The Veterinary Role in Ending Equine Slaughter

March 9, 2010

Horses in pen
The panic-stricken environment of a slaughter plant is particularly harsh for horses.
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

In 2009, more than 90,000 American horses were exported for slaughter. They were riding horses, children's ponies, carriage horses, race horses and wild horses, among others. The majority were young, healthy animals who could have gone on to lead productive lives.

Instead they were purchased by covert slaughterhouse agents outbidding legitimate buyers at auctions, and then shipped to slaughter over long distances in cramped trailers without food, water or rest.

The federal Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (HR 503/S 727), currently pending in Congress, would prohibit both the transport of horses for slaughter within the United States and their export to foreign slaughter plants for human consumption.

Dr. Tom Judd, DVM, an equine vet and active HSVMA member from Maine, considers himself fortunate that among his clientele in northern New England, there is a tradition of valuing horses as farm partners and companion animals rather than as commodities.

As our representative at the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention in Las Vegas in December, Dr. Judd acknowledged that many vets have not fully formulated their stance on this thorny issue. He noted divergent opinions across demographically varied attendees and observed that the newer generation of veterinary students and recent-graduate practitioners seem more supportive of actively speaking out to end equine slaughter.

What Can Veterinary Professionals Do?

In addition to supporting crucial equine protection legislation, what else can you—as a veterinary professional—do to help?

Dr. Judd suggests a number of ways colleagues can get involved:

  • Be proactive. Become a hub of equine animal healthcare and welfare information (handling, training, husbandry, etc.) for your clients and for the broader horse-owning community. On his web site, Dr. Judd emphasizes that, "The educated client is the most important factor in a horse's health."

  • Network with other veterinary practices to share equine animal health and welfare resources, broaden communication and thus, amplify your effectiveness in dealing with homeless horse cases.

  • Promote a commitment to lifetime care as an essential principle of equine companionship.

    Horses at Black Beauty Ranch
    These horses have found a permanent home and sanctuary at The HSUS' Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.The HSUS
  • Encourage adopting horses rather than purchasing or breeding them (Dr. Judd reinforces this position by minimizing his reproductive health services.). Provide your clients with professional input into their horse selection decision-making. When possible, help match suitable horses with appropriate owners. The Homes for Horses Coalition web site is a good place to start when looking for resources for adopting or re-homing a horse.

  • Perform ethical pre-adoption or pre-purchase exams in which you honestly evaluate the horse from a medical perspective and realistically address the horse's compatibility with the prospective owner's lifestyle, performance expectations and budget.

  • If you encounter an unwanted horse in your practice, provide that client with contacts through which they can explore alternatives such as shelters, sanctuaries and riding centers. Put them in touch with other clients who successfully re-homed their own horses.

  • Horse slaughter cannot be considered a humane alternative to medical euthanasia from any perspective. However, after painstaking evaluation, certain horses may still have no re-homing options. Dr. Judd believes these unfortunate cases may call for what he terms 'humane economic euthanasia.' He encourages veterinarians to rethink labeling such cases as convenience euthanasia. Instead, he believes vets should offer clients humane economic euthanasia for their horses as a viable last resort and a humane alternative to equine slaughter.
  • Offer low-cost or pro bono euthanasia services to financially stricken clients. Remember that the cost of burial or body disposal significantly increases the overall cost of humanely ending an equine companion's life.

We hope you find these suggestions helpful in your practice and in your efforts to alleviate the problem of unwanted horses and end equine slaughter.

Please call your legislators and ask them to co-sponsor and/or support the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act.  Inform them that you are a constituent and a veterinary professional.  Additional public support is urgently needed, so please encourage your family, friends, colleagues and clients to support the legislation also.