The exposure of these photos was a double embarrassment to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medicine Association). The evidence surfaced just as the AVMA was getting traction on a well financed PR campaign to convince lawmakers that the US plants should be reopened because they had been more humane.
Every indication is that the supply of unwanted horses will only get worse because production has been destroyed. The reason for this lies in the nature of the source of slaughter horses.
Contrary to popular perception, most horses sent to slaughter are not old, but young and healthy. They are largely the “culls” from an industry that over breeds in a quest for perfection. When times are good, the profits are made on the best foals and the culls (be they slow race horses or simply horses of the wrong color) are dumped to slaughter.
But the market for top grade riding and performance horses has tanked, once again proving the old adage “The best way to make a small fortune in horses is to start with a large one.” So breeders have cut back. With less breeding there are fewer culls.
Some breeders liquidated in response to the low horse prices and high feed prices, while still others were forced out of the business when their properties were lost to foreclosure.
A Kentucky breeder, for example, gave away his entire prized Arab bloodline to keep the horses from going to slaughter.
And the “kill auctions” are losing yet another source of horses. Slammed by bad publicity, an increasing number of horse tracks have put in place “zero tolerance” programs that ban owners and trainers caught selling their horses to slaughter. In October, the Magna Entertainment Corporation announced that all nine of their tracks would have a zero tolerance policy and they were quickly joined by at least three other tracks.
Kill buyers have adapted to the shortage in a number of ways, including placing ads on sites like Craig’s List. In one memorable case, a kill buyer and his wife showed up at the seller’s house saying they thought the horse would be a perfect starter horse for their young daughter. The horse was a Thoroughbred (racing) stallion.
But there remains one possible reservoir of unwanted horses. Since the first plants were closed in Texas, there have been countless unsubstantiated stories about horses being abandoned. Some slaughter advocates have estimated that as many as 170,000 such horses were abandoned just last year. This valuable pool of unwanted horses could serve as a kind of “petroleum reserve” for the horse slaughter industry if only they could be found. And for that matter, there are always the unicorns.