Equine Rescue

Racing’s Efforts to Grapple with Horse Slaughter not Enough, at least for now

by as published on The Guardian

The US racing industry has stepped up its game significantly when it comes to re-homing its retired equine athletes in recent years, but there’s still plenty of work to be done

Ginerous Legacy (Harley) saved from slaughter and adopted by Terry and R.T. Fitch ~ photo by Terry Fitch

Dina Alborano rescues ex-racehorses bound for slaughter. A savvy social media operator, the New Jersey resident drums up donations through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, then purchases and plucks horses from ‘feed lots’ – facilities, also known as ‘kill lots’, where horses are penned before going to slaughter in Mexico or Canada. Through her horse rescue organization, she then endeavors to find these horses new homes.

Alborano’s efforts have recently received support from some of the most respected jockeys, trainers, owners and journalists in the industry. Some say that she has broadened awareness of this issue like few have been able. But her efforts have also courted controversy.

Critics argue Alborano exaggerates the plight of some of the horses she rescues, needlessly exploiting the highly emotional nature of the topic. Indeed, last month, horse racing outlet the Paulick Report published a story that raised questions about how Alborano manages and conducts her organization, allegations she vigorously denies.

But Alborano’s story touches upon much broader questions about the sport’s relationship with horse slaughter: namely, why are racehorses bound for the abattoir when the drugs they’re given during their racing careers prohibits them from entering the food chain? Who is policing the system? And are there enough homes for the thousands of horses retired from racing each year?

In recent years, the industry as a whole has stepped up its game significantly when it comes to re-homing its retired equine athletes. Driven by ethical concerns as well as a growing realization that potential new fans are turned away by a sport that permits its competitors to end up on foreign dinner plates, the industry is funneling more and more human and financial resources towards what is coined racehorse “aftercare” – the retraining and rehoming of retired racehorses.

“We’ve known the issue of horses ending up in bad spots as long as there’s been racing, but now with social media, it’s put out there in people’s faces on a daily basis,” said Victoria Keith, president of the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization, a newly established aftercare body. “Everybody’s finding out it’s happening.”

Only, while change has been relatively swift, untold numbers of racehorses are still slipping through the net.

“Is it enough? No,” admitted John Phillips, president of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, an aftercare accreditation organization – the largest such program in the country – which this week held its annual pre-Preakness Stakes fundraiser, the race set for Saturday. “We have a lot more to do.”

‘It’s absolutely ridiculous’

No horse has been legally slaughtered for human consumption in the United States since 2007, when the federal government pulled funding for horse slaughter plant inspectors. This left Mexico and Canada to pick up the slack, both of which have come under fire in recent years for their records on food safety and horse welfare. The European Union, for example, barred horse meat imports from Mexico in 2014 after a series of damning audits.

Last year, more than 88,000 horses left the US for slaughter in Canada and Mexico, according to figures compiled by the Equine Welfare Alliance. But how many of those were ex-racehorses? With no hard data, that’s hard to answer. A much-used estimate is 10,000 ex-racehorses. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, data from 2006 suggests that as many as 17% of horses that go to slaughter each year are ex-racehorses (close to 19,000 at that time). But it should be noted that this was before the racing industry had started to grapple seriously with the problem.

Nevertheless, as Alex Brown, a former racetrack employee and now an author and prominent anti-slaughter advocate, points out, many of these horses shouldn’t be headed to slaughter at all.

“It’s a food safety issue,” said Brown. Drugs like the painkiller phenylbutazone are ubiquitous in racehorse training, but they’re prohibited for use in animals intended for human consumption. “Livestock like cows and chickens, those animals are highly regulated in terms of their drug intake if they’re going into the human food chain. But the horse seems to slip through the cracks,” he said.

So, why do racehorses “slip through the cracks” as Brown says? “It’s almost a running joke at the auctions: ‘Will somebody sign this paper or that paper?’” Brown said, explaining the holes in the documentation system for horses bound for slaughter in Canada. This is compounded by the lack of a comprehensive national “passport” system that charts each horse’s medical history, he said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Racetracks themselves are at the vanguard of policing the system. That’s because the vast majority of racehorses are stabled and trained at these facilities. When trainers seek stalls for their horses, they sign agreements with the track that often requires them to ensure that any horse stabled there doesn’t end up going to slaughter, at least not directly.

But the devil, they say, is in the details. These agreements can differ in rigor of wording, and certain racetracks are much more vigilant about enforcing the rules than others. “The more reputable racetracks don’t want to risk their reputation, and they’ve pushed their killers off the shed row,” said Equine Welfare Alliance president, John Holland. “The less reputable tracks, he’s still there. Horses still leak out to slaughter.”

That said, a variety of obstacles make enforcement of these policies difficult.

In New York, for example, a retirement program called Take the Lead has, over the past three years, facilitated the rehoming of around 375 ex-racehorses. New York racetracks, however, sit among the “elite” echelons of the sport, and owners there tend to be wealthier and more able to fulfill the “ethical responsibilities” to their horses, said trainer Rick Schosberg, Take the Lead’s administrator.
On the other end of the scale, however, are those horses too slow to race in the more prestigious venues like New York, or those whose abilities are on the wane. They typically end up at racetracks on the bottom rungs of the ladder, running not for a million dollars but for a measly handful. Once there, these horses too often fall foul of the claiming game – races geared towards lesser talented horses where they can be bought and sold…(CONTINUED)

5 replies »

  1. Ray Paulick is actually against horse slaughter. He told me so himself BUT he said what can I do? His livlihood is racing. People ask why I didn’t name my Chihuahua Affirmed, as I worked intimately with him & my ex saddled him when he won the Triple Crown. I named him Ferdinand after the KY Derby winner, sent to Japan for stud. He didn’t do well & became sushi. If you want to see the REAL deal, look @ Ruidoso Downs, NM. I live 90 miles away. The cartel is prominent there & many are shipped to Mexico. Also look at Mine That Bird’s owner ( KY Derby winner ), Dr Leonard Blach DVM. When they wanted to open a horse slaughter plant here in Roswell, NM right next to his facility he went to court to testify that it was a good thing albeit he was drunk @ 11AM. So many stories, so little time …… while the clock keeps ticking on these horses.


  2. This is ludicris. Right now horse slaughter is not refunded for 2019 anyone have any answers?? Didn’t anyone try to stop Cold Creek issue? They are Intending to push Farm bill through with no defunding language. If anyone has any information contradicting this please by all means let me know. The article is on my FB page. I’ve personally been harrassed by an associate of a local killer buyer so they are business as usual if they did reopen. Any feedback would be good about now.


  3. Platinum Ticket’s Final Ride

    Published on May 18, 2018
    This documentary exposes the dirty secrets of the horse slaughter industry through the tragic story of Platinum Ticket.
    This successful grey Thoroughbred racehorse was discovered in a kill pen at the Knoxville Livestock Auction barely alive with a bullet in his head.

    The film tells the story of how he got there: From winning purses at the racetrack to winning ribbons in the jumper show ring – until his fortunes suddenly changed.

    Like tens of thousands of American horses each year, he became trapped in the horse slaughter pipeline – a long, cruel road leading to a brutal death in the slaughterhouses of Mexico and Canada.


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