Best Friends Blog

The war on horses

The new Steven Spielberg film “War Horse” will be released on Christmas Day. It follows a British farm boy’s horse who is sold to the army to go off to World War I. The story is about the nobility, beauty, strength and courage of an animal humans have sometimes loved and protected, but mostly used and abused over the course of history. Over 8 million horses died on the Western Front in that war. They were machine-gunned and gassed; some got tangled in barbed wire; others drowned in mud; many suffered fatal diseases or starved; and as a final insult, many of those who managed to survive the brutality of war were sold to slaughter for human consumption.

It is a sad irony that as this film about the brutality of war and nobility of the horse was first being teased in television and online trailers, President Obama was signing an agriculture spending bill, which had passed both houses of Congress, that effectively reopens horse slaughter plants in this country by providing renewed funding for on-site inspectors. The defunding of the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspections for horse slaughter had effectively shut the business down in this country in 2006, although 138,000 horses were exported for slaughter, mostly to Mexico and Canada.

This year Congress could have sealed the deal and banned the export of horses for slaughter, but following a recommendation from the General Accounting Office, the spending bill was passed and horse slaughter will resume.

The “humane” argument for horse slaughter in this country goes like this: People can’t afford to keep their horses and there is no market for them, so many are left to starve on run-out pastures or abandoned to fend for themselves and are hit by cars or trucks and crippled or killed. “Surplus” horses are exported for slaughter at substandard, cruel operations in Canada and Mexico. They are crammed in cattle trucks in which they can’t stand upright due to height restrictions, and many fall and are injured or killed during transport. So, the argument goes, “Let’s kill ’em here where we can do it right, and the poor horses won’t have to travel to Mexico to die.”

Setting aside the obvious point that no animal should be slaughtered for food, horses have long been held in high esteem by the American public. We don’t eat horse meat. Horses occupy a place in our national consciousness akin to that of the bald eagle, our national emblem. Like the eagle, the horse is a symbol of freedom, strength, grace and beauty. Apparently that doesn’t count for much when there is a buck to be made and business interests want the land that might otherwise serve as a home for many of the animals who will wind up on a dinner plate in Europe.

There are no easy answers here. Fulfilling our responsibilities to the animals we have domesticated and bred for our own purposes — whether horse, dog, cat, parrot or rabbit — requires some thoughtfulness and a little effort … not much in the grand scheme of things, but apparently more than our elected officials deem these magnificent animals are worth.

There is a war on horses, and as a result of this action, hundreds of thousands will die a humiliating and terrifying death every year amid the horror and stench of slaughter.

Just like in World War I.

To petition the Obama administration to ban horse slaughter, click here.

Francis Battista
Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society

  • Steve

    Francis, you say: “Setting aside the obvious point that no animal should be slaughtered for food….”  So what are you feeding your own dogs and cats? What is Best Friends feeding the dogs and cats at the sanctuary? 

  • Deb

    why can’t the “GREAT” USA just figure out that we are overbreeding horses, all pet animals and of course, the “GREAT” USA can only come up w/the solution of killing the overpopulation:  Can’t the USA just stop HORSE racing and horse hormone (Premarin) making farms, that would cut down on the overpopulation!

  • Blandnl

    OK, this is the perfect platform to talk about my pet peeve: Legislation that includes all kinds of junk unrelated to the main focus of the bill (just as fisher has said).  Somebody sneaked the horse slaughter rider into a bill that had to be passed, just as zoeysmom has pointed out.   This kind of thing happens all the time in Congress.   I’ve tried to get my Congressional reps to support a bill that would require any new bills introduced in Congress to have only ONE subject, with no unrelated stuff added on.   I call it “One Bill, One Issue, No Riders”.   Can’t get anybody interested in it.  Passage of such a bill would vastly simplify things for voters trying to figure out what their candidates support and oppose.   It would also make it impossible to sneak objectionable stuff into bills that need to be passed quickly.   If you want to prevent this and similar kinds of things from happening in the future, start hammering your reps in Congress on this issue.   If enough people bring this up, eventually some Senator or Representative will recognize that he/she can garner votes and gain a reputation by introducing such a bill.  And that would be a good first step.   Our Congressmen and women need to know what the voters want.

    BTW, horse luver, we don’t really need to eat meat at all.   It’s a choice.   I’m 62 year old vegetarian and take no medication for cholesterol or blood pressure because mine is great.

    Regarding the lame White House site, click the little tiny “help” button to the right of the nonsense words, and it will let you leave a comment about the problem you’re having signing in.

    • Pat

      Good for you, but everyone’s body is different. I have to eat high protein (organic), very low carb to keep MY blood pressure normal and my weight where I want it to be. I’ve tried being a vegetarian several times, using different diets, and every time I ballooned up in weight and my blood pressure spiraled out of control. It’s definitely NOT “one size fits all” when it comes to different body types that people have on this planet and their varied requirements for staying healthy. That being said, I do not support horse slaughter and I believe that animals raised for meat, such as cattle, can and should be slaughtered humanely.

  • Kathypobloskie

    I think one of the things that mainly people don’t realize is that a couple of the large breed organizations – namely the American Quarter Horse Association and the Arabian Horse Association of America support horse slaughter. The mission of the Arabian Horse Association of America is “to preserve and promote the breed” yet their actions are otherwise. These groups are funded by registration fees of horses. When breeders don’t have a “dumping ground” of slaughter for their unwanted horses – they don’t breed anymore. Thereby registrations decline and the organizations suffer.Supporting horse slaughter is their way of keeping  breeders happy and their registration numbers up. 

  • Jeanne_wysocki

    It is appalling that Obama would support the slaughter of hourses.  But It doesn’t surprise me.

  • Saraedmonds

    reposted from my fb page regarding an article about this:where do we go from here? they say meat is murder but there are times i would KILL for a steak. not alot of veggies for me but horse?and if they get it running in 2 weeks i don’t expect a slaughter house. i see a horse mill. not allowed to have puppy mills r we? even a meat eater wants to prevent animal and repost and share and all that if you want to spread the news a lil further.

  • The problem I see is that after they have slaughtered the mustangs that are in holding pens and the horses that are unwanted how will they get more horses for their consumers?  More horses will be bred for the intent on selling the off spring to slaughter houses.  This will create more of a problem.  And then there are those people who will steal horses to sell to the slaughter houses.  I just don’t see that this is a good thing.  What will they start killing next — dogs? 

    • Elsa

      They already are killing dogs app 8 million a year.
      As for breeding horses for slaughter I don’t think will be a profit making endevour. Horses are very expensive to raise and the horse slaughter people pay very little per pound for them,  no where near the price they pay for beef. 

    • Ann Hepworth

      Hi Pattie, I really think this is a good point. In my rural area, there are a lot of breeders who have, for 30+ years, bred their mares just to breed them. They, and many others across the country and especially in the west, have greatly contributed to the major overpopulation of horses. But since the US slaughter plants have closed down and the value of horse meat – and horses in general – has greatly decreased, every one of the backyard breeders in my area have virtually stopped breeding. I can think of 5 in my immediate area who were probably producing, between them, about 60-80 foals a year. Even though they couldn’t get much for their excess horses before, they could raise them fairly cheaply on their large acreages and send them – or their mothers – to slaughter for a few hundred dollars. Now, because of the decrease of demand, they have had to quit, or greatly reduce, their breeding.

      I know that it takes a while for the market in general to get this message. But when you hit them in the pocket book, they’ll eventually get the message. If there were no longer a market, the supply would have to also decrease. Having an easy way to dispose of “excess” horses just encourage irresponsible breeding practices, along with the accompanying moral issues.

  • CK

    We teach these lovely animals to trust us, we teach them to allow us to ride them and train them to do things for our pleasure, we make them rely on us for food and shelter and then humans slaughter them?  No, that is not the way their end should be, not even the wild and free mustangs. Humane euthanasia is one thing for the old and the sick but never the horrors of slaughter.  Horses have become companion animals regardless of being considered “livestock”.  We simply must stop this here in the USA as well as stopping the transport of them to Mexico and Canada and overseas.  What have we humans become? Over breeding must be curtailed as well.  Have we learned nothing over the years?  Greed and apathy simply cannot rule our society when it comes to the stewardship of these lovely innocents. 

  • Dawn

    It is a tragedy that THIS is the best we can do for horses in this country.  There has been a huge grassroots effort the past five years to pass a law banning the export of horses for slaughter, but our lawmakers somehow never had the time to vote to actually protect these animals…  Horse slaughter is a FOR PROFIT business, not a “charity” to euthanize old, unwanted horses, so this is hardly a solution to the so-called “surplus” horse problem.  Thank you, Francis, for this blog to raise awareness of this national disgrace.

  • onthefarm

    These majestic animals can be very dangerous and can kill and hurt people and other animals. They are all NOT companion animals and they are all not so wonderful… except ours. What to do with the dangerous ones??  Or the unwanted ones? Or the ones whose owners cannot care for them? People are not making up finding horses in their pastures or national parks. People don’t stop breeding horses and more unwanted horses wind up “out there”. Who feeds them? Waters them? Gives them vaccines to prevent the spread of highly infectious diseases? Who provides farrier service?  Who pays for all of this? How many of these do-gooders will take a horse and care for it or help pay for any of this? Horses are very expensive animals. People are buying horses for $50 at the local sale. God only knows what happens to them after. I wouldn’t want any of my present horses to be sold for slaughter, but I can say that there are dangerous horses who I would not mind being used for food. I am not talking about the wild mustangs in the west. I do believe there would have been better ways to slaughter. Nothing should be tortured the way they are in Mexico.  I support Obama and I don’t remember his support of the anti-slaughter lobby.

    • Mandy E.

      Horses need to be tattooed or branded with official records kept as to ownership. A found/abused/neglected horse could immediately be traced to the person responsible for it. The PERSON should be punished not the animal. If you can’t afford the expense of owning a horse (or any other animal) then don’t get one! As for a dangerous horse…if you can’t find a trainer to turn the horse around…euthanasia may be an option.

      • Elsa

        A very nice thought Mandy but no workable with todays laws.  We can’t even protect our dogs from horrendus abuse and all the abuser gets is a slap on the wrist.
        Don’t get an animal if you can’t affored it I agree with.but what you may be able to affordd today, you may not be a able to afford 20 years from now with skyrocketing feed prices.  Horses with good care can live into their late 30s

  • fisher

    Here’s a wild and crazy idea (I know)…how about we actually cut all the garbage out of the wording of these bills and make it illegal to slip in 11th hour issues that have nothing at all to do with the main stance, and quit creating these “Sophie’s Choice” dilemmas. Oh wait, that would be an end to Politics As Usual ™.

    • Lorieli25

      Fisher, I think that’s what the “line-item veto” is for.  Some people just don’t take responsibility (amazing, I know) and some presidents just don’t mind selling animals, including whales, down the proverbial river. I still can’t believe he went to the International Whaling Convention this year and advocated for opening up commercial whaling again, albeit limited.  What kind of guy is this?  He’s acting like the zealots that people spend so much time hating on the other side of the aisle.

  • Lunarchld

    It is completely abhorrent. Cruelty for money. And I am even more horrified that Canada still allows this (I am Canadian) but our government if so deaf to anything the people of the country want that it has officially decreed we call it the Harper (our PMs last name) gov’t not the gov’t of Canada. So I hope with all my heart that petitioning your leader will make a difference cause it won’t here. Canada’s leaders don’t care, but I hope yours do.

  • Onejaydedangel

    There is a second petition too, to try to ban slaughter in the USA for human consumption & the inhumane transport to slaughter houses through the USA it is at

  • horse luver

    i signed in nd everything but it wouldnt let me sign it.

  • Shelley R.

    If I am to sign a petition to ban slaughter of one animal, I must sign a petition to end ALL animal slaughter. How can we accept certain meats as acceptable and others not? Our health and our environment would be better if there were more education on ALL factory farms and slaughter houses.  I appreciate the defense of this majestic animal, but all animals deserve the right to a good life and a peaceful death.  

    • Horse luver

      Yes we do need to eat meat but you dont need horse meat thats what cows are for.

      • Triciag2

        And yet if you lived in India, you would not have the same attitude toward cows. Why is that what cows are for and not horses? I do love horses and used to own one.

      • Cambridge Rat Mom

        No, in fact, we *don’t* need to eat meat. You can live a perfectly healthy life without meat. That’s no argument at all for killing animals.

    • Mxipp

      I have to agree with Shelley R. Hoiw can people get so enraged over the slaughter of horses for meat, and then order a hamburger or beefsteak or ham sandwich for lunch? The steer and the pig are as worthy of life as the horse, and the dog, and the cat. And no human “has” to eat meat.

      • guest

        of course we HAVE to eat meat go learn some human biology lol you are funny! Now, pay attention… I am a religious person and being so we are told what meat we are allowed to have and what not to have… cats, horses, dogs, etc are out of question! however cows, lamb chicken we can have that, that’s what they r here for…

        • concerned

          That’s your problem. You are religious where you should be spiritual.

          • Loreli25

            Let’s stick to worrying about our own problems rather than imposing our opinions of what other people’s problems are, and you have the right, unfortunately, to tell someone they shouldn’t be religious and should be spiritual instead, but  shame on you anyway.

    • Andrea

      Shelley, one step at a time. I would also love to see all slaughter banned but things do not work like that in our limited human world. We were really close to banning horse slaughter, so let’s all try this again. Horses only have us compassionate people as their voice, so lets not get overwhelmed.
      I would also love to see all animal research banned, yet the first step in the right direction is The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act which is gaining co-sponsors in Congress. Victories always come in small steps but they are all important.

      • Elsa

        My all means Andrea sign the petition to keep US horse slaughter houses closed. We will just keep shipping them to Mexico. do you have any idea how they are slaughtered there.  I do.  Hacked in the neck with a machete to paralize them.  Strung up by a hind leg and gutted while still alive,screaming in pain.
        If this petition goes through that is the death  you are subjecting them to.   How proud do you feel now.
        It’s much kinder to have it done in a regulated slaughterhouse with a bullitt to the head.   Ugly as that also sounds.  If done right it’s quick and relatively painless.  Bolt guns as used on cattle do not work on horses a bullitt through the ear does.
        I know if I was a horse I would choose the latter.

        • Anonymous

          We’re asking people to send letters to their representatives in Congress. There’s a bill floating out there that would not only end slaughter here, but ban shipping horses beyond the borders for the purpose of slaughter.

          • Elsa

            A noble idea but untill the overbreeding stops who is going to feed and house these thousands of unwanted horses.  Can’t let them loose the ranchers don’t want them on the land anymore than they want the Mustang, and look at the the number of them in holding pens.

          • Anonymous


            No question. There are still unanswered questions that would remain, but as far as I can tell, throwing up our hands and believing that horse slaughter is OK, simply isn’t OK.

          • Elsa

            Jondunn.  I didn’t say it was OK.What I said is that untill a solution is found it’s kinder to kill them in a controlled slaughter house rather than send them to Mexico to face a horrendus death.

  • Pupepause

    I tried to sign the petition but the “click here” did not work even after I signed in.  Where to we go to sign the petition? 

  • Jpretti1996

    Wanted to sign the petition but its impossible to do! Is that how it goes? This makes me sick to my stomach!

  • Jfuller421

    This is beyond disappointing. I’m speechless. I tried to sign the petition but the site won’t let me, even when I am logged in.

  • Jracca

    This is disgusting….he needs to take this out of any bill….

  • Keri

    What a beautifully written article.  President Obama’s campaign platform included a promise that he would not lift this ban.  He was elected based upon such promises.  If he thought it was in our best interest to break this promise, he needed to let his supporters know his reason.  If his supporters want to use the argument that he “didn’t know what he was signing”, I have serious concerns about their choice for the leader of our country.  In my line of employment, I read hundreds of pages of documents each week, and if I let something like this get past me, I would undoubtedly be fired.  It’s true that both parties need to take responsibility.  But that should not excuse the President for his role.

  • Anonymous

    Noticed my typo.  It should read it is all about changing a society’s view…..

  • Anonymous

    This is truly sad.  I have done my part.  It is too bad that year after year we have to keep at this.  People have very long relationships with horses.  To think that after loving your horse for thirty or forty years you could send it to slaughter is pretty sad.  The answer to unwanted animals of any kind is getting the breeding under control and educating people about committing to an animal for its lifetime as much as possible and if you can’t find a home for it.  It is about changing an attitude in our society that animals are disposable.  This includes Mexico and Canada and Europe.  It will take time but it is all about changing a societies view of something and changing its values.

    • Rllynns66

      No one has to eat meat,it’s a choice not mandatory..If you are truly against animal slaughter don’t eat meat..

      • Anonymous

        You can still eat meat but be against eating horse meat.  You do know that right?  People have long relationships with horses.  The U.S. doesn’t eat horse meat.  It’s an individual choice and there are actually some people who can’t eat a diet void of meat for health reasons.

        • Rlynns66

          There is so many different way’s to get the protein that your body needs,just letting people know that they do have a choice..  

          • Anonymous

            I understand that but not everyone feels eating meat is wrong.  There are people who feel so long as you give the animal a good life and kill it humanely without suffering and are thankful for that meat that is compassion.  It is a cultural issue.  In our country for the most part you do not have a relationship with an animal that you eat but be compassionate towards that meat animal.  Horses are animals that most people have close, long-standing relationships with and it is too disturbing for most people to eat that animal that they formed a relationship with and that is definitely understandable.  It certainly is great if you can actually be a vegan but I think the bigger issue is always have compassion and thanks for what animals give us and never form a strong relationship with a meat animal but give it a good life and be compassionate.  It gets complicated I know.  If they allow horse slaughter, a lot of people will just have horses so that they can make money in horse slaughter.  Those are the people that will always do something bad.  That is why horse slaughter has to be stopped.  But we also need to make any owner of an animal more accountable for how they treat that animal and what they do with that animal and somehow getting across to people that all animals deserve our thanks and our compassion and our protection.  We wouldn’t be alive today without animals for food, clothing, transportation, protection, etc.

          • Ileneb

            I don’t know that people would breed horses for the meat trade- they are simply too expensive to raise or keep, unlike say, in South Korea, where dogs are raised for meat and are suffering in many many ways.

          • Anonymous

            I have no doubt that there would always be people trying to make a profit off the backs of these horses if slaughtering horses became legal again.  There are always those people out there that will exploit anything.  They just would not keep the horses that long.  They slaughter young horses also.

          • Ileneb

            Should it be illegal to sell/buy horses for transport to Canada and Mexico?
            I do believe that a lot of people *do* sell their horses to the auction block, not only abandon/starve them, but sell them legally, and therefor couldn’t get nailed for cruelty.
            It’s a real mess. It hurts.

          • Anonymous

            I agree.  That would be nice if it was illegal to sell/buy horses for transport to Canada and Mexico.  

  • Golsen

    The problem is that now horses are being shipped to both Mexico and Canada for slaughter…..unless that practice ends in both countries, banning it in the U.S. is only marginally helpful.

    • Ileneb

      My thoughts exactly. Is that what’s called a Faustian bargain? If the slaughterhouses are in the U.S. and regulated and animals aren’t transported hundreds and thousands of miles, isn’t that better than what goes on now?
      I wouldn’t like to see horses slaughtered, but I realize that very few people keep them as (expensive) pets after their “use” is finished. Even B.F. is having trouble accepting too many because they are rarely adopted and they are so expensive to keep properlyl
      I feel similarly about the ghastly dog meat trade in South Korea. I certainly don’t want to eat dog, but I certainly don’t want them to experience so much unnecessary suffering in a place where they are eaten by at least some people.

  • Lovefelines2003

    The white house petition site isn’t working well.  There are other sites you can use to sign similar positions though – Care2 Causes, etc……and yes what Zoeysmom says is true, but we still need to stop this from happening so make your calls and sign the petitions.  Bringing back slaughterhouses to the U.S. would be a horrendous step backwards for all concerned about animals.  Not to mention how inhumane this is for the horses.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a little tired of seeing inflammatory headlines  essentially claiming that President Obama has OK’d the killing of horses for food. He’s being unfairly demonized across the social media world.   The fact of the matter is that this was slipped into a spending bill the President signed to keep the government afloat until the middle of this month.  What choice did he have?  Better to call out the members of Congress (from your part of the Country I might add) who no doubt were pressured by slaughterhouse lobbyists to sneak this through.  

    How about telling us to call all our representatives to support  S.1176/H.R.2966 to outlaw this horrible industry.

    • guest

      and I’m tired of people make excuses for him.  he is the president….the buck stops with him

      • Loreli25

        I’m with “guest.”  Mr. Obama is, well, has been portrayed as a relatively intelligent guy.  Slipping pork (no pun intended) into a bill like this is no surprise. If he stood up for his promises and supposed principles, he would have acted differently. I’m sick of people making excuses for him too.  Take some responsibility, good grief.

    • Mare

      Congress has been fed the lies by ranchers who over breed horses and keep the feed lots full of unwanted horses including babies, broodmares and their unwanted ranch horses that they broke down. Living in the west I see things I didn’t know before. The slaughter plants that we had in this country were not owned or run by American companies. The meat is also sold over seas. So dont’ listen to the lies contress is preaching. Its all about greed and money and the horses pay.