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

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  • Really this is great reading Thanks so much for sharing them with us!! Keep up it

  • Madrsrch

    What next?  Eating our dogs and cats when their care becomes inconvenient?

  • Judy

    I can’t believe the President sign that.

  • Slepak

    Beautifully written.  Thank you Mr. Battista.  I’ve already petitioned here and I wrote my own letter on just yesterday.  

  • Kathleen

     .   I think it is correct to conclude  that shipment of horses to Mexico or Canada leads to more  barbarism than slaughtering the animals in this country,  However, I am asking for a  ban on  U.S.slaughterhouses AND the exportation of horses out of the country for slaughter..  I would also eliminate that clever little clause “for human consumprtion.”  Why not  a complete ban on horse slaughter without exception?
        Has anyone heard that Canada  has recently considered  a ban on horse slaughter?  Or is that just wishful thinking?

    • Elsa

      yes they have and unfortunattely that will not stop the slaughter but leave nowhere else to go but to the horror of the Mexican slaughter houses.
      Like the slaugher houses in the US that Canadian ones have guidlines and are inspecteded.

  • Kathleen Bauer

    I firmly believe with others that slaughter of ALL animals should cease  It is barbaric. I do understand that horses endure  brutal deaths and unbelievably  traumatic and inhumane transportation nighmares  The terror felt by all these desperate animals is horrifying 
    We are fighting to end the suffering of all living things, but here ia e chance to move one step closer to  that goal.  Since Americans consider horses and dogs to be companion animals, there is more hope of enlisting the public’s support of  a total ban on all horse slaughter.  This ban should not be limited to the “market” for human consumptio , but should encompass slaughter for pet foods, etc.
    We must take advantage of EVERY move toward our goal.  It is on ongoing battle.

  • Freyja9

    While I hate horse slaughter, I hate more the inhumane was they are treated in Mexico. Rather than letting them starve, it seems better for US to kill them in a more humane way – in our own regulated slaughter houses. The best solution of all would, of course, be to discourage  so much breeding. As in the case of dogs and cats, fewer numbers would lead to less abuse and slaughter.

    • guest

      You are so right.  It’s time we, humanely as slaughter can be, take care of our own mess we have created instead of shipping to Mexico with the “out of sight out of mind” attitude.

  • Mybuelah

    Horses are loving and gentle souls if treated with respect therefore, I want these lovely souls to be saved and not slaughtered like a third world would do.  They help mankind in many ways and can be utililized in many different ways to make our lives easier and fulfull our mental needs as humans

  • Mauiranch

    To even begin to solve this problem, we need to approach the other side of the equation, too.  I love horses – not just the “idea” of horses.  I grew up with them, learned from them, and still rescue them.  From what I can tell, the biggest problem is the same as it is for our smaller companion animals:  too many irresponsible breeders.  I know of at least one cutting horse breeder who will bring three hundred foals into the world each year, choose the two or three most promising, and send the rest to auction.  There are back yard breeders, too, who propagate unfortunate genetic traits without thinking twice.  There should be a breeders fee/tax that will cause people to think twice before making more horses.  When there is a flood, we need to fix the dam.

  • Kkruse

    So what happens to all the horses that nobody wants? They will still go to slaughter, but instead of having a chance to be shipped for only a short distance and end up possibly in a slaughter house with decent treatment, they won’t have that chance! Instead, they’ll be shipped a long distance and end up in Mexico where they’ll be mistreated until the very last minute. HOW IS THAT AN IMPROVEMENT??? Think what you wish for!!! Why don’t you instead promote very select breeding and stop the practice of increasing the numbers of these beautiful animals just because it’s “so neat to have a baby foal”, and then that poor animal ends up being shipped to Mexico since nobody thought it through. Start at the beginning, not at the end of this process. And please don’t be short sighted and stop slaughter where it could actually be a lot more humane. How can you close your eyes to the fact that they will be slaughterted as long as we have a “surplus”? Is it really so easy for you to send them off to Mexico just to keep your own hands clean? Let the Mexicans do the dirty work? Just as long as you can stand up and proudly declare : At least WE are not slaughtering. Seems very arrogant to me. Do what’s in the best interest of the horse, not just for your own benefit!

    • Elsa

      I agree completely with your post Kkruse.
      BE CAREFULL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.  The reallity could backfire as it has in the case of horse slaughter. The horses that we now send to slaughter are suffering more with the long transport and the way they are killed in Mexico than they ever did before the US closed their horse slaughter facilities.

    • Ann Hepworth

      I agree that banning US slaughter was only half the solution. The real problem, of course, is over breeding. But since the US slaughter plants have closed down, the price of horse meat has drastically decreased and the massive amounts of backyard breeding in my area has virtually shut down. If we again provide an easy (and lucrative) way of disposing of horses, the breeding will immediately increase again. Yes, Mexico is horrific, no question. What needs to happen is to completely ban the sale of horses sold for human consumption. Which, by the way, I’m not a vegetarian but I am very careful about where my meat comes from and what kind of nasty hormones/steroids/antibiotics it might contain and how the animal was treated before and during slaughter. Horse meat from public auctions can have WHO KNOWS what in it, and shoudln’t be used for any kind of consumption – animal or human.

  • Dottie

    I’ve tried several times to sign the petition; I can get to the government site but not the petition page to sign.  A message notes the page is not available, etc.  I have sent a message to my reps, but not sure they care.  I’ll keep trying…this is worth every effort and any amount of time it takes.

  • Nature Girl

    I don’t want to see horses slaughtered either but if by signing this petition we are going to go back to the policy of them being exported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter than we haven’t gained anything. 

  • Rosered214

    Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. I have always loved horses and their courage and bravery under fire has earned them the Medal of Honor….not the slaughter house.

  • Tia

    Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.

  • Anonymous

    I have signed the petiton and it was sent to senators of my state. 2 replies from 2 of them. It seems to me that they don’t have much an interest in it, or maybe I was being blown off. Just have to keep trying, maybe it will penetrate their minds.

  • Margykr

    Mare, you are not being truthful. Ranchers do NOT overbreed horses. Period.

  • Margykr

    This is shameful. Shame on Battista too, way too extreme. Bringing up war episodes of years ago is irrelevant, intended only to inflame readers; times have changed. I am a horse lover, but the truth is, especially in these hard times, that not all can be saved. Europeans have always eaten horsemeat, which I find not acceptable, but it’s not my culture. Though horses are beautiful, culling has to happen. How many of you on this blog take in horses to insure they have a happy life? I bet few, and you are not very knowledgeable. This argument cannot be won by simplistic emotion; sometimes that has to be set aside for unpleasant realities.
    I also bet few if any of you have ever seen how hideous it is to see starving deer run in front of trains, and be killed. I have. That is NOT a better outcome, suffering-wise, than using them as food.
    I suspect this blog appeals mightily to vegans; Best Friends is not the proper venue for vegan propaganda. I find this report offensive because the horse population in USA is not sustainable and has not been for some time, and to use this site to oppose sensible, if not happy, solutions is wrong.
    Anti-Battista though it be, yes, some animals are correctly used for food. He’s in a tiny vegan minority trying to promote that agenda, and guilt if one doesn’t fall for it; eating meat is an acceptable fact of all human history. 
    Yes, there are moral questions for some; I understand your feelings. But why is it more moral to allow deer, elk, horses to starve and die a horrid, painful death? People with horses often can’t afford to maintain them in any humane manner anymore. That’s reality. Nice, no. Fact? Yes.
    To all city folk here, I sympathize, but many of you are ignorant, as you’re not the ones doing the paying. You have no right to foist those expenses off on country folk. Either you step up and pay yourselves, buy land for pasture, incur vet and feed expenses, budget your income for saving all, or else don’t pass judgment. When you start paying for real, you’ll be credible.
    Otherwise, you’re all about whining.
    Please stop romanticizing, as you insist others do the paying.
    I suppose you’re all offended, but every horse cannot be saved. If some are used for food, that’s not swell, but is better than starvation via indiscriminate breeding or range destruction.
    I haven’t owned a horse for years, but loved and cared for those I had. 
    It’s time to face what really happens, not be sappy wish-fors.
    As a long-time Best Friends member, but also a Westerner, and also one who practices TNR, I find this call to Obama to be very out of line.
    Thank you. I don’t do anonymous, so, sincerely,
    Margy Robertson
    Monte Vista, CO  

  • Finyin

    If we legalize slaughter of horses who are aged or infirm, that is politically acceptable to me.  We do breed performance quarter horses and once in a blue moon we find one who shouldn’t progress past yearling age because they will break down during training.  It is mercy to put them down and if they and provide nutrition also, that is a plus, I think.  They are otherwise healthy.

  • Rosemaryp

    How could anyone leave horses out to die and starve or send to a slaughter? This is sick and inhumane

  • renegadepaints

    I have owned, bred and shown horses for over 50 years. If any horse I ever owned ended up on hard times I bought it back and it stayed here until it died and was buried here. We quit breeding our mares 10 years ago because I saw the writing on the wall about the economy. I have several rescue horses on my place, including one that was turned loose on a highway and found just before it was hit. A very caring Police Officer called me and I picked it up. It is old, blind in one eye and a hard keeper but she deserves to die with dignity so she will stay here until that time. I do not believe in slaughter – our horses are fed a diet of supplements, have wormer, shots, etc and should never be used for human consumption. But, above that point – how can a person with any soul at all look into the eyes of a horse and kill it!!! Horses around here are stolen all the time and are never seen again because they end up in Mexico or Canada. Mexico is the worse because they stab horses there to paralyze them then string them up by one leg and gut them while listening to the horse scream in pain and terror. The Mexican men who do this are heartless animals that need to be treated the same way. There are WAY more of US than there are people in Washington – STAND UP AND FIGHT FOR THE HORSES BECAUSE THEY CANNOT FIGHT FOR THEMSELVES!!!!! We all need to get off our lazy butts and take this country back and put God back where he should be – when GOD rules – there will be peace!

  • Mebjet_2000

    No matter what they say, horse slaughter is not a humane way to dispose of a unwanted horse. There are other more humane ways. Dying a slow death hanging by one leg in a slaughter plant, being shipped in over crowded trucks for days with no food and water and man handled along the way. These are not broken down horses. These are beautiful horses that we trust to carry us safely. We trust them with our children and spoil them with love, then dispose of them in a horrible manner. NO we can’t let this happen. With the economy like it is, I am so affraid the new thing will be to steal horses and sell them to the plants before the owners can find them. I have two draft rescues that I would defend to the end. I saved them from slaughter and they have saved me and have given me so much love. Not only is it inhumane, but we feed our horses so many drugs, wormers etc that are hazzardus to humans. Forget about mad cow, eat horse meat tainted with drugs.

  • Joan Davanzo

    I am appalled at the Administration’s callous disregard of the will of the American people concerning horse slaughter and wild horses. I am so disappointed in Obama and his failure to get it about how important animals and the environment are to the American people.

  • M Peacock

    Shame on America. What’s next dogs and cats? Kindness to animals builds a better world for all of us. Horses should not be shipped anywhere for slaughter, not Mexico, not Canada and not the US. Equine slaughter is not humane euthanasia.  The slaughter of horses and other equines simply cannot be made humane: Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM & former Chief USDA Inspector, told Congress in 2008 that the captive bolt used to slaughter horses is simply not effective. Horses and other equines, in particular, are very sensitive about anything coming towards their heads and cannot be restrained as required for effective stunning. Dr. Friedlander stated, “These animals regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck, they are fully aware they are being vivisected.” The Government Accountability Office and dozens of veterinarians and other witnesses have confirmed that ineffective stunning is common and animals are conscious during slaughter. It is simply not possible for USDA/APHIS to make equine slaughter humane and it is a myth to pretend otherwise. 
    Allowing horse slaughter is simply about a few people profiting from the suffering of horses. The horse breeders from the race track to the rodeo arena need to step up and stop irresponsible breeding. 

  • Sandy Byland

    Excellent, Francis. People forget that if not for horses, we would not have the society we have  today. Until recent times, horses plowed our fields, carried us to new lands by pulling our wagons, fought and died with us in battle, brought our fruits, vegetables and ice to our doors, carried our firemen to save our homes from burning, carried countless millions on their backs to provide us with transportation in every corner of the earth. And they have been our inspiration for courage, strength, power and love. When we look at our most inspiring statues throughout the planet, we see people on great and beautiful steeds. Horses have been the right arm of humanity (if we can call it that) for nearly 6,000 years – the entire length of recorded history. And throughout it all, horses have been our loyal and lasting companions. They have been our friends. And how do we treat this magnificent friend? We figure we can kill horses in nicer conditions than our neighbors to the north and south. What about the option of setting up preserves and sanctuaries where people can volunteer and come to see horses for appreciation, enrichment, beauty and joy – to choose to give them life instead of death? There are things that will die with horses that can contribute so greatly to the spirit of humankind which will be missed by our children. We pass along to them instead the option to kill. To my last breathe, I will use my voice, talents, vision, passion and purpose to do what I can to protect our beautiful horses.