earlier, we share the Comptroller’s concern about the effectiveness of the horse racing subsidies generated by the Video Lottery program.”

(In Ontario, which ended its “Slots at Racetracks Program” earlier this year, racing was receiving 20% of slots revenue – $345 million in 2011, over $4 billion in just 15 years. In all, this nonracing booty eventually accounted for 63.6% of purses, with some of Ontario’s 17 tracks funding over 90% of their prize money with slots cash. Now, mostly being forced to subsist on actual product, the future of Ontario racing remains very much in doubt.)

Horseracing, of course, defends the VLT program as a successful “partnership” (for them, “subsidy” is a four-letter word) that has benefited taxpayers and industry alike. Inconveniently for the horse people, however, it is virtually certain that VLTs would succeed in a host of other public places – bars, restaurants, truck stops, etc. – and that these venues would not require anything close to the 40% or so currently gifted to racing. In other words, millions more could (should) be flowing to education.

Across the nation, states are growing weary of propping up “The Sport of Kings” by turning it into a collective casino “with a legally required track on the property.” Enough already. Kill the subsidy; let the market take its course.

Say this about NY, at least it has the courage (relative, that is) to record and publicly post all racehorse injuries and deaths from its 11 tracks. Alas, nothing of the sort exists in another tradition-rich state, Kentucky. But every once in a while, usually when a jockey gets hurt, a racing death makes the news. This past Saturday, during the 4th race at Churchill Downs, jockey Joe Rocco Jr took a spill, prompting a precautionary trip to the hospital. Rocco appears to be fine. His mount, however, did not fare as well, suffering “a catastrophic fracture” before being euthanized on-track. Wash Park, dead at six.

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The Race Replay (Wash Park crumples at 1:12)

For the rest of the six-minute video, we get slow-motion replays of the finish, a “good-news” update on Rocco, and a lead-up to the winner’s circle and trophy presentation, complete with birthday wishes. Not another word on the dying Wash Park. This left me wondering: How can people – track announcer, Churchill officials, “connections” of the winner – who probably consider themselves decent, even ethical, continue with the merrymaking as decidedly unnecessary pain and destruction goes on behind them? It’s a question, I suppose, better left to the psychologists.