A lot has been made of the billboard in West Virginia publicizing the death of Deputy Broad and urging Mountaineer to enforce the “No Horse to Slaughter” policy. Being the kind of person who likes to make their thoughts known, I had to weigh in on the discussion.
When I first heard of this billboard, I couldn’t decide if I was happy about it or not. In general, I think many people are much too critical of our sport, and while I don’t want the industry to turn a blind eye to these glaring issues, I hate the idea of PETA or the like swooping in and working to shut it down entirely. But for the most part, I figured it was a good thing. Raise awareness, maybe get someone to complain, cause Mountaineer and the industry as a whole to do something about it. However, from what I’ve just read, it seems the billboard has done quite the opposite in many ways.
Now, the problem here is one we all want to solve – horses are being sent to slaughter instead of getting the opportunity to live the full lives they deserve. The issue with that is that everyone has different ideas and opinions of the best way to do it, and it seems that some people aren’t willing to accept that there is more than one way to do most things.
I think something that has been overlooked in this discussion is, to me, the root of the problem – there are too many horses being bred each year who, to put it bluntly, should never have been born in the first place. I’m talking the horses by cheap studs and out of poorly bred, poorly performing mares. The ones that are, in essence, being condemned at birth. How do we change this? Honestly, I don’t know, besides raising awareness. I’ve had this longtime vision of homebred incentives for stakes races – in short, if a homebred for an owner wins a stakes race, they get a certain monetary bonus. Similar to state-bred programs, I suppose, but for homebreds. If people are breeding to race instead of breeding to sell, then logically they’re going to be a bit more careful with their matches and breed for a different kind of horse than those spruced-up, precocious yearlings you see marching through the sales rings every year. Also, I would assume that people are more likely to attempt to find a caring home after the track for horses that they raised from birth than they would for a horse they claimed/bought for $5k and raced a few times.
Moving past that issue to the here and now, because obviously you can’t change the fact that there are a ton of horses RIGHT NOW who need help. Organizations like CANTER do a great job at what they do, but they obviously can’t save every horse, as mentioned. They can’t really even put a solid dent into the number of horses being shipped out for slaughter.
Personally, I think that making horse slaughter illegal in the US was a bad move. Let me reiterate really quick that I am 100% against sending horses to slaughter as a way of “disposing of” them, or really in any circumstances. HOWEVER, not all people are, and the fact is there are too many horses in existance for all of them to be safely housed and well-cared for. There will always be horse slaughter in the world. There’s no denying it.
Think about this: before slaughter was banned in the US, horses were shipped in horrible conditions to the nearest slaughterhouse. Now they’re shipped in those same conditions over even greater distances to Canada or Mexico. As sick as it makes me to think about, the fact is that horses are always going to be slaughtered. Why not refocus some of the industry’s attention on legalizing horse slaughter in the US and making it humane and sanitary? If you can’t eliminate slaughter, shouldn’t you at least do as much as possible to make it less traumatic on the horses that inevitably end up there? I don’t think banning slaughter deterred many kill buyers, did it? So what good did it do, then? Is it a best-case-scenario solution? Of course not. But it’s the only logical, realistic one I can think of.
Obviously, though, you’d still have this problem of horses not being given even a chance at a second career. That cannot be ignored even if more humane methods of slaughter were implemented in the States. I’m definitely not saying that legalizing slaughter is the solution in and of itself – that’d be an easy out. I’m saying it may be necessary, if only because there’s no way I can think of to make horse slaughter go away entirely. Perhaps there could also be a way to make slaughter inconvenient/costly for the owners sending their horses away. What, I’m not sure of yet, but it can’t be an easy method of disposing of a horse that you no longer want.
From there, we(the industry) would need to work on getting some sort of second career program set up. I haven’t thought through much of it, but anything that could help organizations like CANTER would be useful, as well as some kind of additional protection for these athletes. Admittedly, I don’t know what, exactly, at this point, but OTTB organizations aren’t going to be able to do it on their own.
Now, I know I’ll probably be criticized for my proposed solution. Let me make it clear that I am a horse lover as much as anyone, and I want what’s best for them. However, I also attempt to be as realistic and logical as possible. I hate the idea of slaughtering a horse you don’t want, but not everyone shares my view, so a compromise seems to be in order, no?