“….and he said unto the horse, ‘Trust no man in whose eyes you do not see yourself reflected as an equal’.” – Anonymous
The Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is now before the U.S. Senate (S 1915). The House version has already passed. If approved, the law would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption and the domestic and international transport of live horses or horseflesh for the same purpose. Horsemeat is regularly consumed by humans in parts of Europe and the Far East. The vast majority of this meat comes from the United States.
The passing of the measure before Congress and, if signed into law by the President, will mean that approximately 2,000 horses per week – something approaching 100,000 horses per year – will not be subjected to a horrible, traumatic and untimely death.
Tens of thousands of people across the country have contacted their elected representatives to urge them to support the measure and, thankfully, it stands a very good chance of passing.
That is simply wonderful news, not only for all of us horse lovers, but for all those Americans who see and revere the horse as a living, breathing symbol of the fabic that makes up this country. This nation would not be what it is without the contributions of our four-legged friends.
They have carried us and our belongings and our commerce from one coast to the other and everywhere in between. They have saved our lives, given us our freedom, entertained us, understood us, made us laugh, made us cry, and provided us with a spiritual compass. The very least we can do for them is to give them a good, long, happy life.
And that’s what scares me.
In our honest quest to do the right thing by our four-legged friends, we have forcefully, vociferously, and collectively brought the end of horse slaughter into sight.
What we haven’t done, I fear, is the hard work. Where the hooves meet the dirt.
I have looked all over the Internet, spoken with dozens of horsepeople and enquired of any number of animal protection organizations regarding whatever plans are in place, or being put into place, to receive, care for, rehabilitate and adopt out between 50,000 and 100,000 horses each and every year.
I have a ranch. I board and train and live with horses. I have fifteen horses of my own, twelve of which are rescues. A number of my boarders’ horses are rescues. I took one in just last week who had broken down at the racetrack the day before. He’ll live with me forever, bad leg or not. If he hadn’t found his way here, he’d have been on a truck to one of the Texas slaughterhouses. Just like 1,999 others last week. And he’s only four years old.
I work very closely with a lovely woman who runs one of the best horse rescues anywhere, The Horse Rescue of North Scottsdale (AZ) and she is often at or above capacity – and that’s before more horses come onto the market after the law is passed. And I’ll bet she’s not the only very good rescue facing the same situation. And there are many, many good rescues run by very good people.
That said, there are horror shows out there, too. All it takes is a little acreage and a lot of greed to send a lot of horses into hell. There are those that think they can take in a few horses, become a “rescue” and make a living off the adoption fees. Easy money. Except it isn’t easy. Each rescue horse has individual dietary, physical, medical and emotional needs. They can’t just be turned out in a dusty backyard with too little feed, too little water and too little care. And this happens far too often. Good horse rescues are 501 (c) (3) organizations, have a good solid history and dozens of positive references. Perhaps there’s a viable method to properly identify all the good ones in this country and make the list available to all. I just know that with all these new horses coming onto the market, the number of really bad “rescues” will explode. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Furthermore, the good rescues are always in need of extra funding because they often finance their operations out of their own pockets – because the horses come first. We need to find additional funding sources for them.
On the positive side, horses are proving invaluable in helping to provide rehabilitation to convicts, those in the juvenile justice system, those with physical and emotional impairments and those with chemical dependencies, just to name a few. If these programs are working – and working well – shouldn’t they be replicated over and over again, in each state and hamlet?
We have perhaps millions of acres of national parklands that could be used for unwanted horses. We wouldn’t have to worry about them procreating – all the males would be gelded.
To be sure, there would be some costs: fencing, food when necessary, a few thousand people to help run and administer the program – but don’t forget, horse lovers and those that work with horses don’t do it for the money – they do it for love. Trust me, they’ll work cheap. And hard.
There are master-planned communities sprouting up all over the country. Wouldn’t an equestrian program be an outstanding amenity in many of them? Golf, swimming, community centers and horses.
There an undoubtedly dozens of other, probably better, ideas out there. They should all be explored.
But by whom?
Governmental organizations? I think not. Our equine friends don’t have the benefit of the time it would take for this august conglomerate to decide their fates. Nor would we want our friends to be at the mercy of whatever political party sits atop the charts at any particular moment in time. Budgets come and go with the wind.
The equine community? Of course.
The racing community is greatly responsible for generating a surplus of horses. There are good people in this community and there are bad. The good ones need to help. There are numerous terrific rescue operations and sources of funding. This group of organizations needs to work as a team.
Every breed of horse has its own national, regional and local association or associations. Perfect, if only they’ll get on board.
There are also myriad other groups: hunters/jumpers, dressage, endurance, polo, horsemanship – the list goes on. These groups, shows and competitions can be important players, too.
The challenge, as I see it, is developing a national “meeting place” of sorts – a single focal point where problems, ideas, commentary and solutions can be accessed by all interested parties. A place where interested groups can see opportunities to help and can somewhat easily be of immediate service. A place where a rancher with several hundred or thousand acres of unspoiled pastureland can say, “Hey, I can help.” And be compensated for his generosity. A place where an owner of a small string of racehorses can turn when his five-thousand-dollar claimer breaks down and can no longer race. A place where the leaders of a children-in-jeopardy program can turn for assistance in obtaining some new four-legged counselors.
What I’m proposing is no simple task. As Tom Petty writes, “there ain’t no easy way out”. This is hard, grinding work full of stops and starts and frustrations and long hours and roadblocks and paths to nowhere.
But I’m talking about saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of robust, friendly, unassuming, trusting, honest spirits. And if you’ve ever had the privilege of watching a doomed, scared horse blossom happily in his or her new life, there simply ain’t no mountain too high.
We need to get to work. Now.
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