OUR WILD AND DOMESTIC EQUINES ARE FACING THREATS LIKE NEVER BEFORE… AND EVERY PHONE CALL, LETTER AND BOYCOTT COULD BE THE GROUNDSWELL THAT SAVES THEM.
Editor’s note: Friends of Animals has secured eight wild horse victories in the last few years, resulting in bands of mustangs remaining free on public lands in Nevada, Wyoming and Montana. As we continue to go the extra mile to protect America’s wild horses, we will have to fight harder than ever, as this special report reveals the dark agenda of the current administration to dispose of the 50,000-plus wild horses in holding facilities who should never have been rounded up in the first place, and to return horse slaughter to U.S. soil.
BY NICOLE RIVARD
In early January, Susan Wagner, president of Equine Advocates Rescue and Sanctuary in New York, saw the writing on the wall—America’s horses, wild and domestic, would have a target on their backs under the Trump Administration. Case in point: The proposed secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, who has now assumed that role, tried to pass legislation to bring horse slaughter to Montana when he was a member of Congress.
So she decided to throw a Hail Mary pass before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
With a petition in hand, signed by high-profile people such as Robert Redford, Richard Gere and Barbara Streisand, she marched into Joe Biden’s office—along with John Holland, president of the Equine Welfare Alliance (EWA), and Dr. Anne Marini—and asked the vice president’s staff if he and President Obama would use an executive order before they left office to enact a federal horse slaughter ban, and also prohibit the transport of live equines across our borders into Mexico and Canada or to any other country for the purpose of slaughter.
In 2016 alone, 114,091 homeless horses were transported out of this country for slaughter for human consumption, and that is typical of recent years. The pipeline is being fed of course by indiscriminate overbreeding by organizations such as the Jockey Club and American Quarter Horse Association, and on a smaller scale, irresponsible horse owners.
Unfortunately, the trio did not get the outcome they wanted, and since January their worst nightmare, and Friends of Animals’, has come to fruition—at press time, a U.S. House Appropriations Committee panel voted to lift the ban on slaughtering horses at meat processing plants in the United States that went into effect in 2007, opening the door for horse slaughter to resume here if the measure passes Congress. Thankfully, a week later, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Udall-Graham-Coons-Feinstein-Reed-Collins-Shaheen Amendment to prevent horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil.
This amendment to the fiscal year 2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill is the Senate’s response to the House Appropriations Committee’s failure to pass a similar provision. It could mean there is a fighting chance to retain the horse slaughter prohibition in the final law when it passes.
Also at press time, legislation was still being considered to allow Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to kill and sell for slaughter wild horses in holding pens.
“This is an emergency. We are on the verge of having horse slaughter plants return to this country for the first time in a decade,” said Wagner, whose sanctuary provides a home for 80-plus horses she’s rescued from slaughter, abuse and neglect. “We have more horse slaughter proponents in this administration than any other time in history.”
Wagner knows the Safeguard American Food Export Act (HR 113), reintroduced this year in the latest attempt to outlaw the purchase and transport of U.S. horses for slaughter, will not pass until we have a Congress that is willing to fight for it. “But at the very least what we should do is prevent the slaughter of horses in this country and protect wild horses in holding pens who should never have been rounded up in the first place,” Wagner said.
She is adamant that people meet with all of their members of Congress in person, or at the very least call them or send a handwritten note expressing that you don’t support legislation to fund horse meat inspectors in this country or that would allow captured wild horses to be sold for slaughter.
“Every poll shows between 70 and 80 percent of Americans against horse slaughter, so you think that would make it a done deal, but it’s not because the ranchers, certain factions of the horse industry like the American Quarter Horse Association, and some of these other breeding groups, are the ones that have lobbyists and a presence in Washington,” Wagner said. “They are talking to politicians. The only way to combat that is if every person makes it a point to personally call or handwrite a note or meet with them too. If our representatives got enough complaints about this, I think that could help.”
BLM, AQHA, AND OTHER HYPOCRITES
Whether or not horse slaughter becomes legal again under this administration, the cruel, unspeakable practice of shipping equines outside our borders for slaughter still remains. No matter where slaughter occurs, it’s an atrocity that can’t be regulated.
Having said that, Holland believes exposing the truth about pro-slaughter government agencies, breeding associations, and industries can go a long way in provoking public backlash towards the crucial part of this issue, indiscriminate overbreeding.
EWA exposed the fraudulent study the Government Accountability Office released on the eve of a critical budget vote in 2011. Though devoid of welfare data, the GAO report claimed that equine abuse and neglect had soared after the closing of the domestic slaughter plants in 2007, falsely implying a 60 percent increase in Colorado. It then became the key “proof” used by proponents of reinstating inspections funding, and resulted in Congress reinstating inspections funding in the 2012 budget. The funding remained in place until 2014, by which time the EWA had exposed the fact there had been no increase in abuse and neglect. Five slaughter houses had applied for licenses, but none opened before the funding was again withdrawn in 2014.
In March of 2017, the EWA learned that the GAO had once again been tasked to study any changes in the state of equine welfare in the U.S. from 2010 to the present but it had not been released at press time. “The new study is preordained to be meaningless. Those requesting the study merely need a document to wave over their heads while they passionately berate their colleagues for causing a nonexistent tragedy,” Holland said.
Holland also thinks it’s important that the BLM, which treats wild horses like pests because it is wedded to cattle and sheep ranchers, knows we’re aware what they are doing—such as when Friends of Animals delivered the “Worst Government Agency Award” to a field office in Montana. “When the Obama administration put the stimulus package through and gave each department discretion on how to spend it to put money in the economy, the BLM said, ‘Let’s get these pesky horses off the range and put them in holding,’ Holland said. “But it’s like running things up on your Mastercard—someday that interest is going to kill you. The BLM was well aware of the cost of boarding all those horses. They did it intentionally as an excuse to slaughter. It was all part of a long-term plan.”
While it’s not shocking to realize that the BLM has an extinction plan for wild horses, it may come as a surprise to some that the American Quarter Horse Association is the biggest betrayer of America’s domestic horses.
The Texas-based AQHA is the world’s largest equine breed registry and membership organization, but its pro-slaughter stance is hidden behind its Americana image and glossy feel-good photos on Instagram. “It is a major force on Washington. They spend a lot of money promoting horse slaughter. But nobody knows,” Holland said. “When people join, they actually are really proud to say they are a member of the AQHA, an ‘all-American’ organization. But the AQHA has a reason for being pro-slaughter. Because every horse that is slaughtered, that means a new foal. And registration of new horses is their main source of income.”
The American Quarter Horse Association touted well over 63,000 registrations in 2016, according to Jo Anne Normile, author of Saving Baby: How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption, and founder of two horse rescue organizations, CANTER and Saving Baby Equine Charity. And she points out that the Jockey Club foal registrations have been steady at around 23,000 per year since 2012.
“That’s a combined total of more than 85,000 foals born each year. These breed organizations clearly are not concerned with where these horses end up year after year,” Normile said. “I read the AQHA’s statements regarding breeding and horse slaughter and the take away is: ‘If you don’t like what hits the ground, there’s horse slaughter so just breed again.”
Not surprisingly, the number one breed sent to slaughter is the American Quarter Horse with the second being Thoroughbreds. “Horse slaughter rewards people for being irresponsible,” Wagner said. “If you took away the option, it would force these people, like it or not, to take responsibility, because it is against the law for you to starve your horse and abuse your horse or abandon your horse.”
NO MATTER WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF, RACING IS A PIPELINE TO SLAUGHTER
No one knows the horrors of the racing industry better than Normile. With a racetrack just a few miles from her home and being an avid follower of the Kentucky Derby and fan of Secretariat, Normile chose to breed two horses for racing. She left racing in disgust after tragedy struck her horse Baby and founded the first CANTER program in 1997. At the time it was the only rescue in the country that intercepted horses directly from their stalls at the track so they did not go to the onsite kill buyers. During her tenure with CANTER, the group was taking in more than 100 horses a year from just one racetrack.
Normile co-authored a study in 2012 that demonstrated that an amount equal to 70 percent of the annual Thoroughbred foal crop on average died at slaughter during the years 2004 through 2010.
“People cannot demand change until they KNOW what needs to change. Horse slaughter is an economic necessity to the racing industry,” Normile said. “Each stall at the track needs a horse capable of filling a race because they all make their living off of these horses’ backs and broken legs through the bets placed on them. The more horses that race, the more money wagered and the more they all make. The injured and slow horses must be removed quickly and efficiently.
“To my knowledge, this 40 billion dollar gambling industry has never lobbied to promote passage of any legislation that would ban the transport of America’s horses for slaughter for human consumption. They would not even lobby or promote passage of legislation to close horse slaughter plants when they operated within the United States.”
SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT RESPONSIBLE HORSE OWNERSHIP
In addition to exposing entities in the horse industry who profit off horse slaughter and boycotting them, society as a whole needs to promote responsible horse guardianship. Irresponsible acts like parents getting rid of horses when their kids outgrow them with no idea of where they end up; summer camp horses being sent to slaughter when the season is over; or putting horses “free to good home only” on Craiglist, is unacceptable.
“I have personally contacted people who place such ads on Craiglist as a prospective buyer in order to explain to them the need to ask for references, to visit the potential new farm and use a bill of sale that contains a ‘right of first refusal’ clause and then to follow through and check their horse in six months and on,” Normile said. “A potential buyer who balks at any of these things, I would be suspicious of.”
Normile acknowledges that people cannot all be assured that their jobs will be there tomorrow, that devastating illness will not force them to sell their horses or as age advances, that keeping up a horse farm is realistic, so a dual message is needed, she says.
“Not only should one purchase a horse with the understanding that this is a living being dependent upon them for life—but we must also make sure people are aware of the slaughter pipeline if they cannot keep a horse for life,” Normile said. “We need to do a better job of educating any current and future horse owner of the dangers that lurk in wait for our horses. Owning a horse comes with responsibility— if not to own it for life than to follow it for its life.”
- Contact your Congressmen and women to say that you don’t support the provisions to fund horse meat inspectors in this country or provisions that would allow captured, wild horses to be sold for slaughter. To find your representative in the House, visit www.house.gov. To find your two U.S. Senators, visit www.senate.gov.
- Boycott horse racing. Joanne Normile says people are already making a difference by bringing the atrocities in horseracing to light just as we have done for circus animals and those imprisoned at Seaworld. Join the movement already underway to inform and educate the public that the few races they might see on television with fancy hats and celebrity spottings are far from the reality of the thousands of races they never see at cheap tracks throughout the country. Horseracing is not a sport—it is a gambling enterprise and if people stop betting, it would die as do its horses that are forced to participate.
- Boycott the pro-slaughter American Quarter Horse Association and its partners and write letters to the editors exposing them for the hypocrites they are. An AQHA membership provides discounts on products through sponsors and partners: Including cash back through Bank of America; and discounts from Ford, John Deere, Office Depot, Sherwin Williams, and Nationwide Insurance. “All that money goes to defend horse slaughter,” said John Holland, president of the Equine Welfare Alliance.
- Research where you are sending your kids to camp. Make sure the camp provides homes for the horses during the off-season.
- Purchase a copy of Saving Baby – How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption. (www.savingbaby.com and also on Facebook) It is not a book only for “horse people.” It is written in a style for the compassionate person concerned with the welfare of horses and making a difference. A portion of all book sales helps fund Saving Baby Equine Charity (www. savingbaby.org), which provides provide grants to approved 501(c)(3) equine rescues during times of emergency. So readers literally save horses’ lives.
- Volunteer at or donate to a horse rescue/sanctuary in your area (see story page 13). If you live near a horse rescue or sanctuary, volunteering there or donating will certainly help the horses there live a more comfortable life. Horse rescues and sanctuaries are always looking for donations to help out with the cause. The donations do not always have to be money either—they can be blankets, food, medicine, or anything else horses need. Do some research on the sanctuary to ensure they do not support the slaughter of horses who are bred for racing.
- Report neglect if you see it. Contact your local authorities or local horse rescues.
- Support Friends of Animals. Our Wildlife Law Program has several active cases to protect America’s wild horses, and we care for three wild horses (depicted at left) we adopted at our Primarily Primates Sanctuary in Texas