Equine Vet Speaks Out Against Horse Slaughter

March 9, 2009

By Lisa Carter, DVM

Dr. Carter and her horse, Black Diamond
Dr. Lisa Carter and her beloved companion, Black Diamond.

I am a horse person, a true horse person. I get up every morning at the break of dawn, put on my coveralls, boots, hat, gloves, and winter parka to trudge across the snowy yard to take care of my horses. I feed them, water them, turn them out, clean their stalls, and give them the love that they deserve.

True horse people are responsible horse owners—but not all horse owners are horse people. Some people treat their horses like a commodity. They ride and feed their horses, pay for veterinary and farrier care, and brag about them.

The big difference between true horse people and horse owners is the long-term responsibility they take for their horses. True horse people care about their horses, even when they no longer own them or they are no longer "useful."

Taking Responsibility

I currently have a 27-year-old Arabian gelding that I showed competitively on the Class A Arabian show circuit. We won many ribbons and reserve championships. Over time, he became old and arthritic, insulin intolerant, and I was no longer able to ride him.

The easiest manner of getting rid of this responsibility would be to ship him off to an auction house where he would be sold for slaughter. I would make about $200 off the deal and be rid of this high-maintenance horse.

But I am a true horse person. I take the responsibility of horse ownership seriously and know that it is a lifelong commitment. I know that when my geriatric horse's quality of life is gone, I will humanely euthanize him by chemical injection. It is the least that I can do for this wonderful animal.

Easy Way Out

Some horse owners take the easy route to rid themselves of "useless" horses. They send their horse to an auction. He or she is left in a pen for 12-24 hours without food or water, packed up into another trailer (sometimes a double-decker cattle trailer), and hauled hundreds of miles—still without food or water—often incurring injuries during the ride due to the overcrowding.

Horse enters kill box
An American horse enters the kill box at a Mexican slaughter plant.

These horses arrive at a slaughterhouse, which is designed for cattle, in deplorable conditions and are forced into the plant to endure a terrible and painful death.

If they are lucky, they will only be struck in the head once with a captive bolt before their subsequent death. Most are not so lucky. Some very unfortunate horses end up in Mexico, where they are stabbed repeatedly in the neck in an effort to sever the spinal cord. These horses are paralyzed while being butchered, but still fully conscious.

Options are Available

I realize that not everyone has the financial ability to keep a horse that is no longer useful or is in poor health, but shipping a horse off to a slaughterhouse for a quick buck is simply wrong.

There are many options for people that are financially unable to care for their horses—they can relinquish their horse to a rescue organization, sell their horse to a carefully vetted private owner, donate their horse to a riding center, or have a veterinarian humanely euthanize their horse. For detailed information on responsible horse care, read more from The Humane Society of the United States.

What You Can Do

As well as being a true horse person, I am also an equine veterinarian. I cancelled my membership to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) because I do not agree with their pro-slaughter stance. Their position on slaughter mirrors that of big money making organizations like the American Quarter Horse Association, whose members often use slaughter as a quick and easy way of disposing of "useless" horses while making a quick buck.

Currently there is a bill going through Congress, H.R. 503, known as the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, which would make it illegal to slaughter American horses for human consumption overseas, as well as ban the export of horses for slaughter.

I beg all of you, especially true horse people, to contact your Congressman and urge them to pass this bill. Horses deserve to be treated in a humane manner—H.R. 503 will make this inhumane manner of horse disposal a thing of the past.

Dr. Lisa Carter is a veterinarian and avid horse enthusiast and owner.