Starving Horses: Point of View

The incredible, intense discussion going on with Ban More Cruel Than Horse Slaughter has caused me to, once again, pause to clarify what I think and feel about the issue. I'd like to share with you some of my thoughts.

Thank you, everyone, for bringing so much to light by contributing to the discussion. I hope you'll continue on because there is so much more to talk about.


The Time article I used as a source in the post is one that I give weight to because it is from Time. Even though all news agencies have a gatekeeper, journalists are still taught, and most adhere to, a code of ethics that would be a challenge to anyone outside the profession. One of those particular codes is that they report events as objectively as possible, without personal involvement. Reporters are researchers and will confirm facts with several sources before stating them as facts; or the facts will be verified by someone on staff. As with all ethical codes, it is a guide, a guideline, and a way to protect both the reporter and the reportee.

With Time as one of the most notable publications in the country, I'd say that, as a source of information, it can be trusted much more than, say, me or any other Joe Schmoe with an opinion about an issue. As national as CBS, Time holds their reporters to the same standards of reporting. (Think about what happened with Dan Rather and you'll understand what I mean.) Is what they report 100% accurate 100% of the time? That is not humanly possible. But, it's a far more objective source of information than any special interest group because news reporters at least work at being fair.

Smaller publications will write what is most relevant for their readership. Farming and agriculture newspapers and magazines are no exception. The same ethics and standards apply, no matter what the size of the publication. If there are slants, then it is because it is the general preference of its readership. If not, the publication wouldn't survive.

The Slaughter Issue Itself

The thought of killing a horse or any other animal horrifies me. I cannot condone killing at all. It breaks my heart to think that, if I want protein in my diet, a cow or pig has to die. This is a major cause of 'cognitive dissonance' for me, and it will remain, as long as I continue to try to convince myself that beef and pork come from the grocery store.

But, the anti-slaughter faction strikes as bad a chord with me as the anti-abortion crew does.

I personally would never have an abortion. As soon as I hit 40 without marrying and having a "real" family of my own, I gave up that dream, and I'll tell you why: There is no way that I would chance a pregnancy at risk for Downs Syndrome or any other birth defect because I would not ever want to be in a position to have to decide to terminate the pregnancy. That is the life choice that I made.

But, because I made that choice for myself does not mean that I have the right to make that choice for someone else. It is up to each woman to decide for herself what she can and cannot do, and no one has any right, any claim to superiority, any claim to ownership over her or her body or the choices she is faced with.

In the same way, I would personally never choose to slaughter my horse. But, the reality of it is that I may have no other choice when the time comes. I would hope to own land where there are no restrictions to burying large animals, but that is too far in the future for me to know for certain. I may even pass over before he does. Again, it is my choice, and because I make this particular choice does not mean that I have the right to take someone else's choice away.

Personal Responsibility

Freedom of choice is a fundamental right. As with all freedoms, there is responsibility. Taking responsibility and being responsible earns freedom. Way back in my memory is hearing something about some state sterilizing mentally retarded people, and how the doo doo hit the fan. The institution performed the procedure without consent or knowledge. I suppose they thought their arguments were valid and that they were solving a 'problem.' But, what they did is break a fundamental right to choose.

As much as everyone wants to paint child protective services as pariahs or evil, what they strive to do is maintain the family first. They will work with people, give education and support, and do everything they can to keep the family intact. Only when it is determined that a child is in absolute risk of abuse or neglect will they take the child out of the home. The parents are given every opportunity to rectify the problems, to be responsible before the state moves to remove the child.

In essence, the same holds true for animal abuse and neglect. It is only recently that animal abuse and neglect laws have become felonies, and only in some states. The majority of the time, an animal is of so little consequence that there is very little enforcement of laws and legislation on animal welfare.

Whether we have a child or an animal, we are in the custodial role. It is our responsibility to provide for and care for that child or animal because we made the choice to have it. If you fail in your responsibilities, then you lose the child or animal - i.e., the freedom to choose.


My point with this is that we all have to define for ourselves our fundamental beliefs. I have defined my beliefs and live my life in such a way as to stay true to those beliefs. I have found that much of life's questions are clearly answered if drilled down to the core: free will and choice.

Once one choice is taken away, it becomes much easier to take another, and another, and another.

The Problem

No matter what the cause, no matter if it's more or less compared to such and such a year, the fact remains that horses are starving to death now.

No matter which side of the slaughter issue you choose to stand, this is the crisis that is happening right now. Instead of beating to death the same old arguments with the same list of biased sources, lets put our heads together and come up with ways to solve the current crisis. In the end, working together to end this crisis will appease both camps. There is only one reason to do so, and one reason only:

For the love of the horse.

About the Photo: When I looked out my window yesterday morning, there was Dagger curled up with Odin. I grabbed my camera and snapped this photo right as Odin was falling over in a deep sleep. When he did fall over, his front legs hit Dagger who yelped and sprang out of the way. The yelp startled Odin and he jumped up fast. I burst out laughing, and Odin gave me a dirty look. I wish I had gotten that shot too.


  1. Hmmm...

    Finding reliable, objective sources of information and maintaining basic rights seems to be a conversation squasher.

    Working for a solution to a crisis that may or may not be directly attributed as an effect of closing slaughter plants is of no interest?

    I think someone said yesterday that just because "we" closed the slaughter plants down doesn't make us responsible for the current crisis. How do you figure?

    Another point brought up was that the market absorbed 30,000 unwanted horses without a problem. OK. That was this year. What happens next year, and the year after that? The market is already oversaturated and it is compounded by the lack of slaughter. Where are these 30,000 per year horses going to go?

    According to the numbers, the two most common breeds of horses in the US are Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. That explains their supposed overrepresentation of breeds slaughtered, not because the registries have or do not have specific breeding policies. In fact, the Jockey Club will only allow live cover. If that isn't prohibitive, I don't know what is.

    It seems the common ground that came out of yesterday's discussion was to work for some sort of breeding control to limit the number of unwanted horses. I feel this is a good place to start.

    A good place to start yes, and we need to work very, very quickly. That will help in the years to come, but what will help now?

    I would have to conjecture that current horse owners are already stretched as far as their pocket book will allow and will not be likely to add to their number of head. Who is going to take in this year's 30,000+ homeless horses?

    There was mention that there were "things in the works" and I'd like to know what those things are.

    Most of all, we have to step up to the plate now...

    For the love of the horse.


  2. Hello again,

    I just found your new discussion. I can't comment much tonight, as it is my hubby's day off and I don't see him much on his work days.

    At the end of the previous discussion, which I just briefly commented on, Vicki suggested the racing industry funding adoption programs at their tracks. (Some I am sure probably do, but I don't really know the extent of this.)

    I stated that I have two retired racing greyhounds that came from a successful track adoption program. I realize that greyhounds and horses have very different needs, but here was another industry that just discarded its participants when they could no longer race.

    How's that for a start?


  3. Hi Lisa! Glad you found the new comment area!

    OK, racing has contributed by setting aside part of the betting. As much as some want to bash the racing industry, they have tried to limit the number of TBs that are discarded. But wow, what a racket!

    There's this new thing, only allowing breeding by live cover, and according to a feed lot owner I met a few years back, they are not allowed to send any sound horse to slaughter. I've known a few OTTBs over the years, and it takes quite a bit to unwind them, untrain what they know then retrain. It's not for the newbie, that's for sure.

    With the Quarter Horse, it's a different world. They are bred for type: cutting, reining, barrel racing, racing, pleasure, hunter, halter, ranch, roping, etc. Others will have to speak more about AQHA itself, as I know nothing about it. But, even though the QH is the most common found in America, I doubt any of the sports/competitions are as lucrative as TB racing.

    I don't know where to begin with widespread rescue that is so needed today. There are two horse owners at the end of my road, and both have horses that are a lot lighter weight-wise than they should be this time of year. Too many horses on too little land.


  4. Hi, Theresa. I started typing this when there were no comments so I’ll just add this to the thread. Lisa beat me to the punch! This thread should prove to be a lively discussion. We should try to tackle a few at a time so we’re not all over the place. Note to Lisa – I responded to you on the other post. Small world!

    - - I think someone said yesterday that just because "we" closed the slaughter plants down doesn't make us responsible for the current crisis. How do you figure?

    The same slaughter options are still available. Same auctions, same kill buyers. Closing the domestic kill houses didn’t close the channels for slaughter so how could that be the excuse for any crisis that may exist? Have you read this? http://www.animallawcoalition.com/horse-slaughter/article/534

    - -Another point brought up was that the market absorbed 30,000 unwanted horses without a problem. OK. That was this year. What happens next year, and the year after that? The market is already oversaturated and it is compounded by the lack of slaughter. Where are these 30,000 per year horses going to go?

    The number was 300,000 not 30,000. The slaughter counts were over 400,000 and dropped to under 100,000 in the 90s. That’s 300,000 less horses that are not slaughtered each year. What are all those horses? Again, there is no lack of slaughter. It is still available to anyone that wants to send their horse. The number slaughtered is based on the demand for meat, not the number of available horses. If the demand increases, the counts go up. If the demand decreases, the counts go down. In years when the demand was up and could not be filled by US horses, the domestic kill houses imported horses to make up the difference.

    As far as reducing the over breeding, a good place to start is with the AQHA. The largest number of horses going to slaughter are quarter horses and they are also have largest foal count each year, exceeding the next highest, TBs by over 100,000. For the last few years, the average number of horses slaughtered was 100,000. The quarter horse foal counts alone equal that plus another 40,000 although I thought I read that last year the QH foal count dropped 20,000 to 120,000. If they reduced their counts to that of TBs, you’d have 100,000 less horses each year and there goes the “unwanted” horses. I’m not sure if the foal counts reflect registered only. If not, the foal counts would be much higher than reported.

  5. OK, we're splitting hairs again, but honestly, Vicki, I was happier with 30,000 than 300,000!

    According to that Time article, truckers are finding it too expensive to get through the Canadian border, so that part of slaughter is slowing down.

    The economy is going to keep having more and more of an impact on this situation, all the way around. Now we won't have drought to blame for a hay shortage, it'll be because it's too expensive to fuel the tractors to get it out of the fields! That means the price is going to go through the roof, and will result in people needing to cut back more on their numbers so that they can afford to feed what they have.

    Getting an idea of the number of horses out there isn't going to be easy, and it isn't wise to look to the AQHA for accurate numbers for several reasons. They are only reporting what their books show. The problem with that is that it is up to each owner to report if a horse has died, been sold, been bought, been bred, etc. I know of many horses that are "grade" because of a failure to file a breeding report. I know of other instances where colts were gelded and not registered because they were no longer breeding stock. I know of others that just didn't bother spending the money, period. The only good registration does is if the horse is AQHA show/competition potential in AQHA sponsored shows. And, I know of other instances where registration papers were given to new owners that didn't match the horse they bought. This happened a lot with PMUs.

    I'm not certain of this, but I think the place to look for a general idea of the number of existing horses is that Time article and state ag censuses.

    Knowing the number would give us an idea of how to focus on a solution, but even so, it could be that the numbers won't matter as much as each geographical area. The issues will be different per each area, as will the challenges. For instance, I live in Arkansas, an agricultural state, with everything spread out. It will be different getting assistance to horses in need here than it would be in the northeastern states.

    It's heartbreaking it's so overwhelming... Just think, the same sort of dire straights is happening for people too.


  6. heresa, we agree - I don’t think the number is a factor because once they’ve been absorbed, they are no longer an issue. I only pointed it out because of the pro slaughter argument of - what are we going to do with 100,000 horses? Okay, what did we do with 300,000 horses?

    I believe the current horse population is around 9.2 million. More horses die (combo of euthanasia and natural causes) than are slaughtered. This may be wrong but it was something like 8 for every 1 horse slaughtered. That sure knocks down the environmental issue that many use for the 100,000. I read an argument that the drugs in horses will produce an environmental issue yet, they have no problem with humans ingesting the drugs. LOL!

    This is analogous to an alcoholic. You can’t help them until they admit they have a problem. Until everyone agrees on the issues, the two sides will keep bantering back and forth and nothing will be accomplished. The pro side blames all the horse woes on the closing of the domestic kill houses. Slaughter is still available just as it was when they were open so how can that be? No answer. They contend that abuse & neglect will increase without slaughter. Okay, then why won’t they explain why there were just as many cases when the kill houses were open? You ask the questions over and over again and they won’t answer or change the subject to abortion or other animals that are being slaughtered. The link I posted is to a press release of a new study that was just published that studied the stats from January 2006 through March of 2008. The results were slightly better than 2006, when the kill house were open. The researchers didn’t believe the results and after a second review, the results were the same. We’ve been saying this for years. Another study was done during the period that Cavel was shut down after the fire. The number of cases decreased during the time they were closed. Now we have a new study by a different group of researchers that have produced the same results only with current data. The pro side doesn’t like data or any type of analysis. They dismiss it all. If the studies are wrong, why don’t they prove they’re wrong with the analysis and documentation, not just rhetoric saying they’re wrong.

    It’s the same with the abandoned horses. They read an article and assume it’s correct because it sounds credible or is published on a credible news source. The AP articles (abandoned horses at the abandoned strip mine) were flat out lies. We contacted every agency, state and local officials, including the governor and all disputed the articles. The horses were all privately owned and have used that land for grazing for years. When we brought that to the forefront, they continued to publish and blog the article and quoted it as gospel. We investigated many of the articles and every one we investigated was false. The documentation is available on-line. I’m not saying that all the articles are false but if you look at them over the months, you can see the repeating themes. When one doesn’t work, they move on to the next. It’s clear they’re coming from hired PR firms. If we can find the information easily, why can’t they? My favorite was the 9 abandoned horses that were dumped on a farm. When we investigated, it ended up being one horse that the farmer’s granddaughter thought she saw and it was from a date prior to the kill houses closing! The key to the articles is to read carefully because many are using numbers of reported cases. When talking to officials they claim that 9 out of 10 reported cases cannot be confirmed. They said when they investigate, many are simply horses that have wandered off the property. The others end up being unconfirmed because they can’t find the horses or locate anybody that has seen them.

  7. Vicki,

    OK, the estimate of the total number of horses in the US is 9.2 million. That's what the Time article said.

    We really do need to move beyond the slaughter issue.

    I know of several people myself that now own horses, nice horses, that they bought for a fraction of their worth. One is a registered Appaloosa gelding puchased for $100, and the horse even has the sought after coloring of black with a white rump blanket.

    I cannot ignore what I see with my own eyes! I see horses way underweight all over the place in incredible numbers! That articles come out about the same thing that I see with my own eyes in a much larger scope makes it moot to argue that it doesn't exist.

    So, let's let the slaughter thing go. Let's work on this as if it is not an option right now. We'll revisit is later on after we brainstorm other solutions to abandoned, neglected, starving horses.

    This all reminds me of the kind of answers you get when you ask a politician a question...


  8. Hi, Theresa. Okay, no more slaughter but are we in agreement that it is the economy that is causing current conditions?

  9. The scope of the problem has several causes, with the poor economy as one of them. Biofuel development, price of fuel, cost of feed and hay, irresponsibility, lack of knowledge/education, mental/emotional disorders, loss of home, loss of job/income, ignorance, divorce, PMU glut, oversaturated market, breeding of undesireable, low quality horses, the TV clinicians, fewer vets... The list can go on and on.

    The weight a horse loses in weeks takes months to regain. A host of other problems can surface later, if the horse makes it through the reintroduction to feed and hay. Vet care costs can be astronomical in rehabbing a horse that has starved.


  10. I think that when we are talking about solutions, we have to acknowledge regional conditions as well. Do you mind saying where you live, Theresa? The reason I ask: I commute 35 miles to work one way and drive on a lot of country roads, in mainly rural areas. I pass many fields with farms, cows, sheep, and lots of horses. Even if it's not a farm, there many properties with horses.

    Just based on my observations, I have seen very healthy, well-fed horses. But what I've also seen: several places with hay for sale (despite the hay shortage that many are dealing with around the country) and horses being kept on very nice properties, properties that I can't afford now, most that I would never be able to afford. I am in southern Wisconsin and I wouldn't consider property values inflated here compared to several areas of the country.

    I had read somewhere, now can't remember the exact statistics, but was shocked that a significant percentage of horse owners make under $50K per year. If true, that is something I just can't comprehend because of the cost of maintaining one horse. When the economy takes a dive, how much of that $50K is left to properly maintain your animals with a quality life? Does that mean that you have to be rich to own a horse? I think it is cost prohibitive for many.

    More questions, yes. My point is that different regions will have to tackle the problem differently in order to be effective.

    (On a side note, in your introduction, you are correct about the past sterilization of the developmentally disabled. It actually occurred on a very large scale in many states. While universally abhorred now, I believe that some laws are still on the books even if it is not practiced. I have worked in this field for many years and am the DD Program Coordinator in my county and did a lot of research in this area for my graduate degree.)


  11. You're right Lisa, there will be very different conditions across the country. For instance, when I lived in upstate NY, the only hay available was grass mix. Now that I live about an hour away from Little Rock, AR, the only thing available here is bermuda hay. Bermuda is much higher in protein, but less in fiber content than broome/timothy/alfalfa mix. Difference in hay means difference in supplemented feed.

    Lisa, spring grass is very, very rich. It is unlikely that horses would be light weight this time of year. And, I think if money isn't so much an issue, horses can be better cared for.

    The American Horse Council was where you saw those numbers of the average yearly income at 50k for horse owners. A lot of us horses lovers are "horse poor." And, it's getting tighter and tighter.

    My emphasis for undergrad and grad degrees was counceling psychology, education and social work. I was horrified to learn about how badly DD people were treated!

    I ran into a blog last night about a couple that is promoting trading and bartering instead of using currency for things they need. Interesting concept, and I thought that something like that could help the horses.


  12. What are your ideas on a euthanasia fund considering the poor economy hitting hard for those who are "horse poor"? Actually, it could be for anyone. Ideas on who to fund?