So once again the issue of horse slaughter has come up, as it seems to do every few months or so. Under normal circumstances, it’s a subject I refuse to touch with a ten foot pole. As a matter of fact, it’s a subject that I purposely run away from whenever it presents itself because it is such an inherently ugly subject. The only reason I’m touching it this time is because when this article came up on my news feed-
-followed by this post-
they also came with questions. And because you asked, I must answer. Please bear in mind that I am not an investigative reporter, and so I have to work with what I can glean from the internet (which as we all know is a terribly reliable news source) and try to base things off of logic. Also, I am only one opinion, and while I’m talking about large groups having just one opinion, I am generalizing and obviously cannot speak for everyone who (figuratively) has a dog in this fight. And yes, I’m so wary of this subject that I have to put in a disclaimer that I don’t know everything and am not an authoritative source. It’s an ugly subject, and I’m trying to represent both sides with as much depth and fairness as possible. Just remember as you read: This is a blog, not an academic research inquiry, and I’m doing the best I can.
These questions were along the lines of “Why are they even considering this? Why would anyone do this? Can’t they come up with any other options?”
The first thing I’m going to say is that when it comes down to it, nobody wants to slaughter these horses. Yes, there are plenty of advocates of horse slaughter being brought back in the US for both domestic and wild horses, but even the most avid advocates for horse slaughter don’t wake up in the morning and say, “You know what would make this day perfect? Going out and killing some ponies.” If you have that kind of mentality, you have much bigger problems than horse slaughter and I would recommend starting with psychoanalysis and therapy to start sorting those out. Even if you are a stone cold career politician, being responsible for the slaughter of 44,000 horses is not a great resume builder. So whenever horse slaughter comes up and is followed by public outrage, I imagine that the people who would be responsible for the horse slaughter are relieved because then they can say “Due to public outrage, we cannot follow through with this decision.”
So if no one wants to be responsible for the slaughter of all of these horses, why does it keep coming up?
The main reason that the BLM has to consider it very seriously is that even when you’re not doing anything with them, horses cost money.
Bear in mind, this isn’t like picking up a new household pet, like a goldfish, where you spend thirty to a hundred bucks on a big fish tank and then buy a few dollars worth of fish food every few months. Horses take up a lot of space and need a lot of good food. If you don’t want to buy hay, one adult horse needs approximately three acres of good forage for grazing. I would prefer more, but three acres is the minimum. I want to say that a lot of the horses that they are talking about are in places like Nevada. Nevada is famous for two things: Las Vegas and being America’s Frying Pan. Where you may only need three acres in Pennsylvania or Ohio to feed a single horse, that amount of land could easily triple (or more) for an arid state like Nevada. If there’s not enough grass for the horses to graze on, then the BLM has to buy hay for them, and they may not have the budget or infrastructure to make sure that all of the horses get the food they need. On top of that, whatever land the BLM runs these horses on, they also have to try to maintain, which also costs money. Without the funds to back them, even wild horses suffer.
The cattle industry is obviously going to advocate for horse slaughter because they want access to that BLM land to graze cattle on. The reason that the cattle industry wants access to the BLM land is because they can lease it for about a third of the cost of what it would take to lease private property. The BLM has to consider what the cattle industry is offering because a) right now no one is leasing that land, so the cost of maintenance isn’t even being covered b) cattle will usually be run on BLM land seasonally, so overgrazing isn’t nearly so much of a hazard c) cattle have stronger stomachs than horses (having four stomachs each really helps) and can eat some forage that horses usually avoid, so it’s more efficient use of the land, and of course, the most obvious of all reasons d) The cattle industry has a lot of money (I think my husband and his love for 72 oz steaks has contributed greatly to their wealth), and the BLM needs it.
Now, what may be surprising is how many people in the horse industry condone horse slaughter. Now, before you go wondering what is wrong with horse people, remember that every time we see these horses, we see our friends, our coworkers, and our partners. For the horse industry, it’s a socioeconomic issue, and unfortunately it’s one where the wild horses are most inclined to suffer.
Horses are like diamonds. They’re shiny, pretty, make girls happy, and the going price is greatly determined by supply and demand. The difference is that 85% of the diamond industry is controlled by De Beers; from mines to distribution. Because De Beers just about has a monopoly on the diamond industry, they can control the industry’s supply. Diamonds aren’t actually all that rare nor all that valuable; they’re essentially shiny pieces of pressure-cooked coal. (Even if we occasionally use them for industrial purposes, we pay the big bucks for a bunch of rocks because they’re shiny. That is the marvel of advertising.) The horse industry is NOT controlled by one body, which is great, because I think I would curl up and cry if the horse industry was controlled by one corporation. We need a lot of diversity in this business. But this means that we can’t control supply and demand, and right now, we have a lot of supply and not enough demand.
For the sake of brevity (and clarity), I’m going to break down horse breeding into three main categories: Registered Horses, Grade Horses, and Wild Horses.
Registered Horses are animals that have been bred within the restrictions and confines of a governing body or association. Probably the most common of the breeding associations in the US are the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and the Jockey Club (which governs Thoroughbred breeding in the US). The main requirement for a horse to be a “Registered Horse” is that they are documented in the breed book, which means that they have paperwork showing the horse’s illustrious pedigree. There can be additional requirements, like the coloration of the horse (ex: Friesians), or requirements based on the horse’s conformation and capacity to reach a certain level of training by a certain age (ex: Trakehners and Holsteiners). Stereotypically, the way that you produce really nice registered horses is that you pay a stud fee, bring your expensive mare to a pretty expensive stable to meet a very expensive stallion and hope that they produce exceptionally expensive babies, and then you raise those expensive babies to become very expensive grown up horses who can make even more expensive babies. It doesn’t correlate exactly, but Registered Horses are about the equivalent of purebred dogs, just without so many genetic issues from severe inbreeding.
Grade Horses are more like the mutts of the horse world. Now, they may be pure bred horses that the owner/breeder never bothered to register with the governing association, or they may have no specific breeding whatsoever. A lot of the time, these horses are “backyard bred.” Essentially, all that means is that two domestic horses got put in a pasture together and decided that they liked each other very much, and the owner walked out a little while later and discovered that the mare was pregnant and the stallion was looking very pleased with himself.
Wild Horses are, well, wild. The closest equivalent might be that they are like the dingoes of the horse world, where they can be domesticated and trained, but they’re generally considered feral and prefer not to have a whole lot to do with humans. Most of the wild horses that the BLM deals with are Mustangs, but there are some horses that just got turned loose because the owner couldn’t take care of them, and within a generation or two their offspring don’t have much desire to deal with humans either.
Now, in places like Germany, where breeding regulations are pretty strict, they are producing some really nice horses that go for a lot of money (I usually see them selling for approximately $30,000-$100,000, depending on the amount of training). We have Registered Horses in the US, but they often don’t sell for nearly so much. The problem that we have in the US is that the horse market is completely flooded with grade horses that have been backyard bred and that people are trying to sell because they can’t afford to take care of so many horses, and selling their excess animals is a way to make a quick buck. It used to be that you could sell a grade horse with minimal training (30-90 days, usually) for about $2,000. Now, I would say that you’re lucky to get $500-$1,000 for one of those horses, and it’s not necessarily that the quality of training has gone down, it’s just that everyone has a greenbroke, grade horse to sell, and no one is buying.
I wish that I could say that the increased supply of horses and the drop in prices means that more people are getting interested in horses and buying them and taking lessons and generally falling in love with horses again, but that’s just not really the case. The main reason is the same reason that the BLM is considering slaughtering so many wild horses, which is that horses are not cheap. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that part of it is that you can’t sneak a horse into your dorm room when you go to college and expect to get away with it.
The reason I say that is because I tried to convince my mom to let me keep a horse in my closet when I was younger, and for some reason she didn’t fall for it. With the way that the US’s economy is right now, with the cost of living rising, and with increasing expectations for all of the things that people are supposed to do with their lives, I think a lot of people know that they can’t devote the time that a horse deserves, and they realize that it’s more cost effective to just buy a gaming system instead.
Do you see the problem? We did kind of shoot ourselves in the foot with all of the backyard breeding, but many horse people find themselves condoning and advocating for horse slaughter (of both domestic and wild horses) because since we cannot increase demand, all we can think to do is decrease supply.
Okay, whatever, that’s nice. Now we know why a bunch of people want to kill horses. But aren’t there other options besides horse slaughter? What about adoption? What about castration? Why aren’t those on the table?
Those options are on the table. The BLM is trying soooooooo hard to get these wild horses adopted. They will PAY you to adopt these horses and train them. For a while I was going to start doing this, but I ran into a few issues along the way. Number one was that it involved a surprising amount of paperwork. Some of this was to describe your capabilities as a humane horse trainer, some of it was to help develop a budget for how much it would cost for you to train and sell these horses, and some of it was to set your business up as a government contractor. Eventually, I chose not to do it at this time because a) I don’t own the land and facilities that would be required, and b) I am not confident enough in my own skill yet to set myself up as a business (ever tried thinking up a really good, original business name?), let alone to become a government contractor. If I find myself in a place where I can do it, will I do it someday? Heck yeah. But for some people, the reason to not adopt a Mustang doesn’t have to do with paperwork: it has to do with the Mustang.
Mustangs are almost notoriously hard to train. They’ve usually had very few positive interactions with humans, and it shows. Training horses can be hard enough, but training one that is legitimately wild takes a lot of time and patience, and not every horse trainer has those in spades. For example, trying to get a domestic horse into a trailer for the first time can be an extremely trying experience. The idea of getting a wild horse (who has never been so trapped before) to climb into a metal box on wheels kind of makes me cringe. Not a lot of trainers look forward to that. Many of the trainers who take on Mustangs do so as a way to test and show their training prowess. But most trainers out there will choose a cheap, grade horse who has had the chance at positive interactions with humans long before they take on a scared Mustang.
Okay, so what about castration? That’s a way to reduce the mustang population without slaughtering them all, right?
Yes, it is. As a matter of fact, we castrate a lot of domestic male horses because a) they’re easier to work with when you don’t have all that extra testosterone mucking things up, and b) you can keep them in a pasture with all of the mares without coming out one morning to find a new little life that you weren’t prepared for out there. But the reason that works is because we can regulate the fact that those geldings and mares are out in the field together and that there is not a stallion out there with them. That’s not really possible for the BLM, because even if they were to turn 90% of the males into geldings, the 10% who remained stallions would be perfectly happy to step up their game. So the population wouldn’t really be reduced: it’s just that the gene pool would be less varied.
If the BLM wanted to go with the castration route, what they would have to consider doing is castrating some of the mares as well as the stallions, which is how we’re able to keep so much of the dog population manageable, and it really is a great tactic to use when you want to reduce the population of stray dogs over time. There are two problems with that though.
1) The reason that you castrate both male and female stray dogs is because then the dogs are able to maintain control over their territories and keep other stray dogs from moving in. Horses aren’t territorial in the same way that dogs are though, so it sort of defeats the purpose.
2) When you castrate a mare, you greatly reduce the likelihood of her being adopted. Even though many trainers will choose a grade horse over a Mustang, there are still people out there who will adopt a mare for her breeding capacity. The foal will be much easier to work with because it will have had exposure to humans, and one thing Mustangs are valued for is their toughness. If I recall correctly, I think the US Cavalry (back in the day when they still used horses) used to cross breed Thoroughbreds and Mustangs. It gave the offspring the speed and athleticism of the Thoroughbred and the stamina and toughness of the Mustang. Apparently it was a pretty potent cross; one that I wouldn’t mind testing out one day.
One Final Thought
When you talk to some horse people about horse slaughter, they will specifically say that they are advocates for bringing back horse slaughter, specifically in the US. The reason for this is that some time ago, the sale of horse meat was banned in the US, and that effectively shut down most of the horse slaughter industry. Now, I totally appreciate why that ban was passed, because the idea of eating horse meat makes me want to cry and vomit all at once, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people feel the same way. The big reason that so many horse people want to bring horse slaughter back to the US is because horses are still being slaughtered: just not here. They’re being shipped across the border into Mexico to be slaughtered, and it’s not an easy trip. As often as not, the horses are neglected, starved, dehydrated, and abused by the time they reach a slaughter house in Mexico. The reason so many people want horse slaughter brought back to the US is so that it can be regulated, and as far as I’m concerned, you can regulate the crap out of it and I will be fine with that. Deciding to put down a horse, whether it’s domestic or wild, is an ugly decision to make. But many horse people want to know that if they have to make that call, that their horses won’t suffer, and that’s a fair thing to ask.
Not Good Enough? Here’s some more to get you started.
Take a look at
- The BLM Adoption Program
- Consider becoming a TIP trainer
- Learn more about mustang training and adoption
- Learn more straight from the BLM
- Consider donating- just type “Wild Mustang Donations” into Google and you can take your pick. However, bear in mind that some of the charities may not put donations directly toward the horses, so do your research and choose wisely.
- Talk to your representatives in Congress to voice your opinion
- JUST KEEP LOOKING for more information and learning everything you can
- As you encounter more and more information, keep as open of a mind as possible and examine all the facts carefully.
I am not able to post any links directly to groups who advocate horse slaughter at this time because I cannot sort through all of the impossible and ugly websites out there to find the good ones. I apologize for the inconvenience.