Monday, August 8, 2011

Taking the Easy Way Out

I recently read an article about how slaughter should be allowed again in order to 'save' the horse industry, and it occurred to me that many people out there would fail to see why this is a very bad thing, so I have decided to turn myself over to this topic. In part, I would like to clarify my position, but also, I'd like to wake up those people who have become numb to the slaughter debate, and possibly, their own feelings in regards to the noblest of creatures, the horse. I am writing this from the viewpoint that while commercial slaughter is illegal here in the U.S., horses are still being slaughtered, only now they must endure a long trip via the killer buyer's trailer to Mexico or Canada.

First, slaughter gives breeders an easy way out. Many people breed horses without the intention of keeping them or investing in their training. Just as many breed them without the benefit of knowledge of bloodlines, conformation or expertise within a competitive arena. So often, they breed mares because they just want to experience it, for themselves or their children – the actual fate of the horse is secondary to the experience. This is akin to the family who continually lets their dog or cat have litters so that their kids can have playmates. Great maybe for the kids short term, absolutely terrible for the local population of house pets.

There are also many commercial breeders who breed as many as they can – they are usually located in areas where they have access to hundreds of acres of sustainable pasture, and therefore, can produce high numbers of horses with minimal investment. These breeders tend to have annual 'production' sales, in which hundreds of yearlings are sold, usually for fairly low prices, and the breeder is still able to profit because they have very little into them and the high numbers pay off.

Slaughtering the results from these ill-fated breeding practices enables these types of breeders to go back and do it some more. It artificially props up the horse breeding industry so that there is no consequence from breeding bad horses – or breeding too many good horses. If you produce widgets, and they are inferior, no one will buy your widget and you will have to either improve your design, or get out of business. Produce more widgets than what the market demands, and you lose money, and have to get out, or adjust. If you are a restaurant owner, and produce bad food, nobody comes to your restaurant, and it closes. But if you are a horse breeder, and produce a horse with crooked legs, with a fractious disposition or inheritable genetic diseases, you can get rid of the evidence, collect the meat price of your animal, and try again next year.

Slaughter also gives trainers a way out of horses that aren't going to be successful. I have seen this from the top to the bottom tiers of trainers; a local trainer who is not talented or patient enough to get through to a horse, so they use punitive means to coerce the animal, often producing career-ending injuries in the process. I have seen high-end, big name trainers who, with all the pressure on them to win for their high paying clients, push a horse beyond its abilities, ruining it physically and mentally. It would be nice to think that these horses get rehabilitated, or get to go home and be pasture pets. But invariably, the trainer blames the horse, and they are 'sold down,' to be placed in uncertain homes, or just sent directly to slaughter.

Slaughter gives owners an easy way out too. Lots of people don't have the time, patience and knowledge necessary to work with their horses, and make them good citizens. They may begin with good intentions; horses have a romantic appeal that is undeniable, but for a myriad of reasons, the horse doesn't get what it needs. Seeking the correct path sometimes seems impossible: working the horse yourself, finding someone else who wants it, getting professional help, getting proper vet care, finding a rescue that can take the animal, all require time, money and perseverance. Other owners feel that the horse owes them something, and so would rather take money for the horse to be killed, than spend $100 to have the horse put down peacefully at home. I credit the owner's personal selfishness for many of the bad situations that horses end up in: I have known people who never, ever miss an appointment to have their nails done or drive new vehicles, but swear they don't have the money for feed or vet care.

Slaughter gives all of us an easy way out. It enables us to get rid of those pesky mustangs who dare to forage on land that could be better used for cattle grazing, mining or drilling for natural gas. It keeps sale prices for all horses at a certain level because even in the worst case scenario, you can sell your unwanted horse for meat prices, without having to spend the time finding a good home for it. Slaughter 'takes care' of the old horses that cost so much to take care of, and whom aren't useful anymore as working stock.

And what evidence is there that people who neglect their horses, when given some kind of 'out' from those horses such as being surrendered to rescue, finding some type of euthanasia, or selling them to slaughter, NEVER neglect a horse again? I would venture to say that there are plenty of repeat offenders, from those who are hoarders (a psychological affliction) to those who are simply cruel and believe they can make a buck off of animals that they have no intention of caring for.

If only we could be sure that ONLY horses that are infirm, physically deformed, mentally/emotionally imbalanced or otherwise truly unusable would be slaughtered. If only those who were required to ship and handle these horses did so with a sense of dignity and compassion. If only we could be sure that in every step along the way, the horses were soothed and calmed, with the direct result that each horse did indeed die a good death. If only Americans actually ate horse meat, so there would be some justification for producing so many direct-to-slaughter animals. (While I think the prospect of eating horse meat is disgusting, I acknowledge that many in the world do not. What I do believe in is the Native American way of using animals – eat locally, take only what you really need, and use everything in the animal.) If only we could know for sure that the people who dump their unwanted horses wouldn't turn around and buy/produce more unwanted horses.

If only...if only...if only....Seems to me that the horse industry has had this reckoning coming for a long time. It is a market correction like any other; the public no longer wants to support the horse slaughter industry, and therefore, those who produce horses must adjust, those who work with horses must adjust, and those who decide to get into horses must adjust. We must take our medicine and take responsibility for the animals in our care – giving them humane lives, investing in their quality of life, and exercising prudence when producing more animals – rather than relying on slaughter to erase our mistakes.

As for myself, I have some fantastic mares that haven't been bred in years, not because they aren't worthy, but because I am at my limit in being able to care for the horses I already have. I own several elderly horses that aren't saleable – and deserve to be retired to enjoy their golden years. I own some horses that have had injuries (not related to overwork) and would be at risk of being sent to slaughter should they be sold. Rather than producing more animals, I have to be committed to spending my time and money to keep those that I have healthy. That is my way of responding to compounded problem of having a poor economy and a slaughter ban in place – RESTRAINT.