If you’re here chances are you love animals. You are not the type of person to get a horse and cast it away leaving it to die or to suffer in a kill-pen. You’re hopefully not the person to drop your pets into the shelter because you are moving, lost interest, or the pet got old.
Since you likely fall into this category I don’t need to lecture you, so let’s have a conversation instead. Feel free to message me privately or contribute to the comments.
Tomorrow is National Horse Protection Day. Our country, scratch that; the WORLD AS WE KNOW IT has been built atop the backs of horses. We’ve ridden horses into battle, used them for transportation, for heavy projects. Horses lived in mines and hauled coal. Horses helped build railroads. Horses helped pull barges along the Erie canal. Horses. Horses have been here long before us, have faithfully served us, and yet many people still fail to see them as the wise sentient beings they are.
Today there are still atrocities happening in the horse world. Slaughter is the most talked about for sure and many horse lovers stand on opposing sides of this controversial topic.
According to the Equine Welfare Alliance in 2017 88,277 horses were shipped to Mexico, Canada, and Japan for slaughter. From 2009-2014 696,801 US horses were killed for meat in Canada and Mexico; that’s an average of 116,134 per year.
Horse slaughter was banned in the United States but now the horses are simply shipped over the borders; confined in overcrowded trailers for hours on end with no food or water. Since the ban on slaughter there has been a notable increase in cases of neglect. This is as far as my talk goes on slaughter today but write to me if you want a more in depth discussion in the future.
Of course slaughter is just one. Soring the hooves of Tennessee Walking horses for shows is an excruciating process. This is done to make the horses lift their front ends up and obtain an unnaturally high step. Soring is done chemically with caustic substances (diesel fuel, kerosene, mustard oil, salicylic acid) or mechanically using chains, nails, or screws. Some will over-trim the hooves and ride the horses on hard pavement until they are sore. The result is the same; horses is agony, some have difficulty standing.
Despite this practice being publicly shamed and criticized it still occurs. For years the United States has failed to pass laws that would ban horse soring. The most current bill is HR-693 (Prevent All Soring Tactics); this bill was supposed to go into effect Jan 2018 and was blocked. Let’s hope this year it will take.
In addition, there are also mares being bred and held in deplorable conditions in order to collect urine. The coveted pregnant mare urine is used in the creation of estrogen replacement drugs like Premarin and PremPro PremPhase and Duavee. During this process mares are kept in tight standing stalls and hooked to plumbing that collects their urine. The mares cannot walk, move, or lay down. When they give birth they are re-bred until they are no longer useful. The foals either are raised to replace the mares or sent to slaughter. After mares can no longer be “useful” they are also sent to slaughter.
You can hear more about it in Vicki Burns’ presentation from 2015’s American Equine Summit here.
It doesn’t end there.
America’s wild mustangs are loved by many, but they have exponentially grown in numbers and compete with livestock grazing areas. To address this the Bureau of Land Management routinely herds and culls wild mustangs.
Approximately 64,000 wild mustangs roam free and another 46,000 are held in pens. Some are born in these holding pens and never leave. There are many opportunities to adopt mustangs and several incentive programs for trainers, but we still face the need for population control. There are ways to sterilize horses and prevent over breeding that are less invasive but the FDA has yet to approve the safer methods.
Cruelty to horses is all too common. Many humans are sick individuals. Many humans only see horses as livestock. Commodities. It’s likely we cannot do anything to change those people. You can’t fix stupid and in the end it will be us who end up frustrated by how thick and dense society as a whole can be.
We have to accept that people won’t see what we see when we gaze into the soft eyes of a loving equine friend. That’s okay with me, I don’t expect every person to love horses. But the abuse most certainly is not okay at all.
How can we help protect these horses?
Let’s begin our conversation here. I am welcome to comments and discussion here, but these are my thoughts….
- Educate yourself. If you plan to be a vocal advocate you better be damn sure you know every detail of what you’re talking about. There is far too much fake news available on the web. In order to gain traction we need to be educated and united. We need to know what we’re arguing for, and we need to “know our stuff.”
- Place Yourself on Their Side. What I mean by this is if you intend to get through to people opposing your argument, you need to know what motivates them. Why do these people think like they do? Why do these people support such terrible practices? Is it misunderstanding or a lack of education? Is it a difference in values? If you know their argument you will be better positioned to dispute them or dispel any misconceptions. Perhaps you can even suggest an alternate solution that works for everyone!
- Be clear and vocal about your position. I remember a leadership workshop that I attended in high-school. During this day packed with workshops one specific lesson stood out to me even today and can be applied in many circumstances.
Scenario: A girl walks onto the school bus and has recently had a new haircut. The haircut is very short and some kids on the back of the bus notice and begin taunting her, calling her “dyke” and “lesbian.” She searches for a seat while this harassment carries on. WHAT DO YOU DO?
At this point you are going to fall into one of four categories:
The kids at the back of the bus in this scenario are clearly active aggressors. The ideal thing to do would be to tell them to leave her alone and invite her to sit with you; choosing this or even saying something nice to her would make you an active ally.
Many people “mind their own business” by staying quiet. By doing this you have become PASSIVE. When you fall to being passive nobody knows whether you are an ally or an aggressor. If you are going to make a difference to someone’s life you must be ACTIVE.
When we advocate for horses we must become their voices; their active allies. We must speak up with real hard facts, we must be the squeaky wheels. We need to lend our voices to horses and speak to our politicians and for better legislation. We must speak up when we see wrong doings. If you haven’t gotten the point yet, we must speak and be heard.
- Don’t be obnoxious. After my long winded rally cry for speaking up we must also be careful not to overdo ourselves. We must be passionate, yes. We must be knowledgeable, yes. We must know what we are up against, yes. But we also must be careful not to become obnoxious.
There’s a fine line here but I can tell you from experience I have completely unfriended and tuned out the radicals I’ve met over the years. People who are too gung-ho and in your face; the ones that make you roll your eyes when you hear their name. Not every post you make on social media needs to be about your cause (of course unless you’re running a page for the very cause). Know the limits; use finesse; educate; advocate; lead by example; and don’t harass the wrong people over and over again. You will lose credibility and friends. Making a change and being taken seriously requires tactics.
- Research your charities. It’s great to get involved with charities, rescues, and other organizations. If you donate, do your research. Before I donate to something I always do my research and the same should go for rescue groups. Since fostering my eyes have been opened to the world of fake rescues. I was shocked to learn that many rescues fail to plan for aftercare once a horse is saved.
One operation I learned about recently will buy horses from a killpen, give them two weeks to get adopted, and send them back to the slaughter pipeline if they fail to get a home in only two weeks. Another “rescue” allegedly keeps their horses AT A KILL-PEN.
Many rescues do not reveal their inner workings. Many rescues won’t allow you to visit their facilities and some of their photographs are outdated. There are also plenty of rescues that do not follow up on their horses. Just recently we have seen previously rescued thoroughbreds back in the slaughter pipeline after previous rescuing. To redeem them again costs more money for bail (more money to the kill buyers), more money for vet fees and more money for quarantine; all money that could have been used to help other horses.
If you are going to donate to a charity ask them for their books. Visit their facility. Follow up. Please do not assume they are doing good. Hold these facilities accountable. Don’t just write a check to make yourself feel like a good person.
Of course there are plenty other ways to protect our horses.
First of all there are plenty of good reasons for people to sell their horses so I don’t necessarily agree with the generic “keep your horse” argument you hear many people stand by. Sure it’s often best to keep your horse, but there are situations that make that a poor decision too. In general the “keep your horse” people are probably the ones who have great horses and simply don’t know the full context of the situation. There are many online “experts” that can diagnose your horse just by knowing it’s name.
Of course it’s never a guarantee that once you sell a horse it won’t go to slaughter. If you do find yourself having to sell, be careful about who you are selling to.
A few other ways to protect our beloved horses on the ground level.
- Know your limits: If you have a horse that needs training and you are not skilled enough to train this animal get a trainer. You might not think you’ll sell this horse but if somehow you do it will have a better chance of finding it’s forever home being well trained and having good manners. Trainers can help you when you get in over your head.
- Be the boss of your horse: You don’t have to be mean, but you need your horse to know that you are to be respected. A rude pushy horse is less desirable and a lot more likely to find itself in harm’s way if it ever leaves your ownership.
- GELD THAT THING: There are enough stallions out there passing on their genetics with knowledgeable reputable breeders. Unless you have a perfect horse with great health and a great brain you don’t need to contribute to the overpopulation.
- Your mare does not need a baby: Many inexperienced people think their mare should have a baby “because she’s pretty.” Backyard breeders who don’t know what they are doing breed horses without regard to bloodlines, conformation, health, and mentality. When the foal is born they often don’t know how to properly handle it, train it, etc. Breeding your mare just isn’t necessary. Period.
- Be prepared. If you own a horse you must also know that accidents happen. Emergencies occur (in some more than others). Don’t be caught unprepared. Know what your limits are for these emergencies.
Be prepared for end of life situations.
Consult your local horse people periodically for end of life options so you know what to expect, and have money in savings for that occasion. It may seem like a morbid thought now but you will be glad you had that prepared when it happens.
Many people are surprised by the costs associated with euthanasia and disposal of a horse’s body. Burial is not always an option and renderers don’t always accept horses. Cremation can cost $600-$2000. If you have to put your equine friend down you do not need to be stressed about where the money is going to come from. Have that planned out ahead of time.
- Whenever possible, see your horse through to the end. Don’t give up on a horse when it reaches it’s mid twenties. There are plenty of horses that work through their thirties. If your horse has served you well you owe it to the horse to allow it a dignified end. When that time comes, you’ll know. Your horse will know it was loved when it’s time to cross the rainbow bridge.
I’d love to hear from you; as I said before I want this to be a discussion so comment away. I am sure there are many other ways to protect our horses.
What are your thoughts?
Do you agree?
Do you disagree?
Are there topics you’d like to explore on a deeper level?
“Cat Zimmerman LIFETIME MEMBER.” Pixtheme, mustangheritagefoundation.org/.
Cordero Fernandez, Daniel, and Darrell Charlton. “Equine Data.” Equine Welfare Alliance, http://www.equinewelfarealliance.org/equine-data.html.
Fischer, Kathy. “Letter: Bring Cruel Treatment of Horses to an End.” Received by Journal Star Editor, Pjstar.com, 15 Feb. 2019, http://www.pjstar.com/opinion/20190215/letter-bring-cruel-treatment-of-horses-to-end.
“Horse Soring Fact Sheet.” Horse Soring FAQs, horsefund.org/horse-soring-fact-sheet.php.
Lawler, Dan, and Leon L Geyer. “The Horse Slaughter Conundrum.” Choices: The Magazine of Food, Farm & Resource Issues, 2015, pp. 1–6.
“P.M.U. Industry.” Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, http://www.gentlegiantsdrafthorserescue.org/pmu-industry.
Sawyer, Ariana Maia. “USDA Announces Strict Changes to End Soring of Tennessee Walking Horses.” The Tennessean, The Tennessean, 14 Jan. 2017, http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2017/01/13/usda-announces-strict-changes-end-soring-tennessee-walking-horses/96556290/.
“The Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) Industry: What You Need to Know.” The Fund For Animals, The Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) Industry: What you need to know.