Horses haven't been slaughtered in the United States for the last five years. But Congress recently restored funding for U.S. inspectors to oversee horse slaughter, paving the way for horses to be killed and butchered here in the U.S. once again. While killing horses anywhere is contemptible, the decision does provide an opportunity to reexamine this entire issue.
A ban on killing horses in the U.S. doesn't help horses--it prolongs their suffering. And they will continue to suffer as long as the industries that breed horses for profit--horseracing, rodeo and the carriage trade--keep exploiting these animals for our "entertainment."
When horse slaughter was banned in the U.S. in 2006, it didn't stop horses from being killed. Mercenary ranchers who make their living from horse flesh simply jam horses into undersized trucks and haul them for hundreds--sometimes thousands--of miles to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
Horses who manage to survive this grueling journey often arrive at the slaughterhouse with gashed foreheads, broken bones, compound fractures, eye infections and other injuries. They meet their end with a bolt gun, an often slow and agonizing death caused by the carelessness of workers who fire poorly aimed bolt after bolt until the animal finally dies. They are then bled out and skinned, usually in full view of other terrified horses.
Anyone who cares about animals should condemn horse slaughter altogether and call for an absolute ban on both the export of live horses and slaughter in the U.S. One doesn't work without the other.
Horses have been exploited for human purposes and profit since the beginning of time, and we need to take an honest look at the disconnect between society's horror over eating horses and its tacit approval of exploiting them in so many other ways. Many of the horses who end up in slaughterhouses used to pull carriages, perform in rodeos or cross the finish line but are now too worn-out to continue.
Even though horses tend to be skittish and sensitive, they are still forced to provide carriage rides on busy city streets and, at this time of year, in shopping mall parking lots for seasonal promotions. Fighting crowds, dodging traffic and trying not to slip on icy streets while hauling oversized loads day after day takes a toll. Accidents have occurred in nearly every location where carriage rides are allowed and many horses have died. But as long as people pay to ride, horses will continue to be worked until they can't take another step.
The horseracing and rodeo industries are equally culpable for sending horses to their deaths. Horses are bred over and over until "winners" are produced. But not every horse makes money, and continual breeding has led to a critical overpopulation of horses: too many horses, not enough good homes. And just like dogs and cats, unwanted horses are often abandoned, neglected, starved and left to die without veterinary care. Thousands are sold to meat buyers and go from grassy fields to blood-soaked killing floors.
If eating horse flesh appalls you, so should the industries that provide the bodies. People can make a real difference by staying away from the racetrack, shunning carriage rides and steering clear of the rodeo.
Gemma Vaughan is a cruelty caseworker with PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.