2014: The Year of the Horse
As we enter 2014, the Chinese zodiac tells us that it is the year of the horse – from Jan. 31, 2014 to Feb, 18, 2015.
The ancient Chinese horse sign also indicates this year will be the year to offend “Taisui’, the god in charge of people’s fortune. Indeed, that is exactly how the year of the horse began at the legislative level with the passing of the agriculture appropriations bill, the repercussions of which are felt through ranches, farms, national parks, and tribal lands, where the oft ignored rest of the story plays out for unwanted horses and the horse industry as a whole.
It is necessary to recount a brief history before we examine the issue before us. For hundreds of thousands of years (6), man has processed horses into cheval to meet human and animal consumption demands. The business model of processing unwanted horses into an in-demand product sets a base price for the horse industry, similar to other livestock industries.
In 2007, the last domestic horse processing facility closed its doors. Reports of horse abandonment, neglect and increased export of slaughter horses began to pour in from across the U.S. So, Congress commissioned a study to examine the impact of the ending of domestic horse processing on overall horse welfare. The report, aptly named “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter” resulted in the following conclusions pertinent to this article:
a) Exports of U.S. horses to Canada and Mexico increased substantially.
b) U.S. horses are now being transported further and are not protected by U.S. laws and regulations.
c) Horse sales and prices, along with the number of shippers so employed have declined, largely in the low to medium end of the horse market.
d)Horses in the low to medium range were most impacted due to the closure of slaughter domestically, ranging from 8-21 percent. The resulting dip in prices of all horses, also due in part to the economic recession was 4-5 percent.
e) Horse welfare also declined as state and local governments and animal welfare organizations reported a rise in investigations for horse neglect. Also reported were increased numbers of horses abandoned on private or state parks.
f)The report found that horse abandonment and neglect cases are up and appear to be straining state, local, tribal. And animal rescue resources.(2)
A United Horsemen study found that 81 percent of horses that became unwanted was due to owners who could no longer afford them. The UHC study also indicated the top four most appealing solutions of all respondents were:
(1)Educate owners to purchase and own responsibly.
(2)Increase ability of private rescue/retirement facilities to care for unwanted horses.
(3) Reopen U.S. processing plants
(4) Increase options and resources to euthanize unwanted horses(1)
A disturbing observation of all respondents in the UHC study found that abuse and neglect of horses has increased. The UHC study found that among those surveyed, 85% of rescue/adoption facilities agreed that abuse and neglect of horses have increased. Comments from across the nation supported this response:
“Left to starve, abandoned or shot by owners.”
“Turned out in the wild or other properties, even the freeways.”
“Tied to a stranger’s trailer.”
“Let loose to die in the woods.”
“Left to run wild or to die on the roadside.”
“Just turned loose to fend for themselves.”
“Starved to death.”
“Just left to die without food or water.”
Conclusion: The environmental, economical, ethical and humane solutions for U.S. unwanted horses can not be wholly served by educating owners to purchase and own responsibly as that has not been a sufficient solution in other comparable industries; Increasing the ability of private rescue/retirement facilities to care for unwanted horses is cost prohibitive and the funds do not exist for this endeavor; Increasing options and resources to euthanize unwanted horses begs environmental, ethical and economical concerns for the United States population’s safety; Reopening U.S. processing plants, funding inspections for horse processing plants and regulating this industry is the ethical, environmentally friendly, economical and humane solution for U.S unwanted horses and other equines.
A horse-or any food animal– is a terrible thing to waste, especially when doing so results in not only immense suffering, unnecessary economic hardship, but also environmental damage. With a world market hungry for cheval, it would seem that these horses are not unwanted at all.
This commentary was edited for length.