Spring Cleaning

It's spring and with the weather warming up and summer right around the corner it's hard to concentrate on one thing at a time. There are several issues that need attention this time of year and it's hard to keep just one on the front burner while the others are simmering.

Slaughter Horses

I am not opposed to horses being slaughtered for meat. That might rankle some horse people but face it there are some horses which do not have good lives. And a humane death at a federally inspected slaughter plant is much better for the horse than a well-meaning--or perhaps not well-meaning--owner who cannot or does not take care of the animal. I would love to think that all horses will have the opportunity to live out their lives in peace and contentment well cared for by owners who protect them. I also know that is not reality. What we as horse people must insist on is that the shipment of these horses to slaughter plants is not worse than the life from which we hope to spare them.

The number of horses going to slaughter in the United States has dropped dramatically in the last decade. While on one hand this is good because you would hope that means more horses have homes. On the other hand it has caused some of the slaughter houses to close. This means longer trips for horses destined for slaughter.

But there are many questions that have not been answered fully regarding horses being transported to slaughter. How long should horses be shipped? When and how do they get water and/or feed? What kind of trailer is acceptable? Who is going to monitor these horses during shipment for health problems or injuries?

Who is responsible?

The last question is the key one. It seems right now that horses which are sold at auctions or privately to "horsemen's friends" are not covered under many--if any--laws regarding their transportation. Yes there are some state laws that mention horses; others just consider them livestock and don't specify handling. But when the federal and state statutes don't consider horses to be livestock it means they might not be protected under any laws.

A meeting sponsored by the American Horse Protection Association and the American Horse Council and scheduled to take place April 21-22 in Florida was designed to discuss the federal legislation allowing the regulation of horses being transported to slaughter. Earlier this year after two years and extensive lobbying monies were set forth to fund development of the regulations for that 1996 legislation. The late-April meeting was designed to assist federal agencies in designing the regulations.

Wild Horses/BLM

The management of wild horses on public lands has come under intense scrutiny in the past couple of years (see Up Front news item, page 14). The alleged abuse of the adoption system by federal employees. Wild horses dying due to transportation stress. Strangles outbreaks forcing the quarantine of herds destined for adoption sites. The uncontrolled population increases of wild horses on limited lands due to the eradication of natural predators. These all are problems facing whoever will be put in charge of this national resource.

And a resource it is.

Wild horses can be used to learn about natural equine behavior. Their mating and breeding habits can be studied to see if we can learn anything to help their domestic cousins. Their feet and the natural maintenance of their hooves already have pointed to the "natural" four-point trim that is sweeping the country and hopefully giving us sounder pleasure and competition horses.

How the management of these horses will evolve is a large question mark. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been in control of these horses for decades. Perhaps it is time for another branch of the federal government to take charge of our wild horse herds. I might be as bold as to suggest that Veterinary Services--a federal arm that has veterinarians and other animal scientists and researchers already on staff--is a logical choice to supervise these animals. Then the Bureau of Land Management could do what it was designed to do--manage the lands and natural resources of these federal properties.

Wild horses are as much a natural treasure as the Grand Canyon or the redwoods or the painted desert. They are a part of our national heritage.

Thousands of feral horses must be rounded up this year to keep them from overgrazing their limited ranges. They have to go somewhere. If the adoption program is abandoned then we are back to the first issue on this page--slaughter. There are alternatives for the future. Controlled reproduction is a key matter but would take veterinary resources. My guess is that it would cost less to "implant" a certain number of mares each year to prevent conception than it would to round up transport and maintain thousands of extra horses destined for adoption. Keep the adoption program but limit the number of horses on the ranges in other ways too.

Other Matters

Space and time are running out for discussions of other matters. One that must be addressed is the Horse Protection Act.

The Horse Protection Act still isn't working. How many more decades must we turn our heads to avoid seeing the soring of performance horses? Gaited horses are a beautiful sight and their natural inclinations to perform are bred from generations of champions. Yet there are still some in that industry--as there are in every equine discipline and sport--who go too far for the sake of winning. Whether it is drugs or irritants; tail nerving or "hopping" horses should win on merit not because of medication stimulation or pain.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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