Horse slaughter

I like to take difficult issues head on and try to have a common sense point of view from what I feel is factual.

First a little history – I was raised with horse slaughter.  My grandfather, Leonard Frank, was a killer horse buyer.  He would buy horses in the Helena, Montana area, and when he had a truck load would take them to a horse buyer.  Cripples, outlaws, or old horses were disposed of in this way.  We had a lead smelter in the area, and if horses were kept to close they would get leaded and were not able to be used. I remember many real good horses that were ruined because of this.

When I was old enough, I would try to fix the outlaws and horses with bad habits.  I really knew nothing about training horses, but could ride pretty good so I figured out if I could get ’em moving and not get thrown off I could fix ’em.

I remember only a few people that would not sell their horse for slaughter, but put them down and bury them on their place.  My grandfather and many other people could not understand this.

Many people still thought of horses as work animals and not many people had pleasure horses. Farmers and ranchers used the horse for work and some also went to rodeos. Gymkhana or omaksees were popular and 4-H shows were popular at the time,  but these were small with mostly ranch folks participating.  We did not see all the horse activity we see today.  Team roping, horse shows, and barrel racings were all not popular until much later.

The people that owned horses in the time I am talking about, the late 1960’s to the middle 1980’s, cared about the horses they owned, but were thought of as farm animals, not companion animals.  With farm animals, it was the way it was done to slaughter animals to dispose of them.

This does not mean they did not care about the animal.  I saw many grown men cry as they loaded an old horse on the truck, and I know they were truly sad at seeing an old companion go. Some showed no compassion at all, but most really cared about the horse they were sending to slaughter.

It is important to understand that at this time, many farmers and ranchers would put animals down with gunshot if they were not marketable.  Old or nuisance dogs, cats, or varmints were shot on the farm.  Many people today do not understand this.  We have really changed the way our emotions control our thoughts with animals.  I do not think people liked animals any less in these times, but understood the way nature worked a little better and thought of animals as a commodity with life, rather than a companion.

When you are around lots of animals, you are around lots of death.  You learn to deal with it. I have had so many animals that I have seen die.  This is tough but I have learned to deal with it.  I have not had near as many people close to me die, but the animals have helped me learn how to deal with it.

This is the problem that has come up with horse slaughter.  We have some that feel a horse is a commodity with a life, and some that think a horse is a companion animal.

Just because a person thinks of the horse as a commodity with a life does not mean he does not treat the horse to the best quality of life (from the horse’s point of view), and just because a person thinks of the horse as a companion animal does not mean she gives the horse the best quality of life (from the horse’s point of view) either.

This is a very important point for all to consider. Is the way we are caring for or handling animals really improving the quality of life? Or are we just putting human thoughts on the animal that are really not improving the animals quality of life at all, but maybe lessening it?

I have seen a huge shift in people’s opinions of how an animal should be treated in the last forty years.  People have always cared about animals, but now many people care about them so much we are running into conflicts, and laws and traditions are changing.  The horse has gone from being a beast of burden to a companion animal in a large part of the population.

In some cultures they eat dogs and cats.  They would not understand our feelings for our dogs.  Would you want to send Fido to the Philippines instead of putting them down humanely and burying them in the backyard?

If you have only known a horse as a companion animal you would feel the same way.  The people that are against horse slaughter feel the same about horses as we do about dogs.

My grandfather felt some people were cruel in the way they kept horses.  He felt horses in stalls with no exercise, horses kept alone, horses turned out with halters on, and horses without lots of feed and water were very bad.  One of his favorite things to say about horses was “fat” is always the best color on a horse.  He liked horses and took the very best care of them, yet purchased them for slaughter.

At this point I am against horse slaughter for my own horses. The reason is because of animal handling.  Horses are much more sensitive to pressure than other animals.  This includes physical and mental.  A cow can get tangled up in a barb wire fence, kick fight and pull for five minutes and it can come thru without a scratch.  A horse would either never recover or take a very long time and may be crippled for the rest of its life (and need to go to slaughter?).  A colt cannot survive being born in sub zero temps like a calf can either.

Most horses have a much higher need for self preservation than cattle.  We can teach them to trust us, but they can go to not trusting very quickly and fear takes over.  When a horse goes into panic mode it needs to run away from the danger.  If it can’t, it will protect itself with its hooves in a different way, by kicking or striking.  Horses also seem to have a more violent social order than cattle, so commingling strange horses together creates great stress if the animals can’t get out of each others’ area of comfort.

I had a horse I called “Count” that I put down and buried a few years ago.  He taught me way more than I taught him.  Count was the most sensitive and athletic horse I have ever had and maybe the best I ever rode.  He was real bad to panic and could buck a little.  He really kept me aware of everything going on around us.  He was real scared of a rope around his legs, and if he got into trouble he would leave the scene with you or without you.

I roped on him a bunch, and only got in a few panic situations.  He taught me how to keep a wreck from happening, and I learned from him how to get to roping on a very inexperienced horse safely. He got to trusting me not to get him in a jackpot, and I truly believe if I would of asked him to ride off a cliff he would have.

How could I send him into the hands of someone who does not know and maybe not even care about his fear of danger?  He was not a companion animal to me, he was my partner and I really miss my old partner.

If you have ever seen my daughter Mesa, you know she is very confident on a horse, and around all livestock.  She has not always been that way.  When she was learning to ride, she had a old horse to ride called Willard.  He was gentle and slow and she did great.  After Willard she moved on to a real good ranch horse I rode called Zoro.  He would get tired of her and buck her off. She may be the only kid to ever get bucked off in a round pen in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.

She lost confidence and was truly afraid on a horse.  We bought a great big paint horse named Painter.  He was the best kid’s horse I have ever been around.  I credit that horse for giving Mesa not only the confidence to work with horses and cattle, but to be able to do business at a very young age, in a very confidence requiring atmosphere. It was a sad day for all of us when Painter was put down and I always have a good memory reminder when I ride by his grave.

Rio was a pony that our son Rial got when he was two years old.  The first thing he did was double barrel kick Rial in the chest.  I had to lead him at first because he would go under trees and get rid of Rial.  Pony’s have a way about them to get what they want in life.  He was a tough go for a while, and I remember my wife Tammy getting on him and trying to straiten him out.  It still makes me laugh.  We sent him to Idaho to the Hogan outfit and the best young horseman I ever saw by the name of Spike Hogan made him into a great using pony that many a kid benefited from.

Our Son Rial has more compassion for animals than many people I have observed.  I think much of this comes from Rio.  He would be so frustrated with him, get mad at him, then work things out and they would be back to best buddies.  When we put him down due to an injury, and even though  Rial had not ridden him in several years, I felt so bad for him because of his grief and we both cried.  Rial now rides broncs and is riding horses in the fox hunting world, and I am real proud of his compassion for the animals he is in contact with, and I thank Rio for that.

We all have memories horses have given us.  We all have beliefs in how animals should be treated. A fact in agriculture we must face is that we will be regulated more and more on how we care for livestock.  If we don’t comply with the wishes of the majority or the most vocal,  they may be able to regulate our decisions we make with our own property.

This has happened with horse slaughter.  My grandfather would not even of imagined this could ever have happened.  There is a big shift happening in our part of the world as far as animals are concerned.  Animal agriculture will change the way we do business.  We will either change the way we raise animals to fit the customers needs, or we will change the customer to fit our needs.

The only way we will change the customer to fit our needs is to prove to them through honesty and integrity that we are treating our animals in the best way for the animal.  We must get the public to quit thinking of animals like humans.  Do this for the animals and the humans.  We must also get better at animal care and handling on a large scale, or it will go away.

What would it take for me to send my horse to slaughter?  If I could be assured that he would be hauled, penned, and kept in a way that his brain did not have to go to the survival mode.  If I knew he would have the time to work his way through a facility that did not cause him to panic.  I would need to be guaranteed he would not have a hot shot used on him or be scared by air or a noise-making aid.  If I knew the method used to put him down was immediate and did not induce panic, I would be okay with it.

I am not sure we can accomplish this on a large scale without a huge shift in the way we train people to handle livestock and the facility design we work them in.

To me the horse slaughter issue is the canary in the coal mine.  We had better do some changing in the livestock for food production model or it will change for us.  Take animal care and handling seriously.

As I look back and honestly look at the results of the banning of horse slaughter in the U.S., I see more positives than negatives.

When it was easy for people to get rid of any horse, people were making purchases of horses that had no business owning horses.  Horses were kept in places they should not be kept, to many kept on small acreage with no regard to the environment, people riding horses and getting hurt that should not be riding in the first place, and studs breeding mares of poor quality.  It has been a tough go for the over supply already in place, and the way it was immediately implemented with no way to scale back or prepare for the lack of places to market a horse was unfair, but that is the reality of it.  Now when we purchase or breed horses we know it may be tough to get rid of them and we think before we buy, and anytime you think before you do something it is a better outcome.

Horses are a wonderful animal.  They have done so much for mankind that I think we owe them the best quality of life and the best quality of death.  The way to do this is to make a commitment to the best animal handling and husbandry skills.  That is stockmanship and stewardship.

~ Curt Pate

14 thoughts on “Horse slaughter

  1. Amanda Gray

    That was so back and forth but yet repetitive and in the end I didn’t even understand whether you were for horse slaughter or against it…. all I figured out was that you don’t like people humanizing animals. Good luck changing that though. I did like reading up on the history and would be interested in seeing if it is popular opinion that the majority of folks in that time period sent their horses to slaughter rather than putting them down.

  2. saraannon

    The primary problem is agribusiness that regards the horse as a disposable product with a useful lifespan of about three years and doesn’t want to be held to account for their actions, see my post:
    The secondary problem is people who are unable to deal with the fact that we are all, human and animal, going to get old and die someday. In the clash between those two points of view, good people and good horses are made to suffer. Thank you for putting a human face on the history.

      1. saraannon

        Nope, I said three years old and I mean three years old. very few ‘sport’ horses make it into double digits when slaughter is an option. Please read my post if you have questions.

  3. Sue Carter

    Back in the old days , when you say people slaughtered their horses; it was probably by bullet in a small meat plant. Nobody witnessed it. It was farmers and ranchers, smaller scale. Now, we have high speed factory farming and high speed slaughter. Race-horses of the track, estimated at 30,000 per year. Over-bred, throw-away horses. They also create thousands of nurse mares, who’s own foals are discarded like an old shoe. The Quarter Horse Association breeds thousands and thousands and encourages more and more. They, are the ones decrying the fact that horse prices are down, Their answer to fix that is slaughter horses. Perfectly fine horses, by the thousands. Then there are Premarin foals, whose mother’s are kept tied in stalls with urine bags glued to them.. The foals are taken away to slaughter. And last, and worst; people like Sue Wallis, who is driving the slaughter Bandwagon; she is raising beefy horses strictly for Slaughter. The harmonica music playing in the back-ground of this article is fading. I hear machinery and stun-guns, yelling and horses screaming.

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  5. Suzanne Moore

    For one thing, you seem to think the option for slaughter went away with the closing of US plants. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been sending just as many horses to slaughter via Canada and Mexico than we did when domestic plants were operating – actually more. I can’t imagine that you were unaware of this. There hasn’t been ONE day in the last forty years that slaughter wasn’t available at your local auctions.

    You also do not mention that modern equine veterinary medications and many other universally used products contain substances that are expressly banned for any use in any food animal. Surely you know substances like phenylbutazone, clenbuterol, nitrofurazone, and a number of others medications are banned and do not have withdrawal periods. Since we have NO traceability system for horses, even substances that do have withdrawal periods it cannot be verified when or if a given horse has been given these substances. This is a SERIOUS public health concern whether the slaughterphiles care to admit it or not. The fact is that the European Union – by far the largest purchaser of horse meat – will not accept American horse meat from domestic horse slaughter plants, and without the EU, there isn’t much of a market. And the market is shrinking every year.

    Then there is the stolen horse and environmental issues. I lived between the two horse slaughter plants in Texas for 15 long years. I finally had to move out – as so many horse owners had done before me – because of the theft situation. It was literally at crisis proportions. So bad that the state of Texas stepped in and tried to develop programs to help horse owners protect their horses, but nothing helped. It was an absolute nightmare, and I can contact a number of my friends who went through it with me. In fact, four of my own friends had their horses stolen and butchered. I left when my own horse escaped the same fate by a hair’s breadth.

    As far as the environmental damage to Kaufman, TX, DeKalb, IL and Ft. Worth, TX, Kaufman – which was only 30 miles from me – has painstakingly documented what happened to them. Everyone should read their work before proclaiming horse slaughter is a good thing. They also have hundreds of pictures that the USDA took of cruelty beyond belief, yet did NOTHING about it.

    I am not a Vegan or an animal “rights” supporter. I belong to no organizations that espouse “animal rights.” I do believe in animal WELFARE though, and horse slaughter is completely devoid of THAT.

  6. R&Z

    Thanks Curt for your insights – hopefully pro slaughter advocates will be enlightened

    Humans evolve one way or the other…….
    * Most through knowledge, compassion and empathy
    * Some kicking and screaming, “our right”
    * Majority rules & shame push some into forward thinking
    * Laws ensure the rest follow regardless of their histories

    The majority of American people do not support the horrifically cruel, environmentally toxic horse slaughter industry nor are they likely to stand quiet while tax dollars fund a possible food supply nightmare.

    Americans will evolve past this scourge – it’s 2013 – the time is now

  7. Lisa leBlanc

    This is an excellent article, Mr. Pate. It’s disheartening that the principals of stewardship and husbandry seem to falling by the wayside, ridiculed in the wake of mass profit or denigrated to a point where compassion and ethics in raising animals for food has become a character flaw.

    My grandparents raised cattle for profit in Northern Nevada in the 30’s. Their stock was sleek, fat and healthy – even in Winter ( other ranchers often teased Grampa for ‘spoiling’ his calves by feeding them too much). But these animals were their bread-and-butter; a healthy animal, well-tended, was always a better value, and it did no harm to ensure they had the best life possible before market.

    It’s difficult to find that balance between practicality and emotion. But I love my own horses, and knowing them as I do – and every horse I’ve ever had the privilege to know or work with – could never imagine sending them off to be mishandled or die violently at the hands of strangers as a viable alternative. So, where they’re concerned, I’ll just wear my compassion, ethics and impracticality like a badge of honor and say ‘no’ to Horse Slaughter.

  8. Pingback: RE: Horse slaughter | Curt Pate Stockmanship

  9. morgansinkc

    I do not want horse slaughter in America.

    Horses being shipped for slaughter are not required to have health certificates. This means all types of diseases could enter from out of state.

    Furthermore, there are over 100 equine drugs that we (the collective horse owners) give our horses that make them unfit for human consumption. The USDA has no business getting mixed up in this!

    Also, I would be worried about horse thieves stealing my horses for slaughter since we no longer allow hangings for horse thieves.

    Finally, slaughter plants want the healthy horses and never the old or sick horses. They want horses that could benefit communities by helping children and veterans in therapy programs, or as police mounts.

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