Do You Care About Horses?

 If someone asked readers of this publication if they cared about horses, the reactions could range from a mildly baffled "Of course," to an offended "Of course!" Same words, close to the same meaning, but a much different emphasis. The same is true of those who deal with equine issues from the "rights" versus the "welfare" stance. On some issues, the two groups are on vehemently opposite sides; on some issues they choose to politely agree to disagree; and on still other issues, they are fighting the same battle for the same outcome, but refuse to join together because of past histories of disagreement.

At the American Veterinary Medical Association's annual meeting, two groups met that have the health and well-being of animals at heart, but two different approaches to solving problems. The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) and the American Association of Animal Welfare Veterinarians (AAAWV) held meetings the same day.

The rights group had on their agenda several issues that included equines, such as identification and theft of horses, slaughter horses (pointing out that this is a "shameful aspect of the racing industry"), and pregnant mare urine (PMU) farms. The welfare group discussed strictly equine topics, including PMU farms, racetracks, disaster, slaughter transportation, and two position issues on "the equine industry and the new social ethic" and "building bridges: issues in equine welfare for animal protection agencies, veterinarians, and the equine industry."

As far as the two most controversial topics at these gatherings--PMU farms and transport of horses to slaughter--I feel there should be much more concern about the latter.

The PMU ranchers are trying to self-regulate their industry, which is a closed market. Wyeth-Ayerst is a company that produces a hormone replacement therapy for women called Premarin that is made from the products of pregnant mare urine. The company contracts for the urine from these ranchers, and therefore has quite a bit of clout over how the mares are managed. They have recognized the public concern about the problem, and are taking steps toward making it better.

Seen as the biggest concerns of PMU mares are one, the pregnant mares are confined in narrow stalls in barns and their urine obtained via a catch-device (not a catheter) during a good part of their pregnancy; and two, the problem of the by-product of the industry--foals.

The Horse will take a personal look at this issue when the mares go back in production this winter for the collection process. My opinion is that this is a legal industry in the United States and Canada, and until it is declared illegal, horse people need to work toward ensuring that the animals involved are managed in a humane manner and the foals are given every chance to become owned rather than slaughtered.

The transportation of horses to slaughter should be a concern of every horse owner, no matter the breed or discipline, no matter the price tag of the animals involved, no matter the part of the country in which the horses reside. The theft of horses which end up being hauled to slaughter is a problem, albeit not one of tremendous proportions. But for the horses which are sold and destined for slaughter, they currently are at the mercy of those who own and drive the trucks.

There are six slaughter plants left in the United States that are federally inspected for processing horse meat. Once horses reach the plant, federal regulations cover their treatment. It is the sometimes long and unregulated trip from a private farm or public auction to the slaughter plant that should be of concern to anyone who cares about horses.

The number of horses slaughtered in the United States or U.S. horses shipped to slaughter in Canada is decreasing each year. There were reported to be fewer than 150,000 horses slaughtered in 1995, down from nearly 290,000 in 1992. The general economy, and the economy of the horse industry itself, is reflected in those numbers. There was a larger population of horses, and a shrinking budget to keep them, in the late '80s and early '90s.

Today, there is a demand for horses by owners, making the number available for the slaughter market smaller. The U.S. Congress passed legislation concerning shipping horses to slaughter on March 28 (The Horse of May 1996, page 15), but the actual regulations and enforcement are left up to the USDA, which will begin the process of "laying down the law" later this fall.

On the other side of the coin, horse meat is considered a lean and healthy alternative to beef in Europe, and the European Community right now is running scared of beef because of "mad cow disease." And when there is demand for a product, especially an exportable product, the supply will be found. So, horse owners need to keep track of animals, have thorough identification ready in case there is a theft, and continue to push the federal government to establish laws that will give humane conditions and handling to those horses whose final ride is to the slaughter house.

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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