I was one of those fortunate teenagers who had a mother who understood my love for animals, and this included horses. When I was twelve, she gave me a young appaloosa named Little Bit. We'd lived next to the pasture she was born in and I'd gotten to watch her grow up so I knew her pretty well by the time Mom made the announcement. In brief, Mom understood that I needed Little Bit, perhaps more than I did.
Friday, June 08, 2012
Mom was a rare kind of horse woman--one of the original horse whisperers. They liked her, trusted her, and would do things for her no one else could get them to do. In my early years we'd lived on a commercial beef ranch and Mom often trained the ranch's horses. She understood that most of one's relationship with this animal didn't begin in the saddle, but while the human's feet were still on the ground.
So I spent better than a year building a relationship with Little Bit--on the lunge line, leading her around the pasture, grooming and feeding her every day. By the time I put a saddle on her back, we were an established element. It wasn't long before we were anticipating one another--she knew what I wanted before I said it, and I knew where she liked to be scratched best and that she loved carrots more than anything in the world.
I spent a lot of hours on this animal's back over the seven years. I went places I would never have gone on foot--exploring the rural back roads, paths, and hills around our home. Those rides shaped me and how I thought about nature and solitude and happiness. I have a lot to thank Little Bit for.
I still clearly remember the day I sold her. I was in college, my family was moving and couldn't take her with them. It broke my heart, but I knew it wasn't fair to her and that there was no way I could commute back and forth from college to care for her and as I was a broke and on my own, I couldn't pay anyone else to take care of her either. I'm almost forty-seven years old and I still ache a little when I think of that horse. (She went to live with a family and became a huge pet, ridden by their children, fed candy, and allowed to hang out in their front yard--I couldn't have asked for her to wind up in a better place).
I've not been fortunate enough to live where I could keep horses in the years since then. So I am not a "horse person", but I am (as we all know by now) an animal lover and horses are high on that list.
So imagine my dismay when I saw this story in the headlines: Rockville community welcomes idea of re-opening plant for horse processing . The woman behind this idea, Sue Wallis, (known among some circles as "Slaughterhouse Sue") surfaced in Missouri back in January and attempted to convince a small town not far from here that putting a horse slaughtering plant in their town would be good for their economy. Fortunately the towns folk felt otherwise and made it very, very clear that they didn't want the stuff she was pedaling. We hoped this would be the last of her. Sadly it wasn't. And this time, I'm not sure we can stop her. She's got the law on her side and money to burn and a peculiar obsession with slaughtering horses.
A couple of years ago the US government quietly changed the wording in a law that disallowed for funding of the inspection of horse slaughterhouses. This law had been in place since 2006. The argument was that people were either a) allowing their horses to starve to death or dumping them because of the economy being so bad or b) sending them outside the country to Mexico to be slaughtered inhumanely. They argued that it would be far kinder to euthanize old and sick horses at the slaughterhouses than to allow them to starve to death in a pasture.
Horse people (and I mean people who love them and keep them because they are passionate about them--not those who look at them as just investments) will tell you this is a big, fat lie. No more horses are "starving to death" now than when slaughterhouses than pre 2006 (More info here ). And most of the people who are sending them to Mexico are people who have no emotional attachment to begin with. Professional horse breeders--Thoroughbreds, Quarter horses, etc produce 35,000 horses a year (at least). This translates to an excess of horses--most of them will not run fast enough or "look pretty enough" or have the right temperament to win--to make the breeders money. So what happens to these horses? Especially with our current economy? Guess. Go ahead.
Summer camps will often purchase several horses every summer for their campers to ride and then sell them off cheap at auctions the end of the summer because they don't want to feed them all winter. Commercial trail riding operations do the same thing. Sometimes owners, who are desperate to place a horse (or horses) they can't feed anymore, will take them to auctions. Guess who buys them? Kill buyers who then turn around and sell them to the slaughterhouses. Wanna hear something really disturbing? Often the kill buyers will pretend to be someone who wants a horse as a pet. Worse yet? Some of the horses are stolen and shopped off to slaughter before the owner knows where to look.
And to demolish one more lie--these places don't want the old and sick horses. The USDA won't allow them to sell them as food. People who've been watching these places will tell you that the grand majority of the horses standing around in the pens outside the slaughterhouses are healthy looking, young animals. Many of them are clearly well bred. Their only fault? They don't have any place to go.
Read up on their supposedly "humane" practice of euthanasia and you'll find another lie. Horses cannot be euthanized the same way cattle are. They're built differently and behave differently than cattle, pigs, and sheep do when frightened. They have longer necks, toss their heads, and rear. Unlike cattle who've been bred to simplicty, horses are more complex emotionally--they recognize a trap when they see it and attempt to flee it--food animals--not so much. All too often the attempt to stun them into passivity doesn't work and the people wind up eviscerating them while they're still alive.
The lies compound after this--Sue and people like her promise employment and an improved economy to people in small towns. There is not one instance of a community benefiting from these places. In fact, many suffer from increased crime rates and their economy actually worsens as those from out of the area, with no vested interest in the community, move in to take on the jobs. The image of the town suffers--who wants to visit a town famous for its equine slaughterhouse? Anybody?
So where is this meat going to go? Overseas to countries with fewer rules about horse meat, to markets with poor or no inspection process. It won't be approved for markets here because, unlike cattle, pigs, and sheep, who are tracked from the day they are born--with every dose of every medication being approved, horses aren't. Moreover, the medications routinely given to horses (wormers, pain relievers, antibiotics) have been proven unsafe for human consumption (some are downright dangerous).
Have you ever desperately wished you could change something or prevent an injustice? This is me right now and I want to fix this.
What about you?