Horse News

The Perfect Time to End the Slaughter of American Horses

by John Holland, President of The Equine Welfare Alliance

John Holland

At the moment, the news is rife with stories about the level of equine neglect in the United States, with many of the articles blaming the “unintended consequences” of closing the US horse slaughter plants and calling for them to be reopened. But in reality, we are coming up on a once in a lifetime opportunity to get rid of this abominable practice once and for all. To understand this apparent paradox, one needs to get past unsubstantiated myths to the real forces at play in the market.

First, one needs to understand that it is completely impossible to blame the current glut of excess horses on the closing of the slaughter plants because the closings simply sent the horses over the Mexican and Canadian borders for slaughter. In 2006, the year before the closings, 142,740 American horses were slaughtered, and that number only dropped by 14% the year the plants were closed. By 2008, slaughter was back to the second highest level in almost ten years.

Next, it is necessary to understand what really causes neglect, and that is unemployment. After years of studying the relationship between neglect rates and slaughter volumes, I had concluded that there was no relationship whatever. Then I looked at the rates of neglect in Illinois in comparison with unemployment in the state. The correlation was striking.

Like most such revelations, it should have been expected, but it was still striking. It perfectly explains the mystery of how the number of American horses slaughtered in the US between 1989 and 2002 could have dropped from 377,078 to 77,713 (almost 80%) with no negative impact on either neglect or horse prices.

This correlation also tells us what we can expect as unemployment goes both up and down. At the moment the US is experiencing high unemployment with national rates hovering just under 10%. As predicted from the above graph, this is causing a high rate of neglect.

So why can I say with complete confidence that we are coming up on the perfect opportunity to end slaughter without significantly impacting the horse market?

There is a second factor at work. As the market for horses remains depressed, many breeders are throwing in the proverbial towel. Every day brood mares and stallions are being sold at auction and on internet sites like Craig’s List. This is temporarily increasing the supply and further depressing prices.

The result of this further depression in prices is to convince even more breeders to quit producing. Statistics show breeding is down dramatically in virtually all breeds. The Jockey Club, for example, recently predicted the 2011 foal crop will be the lowest since 1973. Similarly, the American Quarter Horse Association’s annual reports shows a 15% drop in revenue for new registrations between 2006 and 2009.

This trend will continue until the economy begins to recover significantly, or the market eventually reaches a new balance. Slaughter cannot help reduce the over supply of horses because the horse meat market is also depressed. Although the export of US slaughter horses in 2008 brought the annual slaughter back its level before the plant closures, the subsequent recession caused a 25.8% drop in exports between 2008 and 2009. The reduction in demand for slaughter horses will likely continue as the effects of new EU drug residue regulations begin forcing horses to be quarantined for 6 months prior to slaughter.

But these two trends are about to merge and provide a wonderful opportunity to end slaughter with little or no impact on the market. As the smaller foal crops reach market age, there will be a reduction supply, and when the economy finally begins to recover, it will bring with it more carrying capacity (demand) for horses. With less supply and more homes available, the number of surplus horses will dip to a record low.

Moreover, there will be a move toward quality. In a recent interview, a struggling breeder in Canada complained she had to sell her horses to slaughter because the market was so low, but in the very next sentence she explained “You have to breed 100 horses to get two good ones.”  Clearly that business model has been a big part of the problem that gotten us to this point, but few “lotto breeders” appear to be surviving the current market.

Only a deep and prolonged recession could have brought us this opportunity and we have certainly been experiencing just that. It would be a tremendous shame if we missed this coming opportunity.

What is needed is for congress to pass HR 503 / S 727, banning the slaughter and export to slaughter of American horses. This action could be placed in abeyance until a trigger was reached of unemployment dropping significantly (perhaps under 8%). The result would be a smooth transition to a much more humane equine industry.

Horse slaughter is not a “necessary evil”, merely an evil. Now is our opportunity to resign this practice to the dust bin of American history.

John Holland is a freelance writer, the author of three books and an industrial consultant in the field of intelligent automation and knowledge engineering. He frequently writes on the subject of horse slaughter from his small farm in the mountains of Virginia, where he lives with his wife, Sheilah, and their 12 equines. Holland is president of the Equine Welfare Alliance and serves as senior analyst for Americans Against Horse Slaughter, an organization composed entirely of volunteers.

24 replies »

  1. Thanks for this excellent piece. It should be sent to those we call and write in DC and at home. You have taught me much on this subject. EWA, Vicki and those who volunteer set a high standard for the rest of. It is appreciated. mar


  2. Mr. Holland factualizes perfectly, AGAIN.

    The only point I feel that is missing is that equines are NOT a critical necessity in these modern economies in the US. Equines are strictly a majority “hobby” business and not subject in the same way that a head of lettuce or side of beef is. However saying that, they are in some ways more sensitive to the disposable dollars of Americans to owning a backyard horse or betting at or breeding the track. There is a small market for service equines, but very small in comparision to the overall equine industry and in fact, most equine service animals are castoffs from the hobby/entertainment equine industry.

    The issue of paid for dumping is dependent on demand of the meat product and the soon to be constraints of same by the EU as Mr. Holland points out. And the quote from the 100 bred equals 2 sold at a profit just goes to show the sorry ass nature of these idiots that overbreed and dump. The TB world is much more sensitive (due to price) and has been retracting/contracting for sometime; poor industry practices (breaking down 2 yo, loss of venues, etc) and poor breeding inventory (soundness v speed, etc). God only knows what goes on with the idiot color breeders!

    Factor in IRS tax code and one realizes equines are a big hole in the bank account with the exception of breeding and early sale. And people wonder why equines get sold to paid for slaughter? I don’t….the system is set up that way from the start.


  3. The equine industries are worth billions. I think someone can find a figure on it… To say the horses are not a necessity is going a bit far for those of us who have at one time or still do and always will- make a living working with horses. mar


    • I think you misunderstand my points.

      Please explain to me why equines are a necessity or economic imperative. Even KY state legislators have abandoned their once renowned, premier industry.

      Equines are not an economic necessity. There are smal, minute economic sectors that do use equines (and usually dump as well…law enforcement, farming for religious reasons). Please name another industry that is mandated to use equines. If you are in the equine business, that, in and of itself is not a necessity…it’s your choice of enterprise that is based on individuals buying for hobby, showing (still hobby) or competing (still hobby).

      I’m not against breeding (please reference my statement on the askewed IRS system that is easily done by breeding enterprise). Many breeders are responsible….most are not.

      That the industry is worth billions (an American Horse
      Council and USDA survey, BTW) is a known fact….doesn’t mean that the equines are treated humanely at any stage of their life all the while feeding the cash registers of breed registries, breeders, farriers, etc.

      That YOU make a living off of equines, does not mean equines live for any other purpose than your chosen enterprise off of a living being.


  4. Let me put it this way….who really needs an equine in the 21st Century in America?

    Please don’t tell me about the revenue they generate….that is not the point. Who NEEDS an equine in 21st Century America?????


    • I would much rather have my horses, than pay a psychiatrist. And that is not a joke. They are even finding that mini equines do a lot for recovery patients in hospitals!
      I need my horses. If I didn’t have them I would probably be in a assisted care residence. Now I keep moving (82 yrs)
      And the quotation is “no one ever committed suicide with a good two year old in the stable.”


    • It’s like the car. If no one owned a car, it wouldn’t just hurt the car “breeders” themselves, but all the peripheral businesses that one wouldn’t even think of as connected to cars, like the people who make seat covers and stuff like that. It goes on and on – a huge ripple effect.

      Same with horses. Horse people spend a LOT of money for things they wouldn’t be buying/using if they didn’t have horses. The horse biz is worth billions to the total economy, and that’s been proven over and over.

      As far as who “needs” an equine, I think if you could ask them, many, many individual horse owners would be very expressive on why they “need” their horses. Just like Mar and Shirley. And me. My horses are the ONLY thing that have kept me from ending up in a padded room – or worse. I have episodes of SEVERE depression that’s not very responsive to current antidepressants. I can state that the absolute truth is, if it weren’t for my horses, I wouldn’t be here to type this.

      They also help my physical condition. Like Mar, I have a bad back – lumbar stenosis – and riding is the only thing that gets my back muscles to relax, even briefly. Not to mention the emotional support of the closeness riding brings to me and my Equine buddy.

      I can’t speak for others, but my horse was bred for exactly what he is doing – being a friend and safe riding horse. His breeder would only sell him to someone who understood that he needed his own personal human, and would never be happy without someone who would accept and return that special bond. I’ve had Indy for 8 years and we have a deep communication that neither of us can imagine living without.

      “Need” can encompass many things, not all of them utilitarian. 🙂


    • I need horses, just like I need a pet dog. Because I (and we alldo)have a* basic human right* to be happy, to have a good life. To do what is the right thing to do, hell with the stupid laws.

      And having a pet dog and being able to ‘enjoy’ horses, wild horses running free or the horse I have out back, make me happy.

      That’s why knowing there are people like slaughterhouse sue eating horses or cartoors running horses to death make me SO UNhappy.

      cause they are tromping on my happiness, my right to enjoy horses!

      there’s not just animal ‘rights’ being killed and throttled by the BLM.


  5. The point I am trying to make is that owning equines in America in the 21st Century is a choice. We don’t need them to get to meeting, or work or till our fields (although some see that as a need, however small).

    Most Americans own horses as a choice for pleasure and some own or business for same. It is not required to live. That they (the equines are here) exist doesn’t negate their prescence, but it certainly qualifies their disposal. Not for me, but for many that take on ownership.


  6. You have missed my points.

    Equines are not raised as therapy mounts or prescription. That they find second, third or fourth careers does not mandate their breeding. That you or others have found ways to utilize them in later careers is excellent, but not required or basically even considered for breeding in the numbers that we in the US currently have….from a breeding perspective (please keep that in mind in your response).

    Check out the papers on these equines that you utilized, if you can and tell me why they were brought into existence.

    I will restate, the majority of equines bred and born are not for those situations that you state.

    You mistake my economic understanding of the breeding of equines industry for your personalized experience of equines….way, way different.

    Don’t want to bore readers here or get into a war about what you don’t like or misunderstand about my posts.


    • I don’t really know how unusual it is or is not, but my horse was bred to be exactly what he is – a good riding/companion horse for an individual who understands the need for a Morgan to bond with a single person as “his human.” Believe me, if I hadn’t fulfilled those requirements, his breeder would have NOT sold him to me.

      He was three, barely green broke, and they also wanted him to go to a person who would continue his training with “natural horsemanship”methods. Except for his breeder, I’m the only owner he’s ever had or ever will have – unless he outlives me, in which case he goes back to his breeder. Most Morgan breeders are quite careful to whom they sell their horses.


  7. I forgot to add, I always appreciate and read your posts. Don’t confuse disagreement with anger because after all…the equines are the focus. I’m sure on that we can agree.


    • Denise, I live in the middle of Amish country. They need their horses, and their horses are bred for the purposes for which they are used. We have hitching posts at the store, and pretty much everywhere else too. Removing horses would force a lifestyle change on a culture that religiously follows a chosen way of life. In that sense, horses are needed in the 21st century.

      As for horses being bred for their intended use– yes and no. Standardbred horses are raced on a track, then often sold to the Amish for buggy horses. Draft horses may be bred to show, but often they end up on an Amish farm, plowing fields or bringing in hay.
      If you want to step away from the Amish, then consider the well documented need of people in society to interact and learn basic care for animals and each other. Horses fulfill that need. Do they do a better job than cats and dogs? Possibly. They certainly don’t do a worse job than other pets. It’s all relative, really, when you start talking about need. If we lived in a militaristic mentality (think Hunger Games) that reduced most people to survival status, then we could probably shift horses into the luxury box and get rid of them. I’m not sure we would end up with a healthy society that way.


  8. It’s a good article, he’s right! The time is NOW to get those laws passed to stop horse slaughter option as a end of life for horses.

    It HAS to stop before the worse ‘plans’ by old horse eater sue get going and entrenched.

    band together with all these other groups going after the horse killers, the canadians and the uk may outlaw the eating of horses before us.

    Eating horses to me is as sickening as eating pet dogs would be to me!! we are not barbarians starving to death in mad max lands.. we don’t have to eat our companion animals!! (or other humans like the donnar party did)


  9. Ok, it’s my “turn” (ha, ha). No one really needs anything, except perhaps water, food, clothing & shelter. We don’t need our cats, dogs, birds, or other pets either, unless they’re service/therapy animals. We don’t need ipods, computers, cell phones, GPS tracking devices, or any other electronic gadgets either. We don’t need the biggest most luxurious house, or the fastest car, or our expensive vacation homes. Horses are no different than any other companion animal/pet. The fact that some are bred to “work”, whether that work is plowing a field, showing, racing, or as a therapy animal, is no different than our other pets mentioned above. America does not eat it’s other companion animals/pets, it should never have been any different for horses in the first place. There have been, & always will be, irresponsible breeders, regardless of the animal species, those that are cast off or dumped, “neglected”, or abused on Premarin farms, or sold for slaughter, should be protected as any other companion animal/pet would be. Even cattle, & other animals destined for food, should be protected from abuse, & their numbers would decline with less consumer demand for meat. We raid & close down puppy mills & hoarders, close inhumane pet shops, so why not do the same to protect American horses? I, for one, have always dreamed of owning a horse, but also know buying one isn’t the problem, it’s the lifetime commitment, upkeep & COST that are the biggest obstacle. There should be horse shelters for those that find themselves unable to afford to care for or keep their horse(s), rather than forcing them to sell to auctions, etc. I pray that this HR503/S727, passes with overwhelming ease, for the sake of our horses. Then, someday, people will look back on this whole issue, & wonder how it ever started, how it ever got to the point of slaughtering as an answer to anything in the first place. Oh, & there’s nothing more soothing or relaxing, as petting your furry best friend, watching them play or act silly, or just talking to them in confidence, without worry you’ll be judged, they always love you, & they are great listeners, & that includes your horse, dog, cat, feathered friends, etc., etc.


    • Exactly! Most horse owners these days consider their horses as companion/recreational animals, NOT livestock. In fact, if you go to the FDA website you will find horses listed under “Companion Animals” in the veterinary section.

      It’s really past time for Slaughterhouse Sue and the others to get off the “livestock” kick, and anyway, livestock does NOT necessarily mean “food animal.” Just propaganda, as usual.

      I keep wondering why these pro-slaughter folks don’t suggest eating all the “unwanted” dogs and cats. There are many more of them than there are horses. They don’t do it because they wouldn’t make any money off dogs and cats. If they could, believe me, they would do it.


  10. What is even more alarming is that the graph shows a consistent increase in abuse over the years, even when the UI rate drops, the abuse line remains almost flat, rising again when the UI rate goes up.


    • Part of the increase, I suspect is better information, documentation and enforcement via high tech communications, internet and registries. It’s still bad, but much better than 100 years ago and many law enforcement/DAs (not all) are willing to prosecute and seek penalties for animal abuse/neglect.


  11. Hey! Fugly Horse of the Day is featuring Mr. Holland’s poster child re: gotta breed 100 to get 2 good ones lotto nitwit. You have to go read…some of the comments are priceless. WARNING….crude language, but Cathy (FHOTD) features by name and farm the meatlady.


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