Horse Slaughter/Animal Cruelty

Horse Slaughter Defined

From The National Student Horse Protection Coalition

It is important to understand that horse slaughter is NOT a humane form of euthanasia. Most people are horrified by the thought of a horse being killed by a blow to the head, but accept it as a humane form of "destroying" an animal because "that's probably the worst of it". This is perhaps the most common and most dangerous misconception surrounding the idea of horse slaughter. The abuses surrounding the horse slaughter industry and its current structure begin way before the horse ever arrives at a slaughtering facility, and the proliferation of the idea of the American horse as "recyclable" or "disposable" does more harm to the horse industry than most "experts" realize.

Below is the broken-down explanation of horse slaughter divided into three parts:

1.)The auctions
2.)The transport
3.)The slaughter

Horse at auction (photo: animalsvoice)

The Auction:

Many people view auctions as a quick and oftentimes easy way to buy and sell horses for relatively cheap prices. Perhaps you have attended a local auction or bought/sold a horse at one yourself. What many are not aware of is the dangers these horses face while on the auction block. There are employees of the slaughter houses called "killer buyers" sent to these auctions (no auction is too big or too small) to scope out the cheapest horses that may not be worth less as a hunter/jumper prospect, and more by the pound. They will buy a horse that sells for say 150-200 dollars, and either fatten the horse up at a feedlot, or throw it on a trailer with the other horses he or she has purchased, then sell this horse to the slaughter houses for a little more than they purchased it for. We like to think of this as "blood money". The danger in this is that many people do not know who the killer buyers are, or that the person who purchased their horse is in fact a killer buyer. These people do not advertise themselves as such, and have been known to lie to sellers about where the horse is going.

Killer buyers also have been known to steal horses or to purchase stolen horses as well. They do not care where the horse comes from, where the horse goes, and in what condition the horse will arrive in.

Though auctions do provide an economical way for the average horse owner to buy and sell horses, they can present certain dangers as well. Auctions often attract people interested in purchasing cheap horses like the killer buyers, as well as oftentimes presenting a virtual dumping ground for people to dump their over-worked horses. For example, the auctions in Pennsylvania are riddled with abused and over-worked draft horses from Amish communities. Another example includes the products of horses that are bred which shouldn't be bred in the first place, and yes, I am talking about the foals which result from irresponsible breeders. When breeding any animal, the goal should be to better the breed, not to "maybe turn out a pretty looking baby and make some money".

Transporting horses to slaughter (photo: ILPH)

The Transport:

Many people do not think about how horses get to slaughter plants, while the transportation of these horses destined for slaughter may be the most inhumane leg of the journey for these animals. As one can expect, the horse slaughter industry does not provide for much, if any, humane treatment of the horses.

You may pass a double-decker cattle trailer on the highway and wonder if it's carrying cattle or pigs. You may not know that it could be carrying horses. Stallions, mares, foals, geldings, sick, injured, old, young, piled together in a trailer too short for them to hold their heads up, too slippery for those with shoes, and unsafe for all as they are crammed in indiscriminately and not secured in any way.

Many do not make it, and die on the way. In many states, this form of transportation is illegal for horses, but even in those states, without the passing of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, there's no surefire prevention for this type of transportation for horses. Because many of the horses slaughtered in IL and TX come from the PMU farms in Canada, those horses are subjected to long, hard rides with little if any food or water. We'd like to think that these drivers stop to feed and water these horses, however, the fact that killer buyers and even those that transport to slaughter never seem to be able to sit through an interview, and even go so far as to send decoys so investigators cannot follow their trucks leaves little hope that they do anything to make the journey for these horses comfortable.

It also does not bode well for the horses when many deadly accidents have occurred in the transport of these live horses which in the end revealed the drivers had multiple accidents on their records.

Inside a slaughter house (photo: animalsvoice)

The Slaughter:

There are currently three well-known horse slaughter houses in the US; Bel-Tex, and Dallas Crown in Texas, and Cavel International in Illinois. Both Dallas Crown and Bel-Tex have outdoor holding pens, while Cavel does not. At Cavel, the horses usually are killed the day they are shipped, or the day after. When the horses arrive, they are led around a rusty and quite primitive chute that would be unfit for cattle. They are not protected from sight, smell, or sound, but rather, they are allowed to sense all that occurs. This is dangerous to a prey animal such as a horse which chooses flight over fight, and which becomes frightened very easily.

The horses then make it to the "knock box" which isn't anything more than a bloody metal box with slippery footing and no head restraint whatsoever. (Remember, cattle are almost always restrained at the head when being stunned despite their short necks and considerably less range of motion about their heads than horses). Workers then use a captive bolt stunner or pneumatic bolt gun, both which utilize the "stunning" process by which a bolt is inserted and withdrawn from the brain of the horse. The hit should occur in a designated spot on the horse's head. In order for these instruments to work properly, they need to be calibrated preferably after every blow or two, and the workers administering the blow need to be well-trained to say the least.

Unfortunately, the horse slaughter industry is based on speed, not accuracy, and the proof is in the undercover footage shot at slaughtering facilities, as well as those who have visited these facilities in undercover investigations. For example, in one video shot by the Humane Farming Association, a horse is seen struggling for a whole minute just to stand up on the blood-slicked floor of the knock box. Another horse is seen dodging the bolt gun and getting hit in the shoulder, neck, side of the face, and then the head. It should take only one shot to stun a horse, and not one of the horses in the video was stunned on the first try.

In order for horses to be used for human consumption, they cannot be killed by the captive bolt gun, but rather, stunned until they can die by being "bled out". That is why they call it "stunning" because when done properly, the horse is rendered unconscious and should be basically brain dead.

Oftentimes, due to the lack of experience by the stunner, horses wake up while being strung up by their hind legs while being "bled-out". The bleeding process is performed by hanging the horse upside down by a hind leg so the blood rushes to the head, and the throat is slit while the horse is stunned. The loss of blood causes the death of the horse, so that it may be fit for human consumption. The horse's body is then harvested piece by piece. The skull is taken out, the skin is removed, and the usable carcass is frozen or chilled for packing.

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