From the Assistant Editor


Jonathan Friedman

Horse slaughter is un-American

We are a nation of meat eaters. But there are a few creatures that our culture has embraced as companion animals that we would never contemplate making a part of our diet. Included on that list is the horse. So it would probably come as a shock to most Americans to learn that equine slaughterhouses exist in United States. And it would probably come as an even greater shock for people to learn that two organizations that are supposed to be protecting horses are working hard to oppose legislation to ban the slaughter of one of America’s companion animals.

There are three equine slaughterhouses in this country; two in Texas and one in Illinois. More than 50,000 horses are violently killed at these foreign-owned facilities each year, with their remains shipped overseas to European and Asian nations (mainly France, Belgium, Italy and Japan) where people eat horsemeat.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, or HR 503, is expected to go before the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote later this summer. If turned into law, it would shut down these facilities. It would also prohibit the selling of horses to other countries for the purpose of slaughter.

Horse slaughter became a major issue for those associated with the thoroughbred horse racing industry in 1997 when it was discovered by a Daily Racing Form writer during his research for a “Whatever happened to?” series that Exceller, who in 1978 became the only horse to defeat two Triple Crown winners in one race, had been killed in a Swedish slaughterhouse. Sadly, the thoroughbred racing industry experienced déjà vu in 2003 when it learned that Ferdinand, winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby and 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, had most likely been killed in a Japanese slaughterhouse.

The thoroughbred racing industry must work harder to make sure its athletes do not die undignified deaths in slaughterhouses, especially after they become vulnerable due to unsuccessful breeding careers. The industry has done this somewhat. Since the news of Exceller’s death, several organizations have been formed to protect horses that could be targets for slaughter (unwanted and unhealthy horses) from getting into the wrong hands. And organizations that already existed prior to the Exceller tragedy began to receive more support, especially from the thoroughbred racing industry. That support escalated after the news of Ferdinand’s death. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Churchill Downs Inc. and many of the thoroughbred racing industry’s leading persons and organizations have embraced HR 503.

The thoroughbred racing industry should take its opposition to horse slaughter a step further by placing a ban on the selling of horses to nations where horsemeat is consumed and by boycotting horse races in those countries. Also, a percentage of the purse that an owner receives after a race should be put into a retirement account for that horse. And if the horse does not need the money after his or her racing career is over, then the funds can be used to help horses that do need the money.

But for now, the thoroughbred racing industry can be applauded for doing the minimum by supporting HR 503. The same cannot be said for the American Quarter Horse Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, which have both been outspoken opponents of the bill.

The AQHA, the organization representing the owners of America’s most popular horse breed, and the AAEP have said that if horse slaughter were banned in the United States, it would lead to the increased mistreatment of horses. They argue that if people can no longer sell their unwanted horses to the slaughterhouses, they will be forced to keep them, and then they will neglect them. There is no evidence to support this argument. In fact, since Californians voted in 1998 to ban the slaughter of horses in this state and the exportation of them for that purpose, the number of horse abuse cases statewide has not risen.

Also, many of the people who send their horses to slaughterhouses do so because they can make money sending them there, as opposed to paying the estimated $200 it costs to euthanize an unhealthy horse and dispose of its body. So if the slaughterhouse option no longer existed, they would be more likely to pay for the euthanization. Although, the AQHA and the AAEP claim that sending horses to slaughterhouses is a form of euthanization, they are sadly mistaken. The methods used to kill horses at a slaughterhouse are far from what any reasonable person would call humane.

What the AQHA does not bother to mention, while pretending to be thinking what is best for the horses with its opposition to HR 503, is that it has a close relationship with the American National Cattlemen’s Association, which is frightened that the passage of the bill could pave the way toward creating laws to bar the slaughter of cattle, or at least veal calves. As for why the AAEP, an organization composed of people who devote their lives to the health of horses, would oppose HR 503, I have no idea.

I am hopeful that the AQHA and AAEP’s position does not actually represent the views of their members, but is actually a case of a small minority with an agenda trying to run the show. There is evidence that this may be the case.

So what can Malibu’s many horse lovers do to help HR 503 get passed in the House and eventually be turned into law? Congressman Henry Waxman, Malibu’s representative in the House, is already a co-sponsor of the bill; so there is no need to contact him. But there are many Congressman who are still not on-board. Find out who they are, and tell them how you feel. And if you have friends or family that live in their districts, encourage them to contact their representatives.

For more information on horse slaughter and what can be done to prevent it, go to the Society for Animal Protective Legislation’s Web site at