Running for the Roses as Horse Slaughter heads for the Finish Line anti-slaughter poster anti-slaughter poster

Editorial by Laura Leigh (photojournalist and founder of The issues surrounding horse slaughter are valid to domestic and wild populations

In just a few hours the running of the 139th “Run for the Roses” will break from the gate. Many horse lovers worldwide will collectively hold their breath as the fastest three year old equine masterpieces bring us “the fastest two minutes in sports.” Only after all the horses are cooled down will that breath truly be exhaled.

As a horse lover I know many horses do love to run. Some horses actually begin to “understand the game” and play it with all they have. Whether it be racing on a track, watching that cow, pulling that load or making that leap, I have seen focus that puts human athletes to shame. But every single time we humans have interfered with process to get more speed or power and pushed these animals even before they are born… and continue to push them before they are developed.

I will watch the Kentucky Derby, I can’t help myself. I will hold my breath and pray with every stride these young horses take that we do not see another Barbaro (Preakness) or Eight Belles. I can see Edgar Prado in my minds eye pulling Barbaro up, and then literally trying to keep Barbaro up, as an emergency team raced to the track. I can still hear myself scream when Eight Belles shattered her leg after she ran with the boys and came in second… I remember.

We “breed with greed.” “One in a million” is more truth than fiction. For every champion we perpetually breed many more than any market can sustain. Instead of being more selective we continue to go for quantity. Instead of getting smarter we continue to look for ways for an industry to dispose of “surplus product.”

This is not unique to horse racing but exists in every quest for that equine “masterpiece.” Quarter horses and race horse “throw aways” make up the vast majority of horses that are shipped to slaughter each year. The AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is a major backer of slaughtering horses as they continue to offer incentives for multiple registrations instead of responsible breeding. The racing industry not only floods the market with over breeding but provides a very nasty offshoot called the “nurse mare.” Nurse mares are bred to foal around the same time as the thoroughbred. As the thoroughbred mare must become pregnant by “live cover,” and not artificial insemination, in order to produce another foal as fast as possible her baby is pulled off and given to the nurse mare… and the nurse mare foal is “by-product” in need of disposal.

Instead of holding breeders accountable and making them cover the costs of caring for what they breed, that task falls on “rescues.” Private citizens that take on the task of cleaning up the mess of those that profit from irresponsibility.

The United States is very much “horse country.” Over 900,000 horses die every year in the United States.That should give you an idea of how many Americans own horses. In 2008, the last year we had horse slaughter in the US, about 100,000 horses were slaughtered. Most Americans that own horses do so responsibly and euthanize, rendered or bury, their horses. But proponents for reopening horse slaughter facilities in the US would have you believe that distraught poor people, that can no longer keep their horses, are starving them or turning them loose on public land and the slaughter brokers are here to “help” Americans with the “humane disposal” of beloved horses. This is so far from any truth it is akin to insanity.

Right now slaughter is an option for anyone willing to send horses to auction. Any American today can sell a horse to a “kill buyer” that ships animals to Mexico or Canada. About the same number of horses go to slaughter as they did when facilities, like the one in Kaufmann Texas, were in operation. The idea that anyone is inhibited from sending a horse to the most brutal death imaginable is absurd. The exact opposite has happened. Many people are actually afraid to take horses to a sale as they know killers are waiting to buy horses. An option to sell your horse at auction has actually been inhibited.

The claim that having horse slaughter in the US will somehow make this practice “safe and humane” is also insanity. First you need to actually look at the “product” produced by an “industry.” The product is produced in a non-regulated fashion that involves the use of known carcinogens wrapped in the final package. Medications including “bute” (a widely used pain killer akin to “horsey ibuprofen”), wormers, vaccines and even shampoos that clearly state “not for use in animals intended for food” are butchered and packaged for “human consumption.” Even our wild horse population held in captivity has been given wormer and vaccines prior to shipping into government warehousing. Using the term “humane” is also a joke. A captive bolt is used to supposedly stun a horse (often dozens of attempts are made and even if successful animals regain consciousness) and then it is hoisted by a rear leg to have it’s throat cut. If you think horses waiting in the slaughter line are unaware of what is awaiting them, you don’t know horses.

The market for horse meat is drying up abroad as the European Union recognizes horses coming from the United States literally represent poison. Recent discoveries of horse meat (and bute) being passed off as beef in frozen food products has rocked many European countries.

Yet in spite of horse slaughter being seen as unacceptable by 80% of Americans, the meat being poison and there being a shrinking market still states like Oklahoma and New Mexico stand ready to begin slaughtering American horses within weeks. This flawed business plan is supposedly supported by the horse “industry” through assertions made by those that have a potential to reap a profit. However the American “horse industry” is actually the vast majority of Americans and horse owners that act responsibly, and do not support horse slaughter.

Horse slaughter is an ugly business filled with violations of basic morality. Passing off poison meat, butchering pregnant mares, shipping crippled animals, polluting the environment as you extoll your virtues as “humane,” leaves more than a bad after taste.

READ the Letter here from Michelle Lujan Grisham, 1st District of New Mexico Representative to current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The letter opposes the opening of Valley Meat for horse slaughter noting past violations and expresses concerns about public health and safety. Take a moment and read the letter to learn about the plant that may be open in less than thirty days time… unless Congress Acts.

PLEASE join me today and make your voice heard.


Please take a moment to send a polite email to your federal legislators in Congress and urge them to cosponsor the SAFE Act (S. 541/H.R. 1094), a bill to ban the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.

Find your Senator:

Find your Representative in the House:

We have postcards that you can print on card stock and send to legislators. CLICK HERE

 As we head to “post” of the 139th “Run for the Roses” let’s remember the thousands and thousands of industry castaways that have gone to slaughter. Even champions are not safe. Remember Ferdinand, the winner of the 112th Kentucky Derby.
This article was written in 2006 and is just as valid today. original link here.
From Derby winner to slaughterhouse?
Updated: May 4, 2006, 2:35 PM ET

By Bill Finley | Special to

Could one of the horses running in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby some day be killed in a slaughterhouse, carved up and shipped overseas to be served as someone’s dinner? As ghastly as that may sound, it’s not the least bit impossible.

It was 20 years ago that Ferdinand, with the great Bill Shoemaker riding, swooped past the leaders and captured the 112th Kentucky Derby. In the end, that meant little. He was an unsuccessful stallion and his economic value dwindled to virtually nothing. Sixteen years after he won the Kentucky Derby, he apparently died in a slaughterhouse somewhere in Japan.

The day Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) heard of Ferdinand’s demise he was sickened, as were most Americans, most of whom feel no horse should be slaughtered, let alone a Kentucky Derby winner.

“That’s how I became involved in this issue,” Whitfield said yesterday during a conference call with reporters to drum up support for the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which, if passed, would abolish horse slaughter in this country. “I was in my office in Washington and a horseman came in and said, ‘Did you hear what happened to Ferdinand?'”

What happened was that after Ferdinand’s popularity as a stallion declined, he changed hands a few times and eventually wound up with a horse dealer named Yoshikazu Watanabe. Wantanabe told a reporter from the Blood-Horse inquiring about Ferdinand’s whereabouts: “Actually, he isn’t around anymore. He was disposed of last year.” That’s disposed of, as in sent to slaughter.

“I was shocked by it,” Whitfield said of his reaction when he heard the news. “I had been at that Derby and here on my desk I have a plate commemorating it. I looked around and saw that we were still slaughtering horses in the U.S. It is shocking and appalling.”

In 2005, more than 91,000 horses were slaughtered in this country in three slaughterhouses, all of whom are owned by foreigners. No one is quite sure how many of those were thoroughbreds, but the best guess is that about 9,000 former race horses were killed in this country last year for human consumption.

Many are horses who were either too slow or infirm to compete any longer on the racetrack. Without a trip to the breeding shed in their future, these are horses that have little or no economic value except for the whatever the meat on their bones is worth.

But it can, and does, happen to horses like Ferdinand, one-time stars whose success on the racetrack was supposed to guarantee them a safe and long retirement. Exceller, the only horse ever to beat two Triple Crown winners, which he did in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup, died in a Swedish slaughterhouse in 1997. Phantom on Tour, who ran sixth in the 1997 Kentucky Derby, might have met a similar fate if rescue groups didn’t step in before it was too late.

Most of the starters in this Kentucky Derby will go on to stud careers. Some will be worth many millions and will be treated like royalty until taking their last breath. But that isn’t always the case. Phantom on Tour dropped into a claiming race at Penn National. El Bakan, who finished third in the 1993 Preakness, wound up in $3,500 claimers. Anyone know what happened to Basic Trainee? He ran in the 1998 Kentucky Derby but was last seen in a $3,500 claimer at Timonium in 2003.

Whitfield and Congressman John Sweeney (R-NY) want to make sure that there are no more Ferdinands. They are among the primary advocates of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, a bill that has been around for seven years but is still stalled in Washington. Its failure to become law is just one of thousands of examples of how truly rotten the political process can be.

Polls show that the vast majority of Americans are against the slaughtering of horses. In Texas, home to two of this country’s three equine slaughterhouses, 72 percent of those polled said they were opposed to the slaughtering of horses for human consumption. That sentiment is shared by most members of Congress.

“Everything that has gone to the floor of the House or Senate relating to the issue of slaughter has passed by a large majority,” Whitfield said.

But the will of the people too often doesn’t matter in Congress. For varied reasons, cattlemen’s groups, the American Quarter Horse Association and, shamefully, the American Association of Equine Practitioners are pro-slaughter. These groups have gotten to a couple of powerful lawmakers who have continually found ways to keep slaughter alive.

Chief among them is Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), whom is the Chair of the House Agriculture Committee. It should come as a surprise to no one that one of the top contributors to his 2006 campaign was the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“What is frustrating is that there are two or three individuals in Congress who are thwarting the overwhelming sentiment of the American people that we put a stop to horse slaughter,” Whitfield said.

Whitfield, Sweeney and others are still fighting the good fight and trying to find a way to get horse slaughter banned in this country. But that won’t be the case May 6 when 20 horses line up for the Kentucky Derby. Will one some day be sent off to slaughter? Until the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is passed, there are no guarantees.


That article was written in 2006. In spite of legislation having a majority of Americans behind it the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act failed. Say thank you to the Cattlemen’s Ass’n and the AQHA.

TODAY we need the SAFE ACT to pass.

PLEASE write your legislators. IF you are a member of the AQHA your registration and membership fees help pay to lobby Congress to keep horse slaughter alive.

PLEASE join me today and make your voice heard.


Please take a moment to send a polite email to your federal legislators in Congress and urge them to cosponsor the SAFE Act (S. 541/H.R. 1094), a bill to ban the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.

Find your Senator:

Find your Representative in the House:

We have postcards that you can print on card stock and send to legislators. CLICK HERE



22 thoughts on “Running for the Roses as Horse Slaughter heads for the Finish Line

  1. Please.. this is the only way to get off this state by state roller-coaster of horse slaughter.. Please pass this as far and wide as possible. First ask your friends to request that their Senators and Representative Co Sponsor the Safe Acts.(S. 541/H.R. 1094) and follow it out of committee and to a successful vote on the floor. President Obama will sign it.

  2. Both these articles (current and 2006) are SPOT ON! Looking at the ages of BLM horses that “went to slaughter” shows most of them were older (15 to 20). Thanks to our “throwaway mentality” society people consider those older horses to be non-useful anymore because they can’t do things as fast, or as well as younger horses. People in this country are now dropping off dogs and cats (older) cause they are moving and don’t want them anymore. Head’s up folks – when YOU get past a certain age you may be viewed as “a burden” or “too old to be useful” and sent off the same way. Oh, no, I forgot – we aren’t allowed to do that to humans…they have insurance and can be kept alive till the insurance runs out…..

  3. I wonder what would happen if we started disposing of government officials that were not useful anymore…. OH WAIT, that would be 90% of them

    • Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
      – Mark Twain
      Think that ’bout sums it up.
      Ok, so maybe I am being unfair. It is not idiocy, it’s greed. Lobby groups put money into campaign funds. It’s not “for the people” it’s become “for the money.”

      • I know its not a solution to the cattle lobby problem but our home no longer eats meat…. one small step for the horses.

  4. The racing industry is a dirty business. Right from the owner, trainer, rider and….its all $ $ & more $. Really stiff penalties needs to be brought down on the racing industry for sending ANY race horse to slaughter, just because it did not perform. Can you imagine how many of these beauties end up? its staggering! Not only that, if slaughtering opens up again in the USA, more and more horses will be stolen for a measly few bucks.

  5. A Horse lover all of my life, as well, and no fan of the Thoroughbred Horse racing industry…I too, watched the Derby. Watching through squinted eyes, expecting the worst, like a car accident or a train wreck, I couldn’t help myself. The sheer and stunning magnificence of these creatures, their incredible athleticism at only just 3 years of age (which in itself is a problem IMHO), their willingness to perform for man’s pleasure, is a beauty to behold.

    But what of the ‘also rans’? What of those that are injured? What of the studs that can no longer perform to their owners expectations? What of the nurse mares, and of the youngsters that, by virtue of their particular nature, aren’t destined for speed?

    The Thoroughbred Racing Industry *is* finally stepping up. While over-breeding for the ultimate winner by unscrupulous breeders and trainers who breed quantity over quality will always be a problem, there are more everyday that have turned the corner under pressure from people like us. Some tracks have closed the gates to their backstretches to known kill buyers, where the term “stable to table in 7 days” originates. “Known kill buyers”. There will always be the dirty underbelly of the business, the unknown kill buyers/dealers looking to make a fast buck, even with legislation to protect our Horses…but the tracks are trying.

    OTTBs are finally being recognized, and saved from the “s” fate by orgs and individuals that respect their lineage, their true value as companions/athletes and the contribution that they provide to the entire Equine community after their racing career has ended. There are classes at Horse Shows specifically for OTTBs! Bravo!

    While rescues still overflow with Horses from not only from the Thoroughbred racing industry, but from ‘professional breeders’ from every breed organization…it’s time they ALL stepped up. First, of course, they need to use the good sense God gave them in their breeding programs and STOP over breeding. But, there needs to be an after care program within each and every breed organization. Monies from their registration fees that are specifically directed to these Horse’s post career care. There will always be a need for rescues, but if more breed organizations took care of their own, it would open up more room in rescues for the Horses and their owners that have truly fallen on hard times. And certified rescue organizations should be allowed to financially benefit in some way for stepping up and keeping these Horses out of the pipeline and in to someone’s heart for a second career.

    And it goes without saying that the backyard breeders need to use a little more logic and good sense.

    I will repeat – I am no fan of the TB racing industry…but at least they are attempting to come up with solutions. I would like to ask the AQHA and APHA to do the same. A staggering 70% of Horses sent to slaughter are registered with the AQHA. Now THAT is a problem.

    I would also like to ask everyone to follow the links provided in this blog post. Write, email, call, fax your Reps and Senators and politely INSIST that they co-sponsor the S.A.F.E. Act – House bill H.R.1094 and Senate bill S.541 respectively, and see that it reaches the President’s desk.

    BE their VOICE.

  6. Pingback: Running for the Roses as Horse Slaughter heads for the Finish Line | Canadian Horse Defence Coalition's Blog

  7. Enjoyed reading your blog, it also brought back thoughts to mind, I have not thought about in awhile. We must focus on getting the SAFE Act passed into law to stop the likes of Valley Meats, OK, MO and more we probably haven’t heard of yet waiting in the wind! The SAFE act currently has 90 house supporters, and only 7 in the senate.

    Com’on, we have lots of work to do! Poll the legislators in your entire state for their support if need be. Whatever it takes to end horse slaughter.

  8. Thank God the State of Maine has passed the two bills &no passage of such horses.Also did good job on gun control , sensible .Thanks to all my Maine officials !

  9. The bad part about these politicians, especially the US Senate , they ignore you when you try to explain something to them.
    One of the worst ones is Senator John Cornyn TX. He was one of them on the committee that had to either mark the last anti-slaughter bill up or ignore it which is what they did. I had mailed him along with about a dozen others on the committee a video that taken inside one of the horse slaughter plants in Canada along with a letter. Cornyn was the only one to answer the letter. He flat out told me that he was against any bill to stop horse slaughter and the lame reason was that it would remove a horse owners right to dispose of “their private property”. I went to and looked up how much money he has been given from in the from of donations for his reelection by lobbyists and it runs into the thousands of dollars. He seems to be the senator that is given a lot more money than the rest of them. This was in connection to the last slaughter bill that died in committee. This new bill only has 7 cosponsors in the Senate. The House bill has 91 cosponsors now. But it needs the Senate to pass the bill. If we were only having to deal with the House the other bills would have already passed years ago. These senators are as corrupt as they come and this new bill S.541 will go just like all the rest of them have done. This new bill has zero chance of getting past crooks like Cornyn. Whats needed is a executive order signed by Obama.

    • If I just had one politician here in Texas like yours in Maine… Thank them for me..
      Barbara, Texas Politicians are against everything that I am for.. I assure you that my representative Joe Barton (windmills might reduce wind, Barton) and Ted Cruz are even worse than Cornyn. I am going to call every Texas Representative to see if I can find one that will co-sponsor the bill. I love Texas and HATE Texas Politics.. I am working hard to change this through Turn Texas Blue…

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  11. Let these beautiful animals live out their lives without fear. They serve us with love, trust and loyalty.


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