Horse News

Some See Companions; Some See Food

By ALEX BROWN as it appears in The Rail

…they sell a majority of the horses “by the pound,” rather than “by the head”

Horses awaiting sale at Sugarcreek Livestock Auction ~ photo by Alex Brown

I arrived at the Sugarcreek Livestock Auction in Ohio at about 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 11: a Friday. Friday is when Sugarcreek hosts its weekly horse and tack sale. The auction is one of the major “kill auctions” east of the Mississippi River; many of the horses are purchased and shipped to a slaughterhouse, where their meat is then exported, for human consumption, to markets in Europe and Asia.

Upon arrival, I went to the back of the auction barn. Navigating the overhead walkways, you can see the horses ready for the sale, standing in a variety of pens. Some of the enclosures held up to 30 horses: big horses, small horses, colored horses and plain horses; some horses with halters, some without. There are no descriptions and no names. They were workhorses, recreational horses and sports horses. A majority will now become food animals.

I went to lunch in the cafeteria. I listened to the general chitchat and learned that there were about 200 horses to be sold. The cultural mix of horse dealers, shippers, Amish, kill buyers, rescue folks, and local onlookers was similar to that of other kill auctions. A little after 2 p.m., the main buyers, the dealers and the kill buyers, assembled in the auction ring below the auctioneer and the horse auction began. The owner of the auction house is a kill buyer who ships horses to a slaughterhouse in Masseauville, Quebec.

Horses are herded into the ring, mostly one by one, and bidding is quick; some bids come from outside the ring from the very full gallery, but many come from the buyers within the ring. You have to have a sharp eye to see the bids, but the auctioneer understands his market and knows from where a majority of his bids will come. Baker snaps up about two-thirds of the horses offered; his median price was about $100. I left after 60 horses had been sold.

During last Thanksgiving weekend, things quietly changed for the horses in the United States. President Obama signed a bill that included the removal of defunding language for the U.S.D.A. inspection of horse-slaughter facilities; this language had essentially made horse slaughter for human consumption illegal in the United States.

Currently about 130,000 American horses a year are shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter; Congress has not yet acted on broader antislaughter legislation that would make this practice illegal and end horse slaughter. The removal of the defunding language raises the real potential for slaughterhouses to reopen in the United States; the last slaughterhouse was closed in 2007.

Kill auctions, like Sugarcreek, take place throughout rural North America and serve as a critical clearinghouse for slaughter-bound horses. My experience at Sugarcreek was not dissimilar to experiences at other auctions. I attended OLEX (Ontario Livestock Exchange) on many Tuesdays while I worked at the Woodbine Racetrack in Canada. There they sell a majority of the horses “by the pound,” rather than “by the head.” If you spend enough time studying the buying behavior of kill buyers, as I did at OLEX, you realize that they are no different from buyers at any other market segment for horses; they want the healthiest at the best price point. They pay more, per pound, for a healthy horse, than for an old, sore horse. At the Shipshewana auction, in Northern Indiana, held every Friday, the main kill buyer is a licensed racehorse trainer from Michigan. At Mike’s Horse and Tack sale, in Mira Loma, about an hour east of Los Angeles, I watched a rodeo buyer purchasing horses. He has been under investigation for being suspected of buying horses for slaughter and shipping them to a feedlot in New Mexico, where from there they will head to Mexico. Buying horses for slaughter in California is illegal, but there appears to be little interest in prosecution.

The horse has played an important role in our development as a civilization. I was recently in San Francisco and visited the Wells Fargo museum. The museum illustrates the importance of the horse in the settlement of the West. “War Horse,” the recent Steven Spielberg movie, celebrated the role of the horse in World War I. The movie highlights the transition from the age of the horse to the age of mechanization. It shows compassion for the horse from both sides of the bloody conflict; the “No Man’s Land” scene is both poignant and brilliant.

Despite the horse’s symbiotic relationship with mankind, horse slaughter has developed into an accepted but little-known practice in most states. The public has perhaps been disinterested in the issue because an overwhelming majority of Americans no longer have a direct connection to the horse. The concept of animal agriculture and factory farming, including horse slaughter, is a recent phenomenon.

The horse is unique among domesticated animals; it is the only animal that is a food animal but which is treated as a nonfood animal for a majority of its life.

Emotion and history aside, there is a more pragmatic reason the horse should not be slaughtered. Other livestock are highly regulated in terms of their ingestion of drugs throughout their lives. For the horse, there is no such documentation until the time it becomes a food animal. At that time, for a horse whose meat is destined for the European Union, a form needs to be completed that shows that it has been free of drugs six months before slaughter. Many of these horses are not considered food animals for that six-month period, and even so, there are a number of drugs that if ingested, have no such quarantine period. Phenybutazene (bute) is one such drug. The label on a bottle of bute includes “not to be used in horses intended for food.” The Food and Drug Administration made this statement in 2003: “For animals, phenylbutazone is currently approved only for oral and injectable use in dogs and horses. Use in horses is limited to use in horses not intended for food. There are currently no approved uses of phenylbutazone in food-producing animals.”

Bute is used frequently in horses. In 2009, according to data from The Daily Racing Form, 99 percent of starters in the state of California (7,391 of 7,443) received bute during a prerace regimen. Giving a racehorse bute ahead of the race is only one instance in which a racehorse may receive the drug. And bute is popular among all types of horses, whether a racehorse, pleasure horse or workhorse. It is akin to a human taking aspirin. To presume a horse has not taken bute during its “non-food animal” lifetime is a very dangerous assumption on the part of the food industry.

Spielberg recently described the move to remove the defunding language as “a very sad turn of events.” The equine star of his movie, Joey, is played by a slow racehorse, a horse that could just have easily wound up at Mike’s Horse and Tack sale. A real War Horse, Sergeant Reckless, is listed in Life Magazine’s 100 greatest heroes. ESPN lists three horses in their 100 greatest athletes of the 20th century: Secretariat, Man o’ War and Citation. Horses are the only animal that compete in the Olympic Games. Perhaps it is now time for man to do something for all horses.

18 replies »

  1. One solution might be to inject our horses with something so vile that it will absolutely harm people yet be safe for horses. The reality of human greed must sometimes be tempered by the temper of others.


  2. Despite the horse’s symbiotic relationship with mankind, horse slaughter has developed into an accepted but little-known practice in most states. The public has perhaps been disinterested in the issue because an overwhelming majority of Americans no longer have a direct connection to the horse.

    The above is from this article but with 80% of the public against horse slaughter I don’t agree although it’s true that
    the majority of Americans no longer have a direct connection to the horse.


    • The majority of Americans have no idea we ship horses to Canada and Mexico to slaughter. Probably about 90+% have no idea. Same percentage that has no idea we have wild horses that the BLM is rounding up. It is lack of awareness, not connection. We have an advantage now with social media, something Velma and the children in the 1970s did not have. Of course, Big Ag and lobbyists weren’t as powerful and Congress wasn’t quite as money hungry in the 70s either.


      • @allthewildhorses:

        Understand your points, but you know who really KNOWS about US equines, stolen, dumped, sick, broken, old that go to slaughter (whether it was butchered here or CAN/MEX/EU/Asia)?

        Our state and Federal governments.

        Yeah, most Americans don’t get it, but sure as the sun rises tomorrow….agriculture, ALL equine industries and most equine owners have an IDEA what happens. Public opinion is useful to a point but in the end our laws and regulations must be upheld. That IS the problem. Everyone is still adoring Senator Garcia from New Mexico’s state body…..BUT, she seems to care not for what is going on NOW to horses, burros AND freaking steers in her state that get rejected!

        Yeah, great NM Senator Garcia (Las Cruces area) cares about stopping a slaughter plant in her state……………GREAT!!!!!! GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Honorable Senator, you got an ugly part of the process living live and well in your state….in your neck of the woods no less.

        I don’t expect “Joe Blow Citizen” to know what to do with my equine’s death; but I sure in the H*LL expect my GOVERNMENT to know that they are the final authority on unqualified equines for meat for humans, no matter where it is butchered, eaten or even feedlotted.


  3. This is a bloody business that most Americans have no clue about. Although, I have made it a point to discuss this with my friends and family who do not own horses. I also shared this with my co-workers about this inhumane and disgusting business. Most Americans just need to be educated about what is happening. No one wants to disuss the issue because it is so disgusting. They cannot stand to hear or be told what happens to our horses in during the process. However, once educated they all see the need to stop the opening of slaughterhouses and the transportation of our horses to other countries. Politics has become of late also disgusting. No good people want to run because of the corrupt poilitics and candidate bashing. We need to continue copying and passing out Steven Spielburg’s info sheet and the others who have compiled a sheet with the facts. I was so glad to be informed about the Republicon Dreg in Wyoming because when the United Horseman’s Rep brought up slaughter at the Arabian Horse convention, I was educated enough to comment on her ill and uninformed information. No one knew who she was but I did. Although, I was surrounded by trainers and breeders, I still presented the only informed side of slaughter. This bill was so close to being passed at one time and the Senate just could not get it done. We must push and push harder to get some of these Legislators off their duffs. Its unfortunate that a bill was passed allowing political contributions to go unnamed with the sorce. Makes me sick how the citizens of some of the states have voted in some of these dummies.
    As a past union representative, I was always told that one vote makes a difference. I would say that it surely applies here because I’m quite sure for some of these people to get elected the voter turn out had to be a very low precentage of the voters. I find it very sad like Bo Derek said that we are still talking about this years later and have not been able to pass a bill once and for all to stop the slaughter of our equine friends including the transportation to other countries. I pray each day that this is the YEAR that we are able to get this bill passed and they are safe once and for all.


    • Gail,
      It is because of your knowledge of the horse slaughter business that your voice has saved some horses. As far as getting the Horse bills passed once and for all, everyone must keep on fighting to stop having American horses, wild or domestic sent to the slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. Once the laws are in place they have to be enforced. The lobby group, The Human Society Legislative Fund keeps on fighting for the horses in Washington, but it is always the Power of the People.


  4. wildhorses, I am in total agreement with you! I WAS one of those kids in the 70’s saving my lunch money sending it to Annie, and having my whole creative writing class write letters to congress! Thank God my teacher thought it was a good idea.

    another thing I have to mention, is if you are against slaughter you should be against rounds ups!

    Our wild horses have never had vaciines, bute or dewormers…some mares have been injected with sterilization drugs, therefore it is NO mistake that there are THOUSANDS of ‘geldings’ that are shipped over the borders for slaughter…and it is NO mistake that BLM gelds every single stallion that comes in off the range!

    Sneaking horses over the borders by BLM is a secretive operation which has been going on for years and under many different disguises, ESTRAYS being one of the most often used followed by Dept of AG and Fish and Wildlife doing their own round-ups on PUBLIC santuaries where wild horses are NOT protected by the wild horses laws ….those slaughter houses would never turn in the SOB’s, they WANT American mustangs because their meat is not tainted, and it is for now it’s a legal loop hole.

    The slaughter bill HAS to pass in order to protect the wild ones as well as those that end up in the slaughter pipeline!


    • Many of our wild horses HAVE been given bute and ivermectin. The Washington chief of the BLM, Tom Gorey (sp?) admitted it himself. They worm the ones they release and if they are injured, often they are given bute.

      They are NOT “clean” either.


  5. Thank you for posting this Alex. You are so right to say that perhaps man should start doing more for horses, instead of doing things against them. Think of all the money spent on horses, all the time spent on training, on showing, transporting , vets & farriers. Think of the costs of boarding, feeding & buying all that beautiful, expensive matching tack, & the horse trailer. No other animal is, in most cases, taken such good care of, other than pets like dogs & cats. Whenever my daughter & I go to our local tack shop, it’s like walking into a horse-lover’s candy store! We always come out with more than I planned. And, we don’t even own the horse my daughter rides, we lease him! She owns all of her own tack, grooming supplies & treats, everything but the horse & the saddle is hers. People don’t do this with “food animals”, people usually don’t do show-jumping, cattle sorting, barrel-racing, or western pleasure on the backs of “food animals” either. I truly can not understand people’s mentality, or lack of it, to compare a horse with animals considered as food. The real, only difference I can see is, horses are just like big, over-grown dogs, except that you can ride them, & they’re too big to live inside your house with you.


  6. I would agree it is a lack of education and being totally in the dark as to what is happening to our horses, either wild or domestic. The biggest problem is apathy and just down right laziness. Yes, people think it is terrible but a) either they “get too upset if they talk about it” or b) they think “some body ought to do something about this”. I drives me over the top sometimes. I have two very politically knowledgeable people in my office that I have specifically asked to write to both Boxer and Feinstein on horse slaughter, the round ups and delisting of wolves from the ESA. Neither one of them ever picked up a phone, or wrote anything, even though I provided bullet points and did practically everything but write it for them. Nothing. If someone could come up with a “take action” pill I would be willing to purchase them in large quantities.

    I had really hoped that advocates would be able to make a difference in 2012. Sadly, I don’t see that as happening.


  7. You are right because many people do not know that horse slaughter even exist. The horse slaughter practice is very underhanded and deceitiful business. The word about horse slaughter needs to get out to the general public and fast they must be educated.


    • In many ways, it does not matter that most citizens don’t know HCHS exist…..what matters is that our governments (local, state and Feds) DO! And they continue to do nothing about it because much and many regs enforcement is unfunded AND the equines that get whacked to the international borders are supposedly NOT their job.

      It’s bad folks and advocates….very, very bad and they do it with the meat we eat here.


      • You know, I was complaining on another forum about how enraged I am that our government is knowingly sending tainted meat to consumers abroad. Then I asked if they would do the same thing if it were Americans eating this stuff. I honestly don’t know. I know they are not nearly as careful as they should be, but would they let us eat bute? I can’t believe I’m not confident that they wouldn’t.


      • Suzanne…when it comes to problems with standards and would “they” (government officials) let us eat it (contaminated food stuffs, especially animal based proteins)….I say we already are….look at recalls, the deals, the vaporization of results for public consumption and culprits with penalties. Very simple, really.

        Our food system is a big lie. Is it a catastrophe at every meal? NO. Global trade agreements are chiseling away everyday and at every checkstation to endanger our food products everyday….coming or going…..all for the GLOBAL economy.

        I believe we will win eventually. It is a matter of when and why. Remember what USDA did to US tomato producers when it was eventually found to be Mexican chilies (after toms, cucs and parsley/cilantro) that caused the salmonella deaths traced to salsa. Don’t think the Feds didn’t know what they were doing and planned the dragging foot discovery….gotta save NAFTA.


      • There is very little safe in our food supply and the FDA and the USDA lobbys to keep it that way- as with everything else in this world – our food is also all about the money. Think of all the animals in the food chain – the drugs they are given, the pesticides, the herbicides, the fertilizers, GMOs, the irradiation of our food and the depleated soils, bad water and conditions for growing and conditions for animals how do any of us ever hope to be as healthy as our grandparents.

        When I first came to RT’s site and learned about wild horse roundups, I talked with people every were I would go, and what I discovered is that most of the people I talked to didn’t know that the BLM was rounding up horses, some didn’t even know that there were still horses in the wild – it is even worse with slaughter, the first words they say -yes the sick and old- so I will explain the truth to them. What I did was I went to vista print and ordered canvas grocery bags with the logo BAN HORSE SLAUGHTER and also magnetic sighns for my truck on baning roundups and horse slaughter. It has started many a conversation and hopefully I am doing my part to get the word out to the people I meet.


  8. According to the IG report on the FSIS program to prevent consumers from consuming banned substances in bovines that was published in March 2010, the tests for drugs such as phenylbutazone in beef are very similar as the ones they once used in horses—-they measured the bite in the urine—a terribly inefficient method that is irrelevant because the danger from bute and other drugs is not in the urine, but in the tissue where the drug or the drug’s metabolite remains throughout the animal’s life.
    Is is likely that there are no efficient and effective tests to determine the presence of banned substances in the tissues of food animals because the EU puts the greatest emphasis on the Passport System which focuses on whether or not the animal has ever been administered the drug to begin with.
    We are all just one bad strip steak away from a failed kidney, bone marrow suppression, or…


    • There is a test for finding bute residue – a kidney assay. I doubt it’s done very often because it’s much more complicated than a blood/urine test. However, bute is BANNED in all food animals, so, even though some my not abide by the rules, the chances of having bute in bovines is much less than in horses.

      The only animal the the EU uses the passport system on is horses. They don’t use it with food animals – they are raised with detailed records from birth to slaughter just like our food animals are. The difference is that horses are the only eaten animal that has an entirely different “career” for years before “becoming” a food animal. It’s ridiculous because the passport system can be falsified too. It amazes me that anyone would consider horses safe to eat even under the passport system. There have been a couple of recalls on horse meat recently. One in Canada for meat from VIANDE RICHELIEU INC.for having “Chemical – Drug Residues” The other was for horse meat from the UK specifically for bute.


  9. Yes, do something for the horses, like restoring them to their rightful freedom on ALL of the lands designated or equivalent complete habitats for long term viable populations on the public lands of the US! Good article RT!


Care to make a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.