It started like any other stroll around the Internet. My sister was considering getting a new horse upon her return from California. This began my foray back into the horse market. It was a market I had been absent from for years, as my two horses aged peacefully in the pasture. I wasn’t planning to get another horse until I was living at a place with more land.
But I began to look. My love of horses and connection to them had not diminished despite my role as a college student and lack of opportunity to ride my horses, one of them due to her age and one, his mental stability.
As time went by, I missed my old life as an equestrian more and more. Needless to say, I fully supported my sister’s plan.
The search was idle at first. Then, I started to see a trend and curiosity got the best of me. I had a question. Why were thoroughbred ex-racehorses so much cheaper than most other horses of the same age and training?
The answer I found was not comforting, and my nonchalant horse search became something I had not expected. What I learned about many horses , not just ex-racers, incensed the horse lover in me and led to the discovery of a web of horse slaughter much more vast and violent than I had ever known it to be.
When concern for the protection of American wild mustangs began in the 1950s, the world became more aware of the existence of horse slaughter. These horses were being rounded up and sent off to undesirable fates.
Then, the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 finalized their protection under the Bureau of Land Management.
Years passed and wild horses were still rounded up. However, now they were sent to be adopted by enchanted Americans. I presumed they were safe. I was wrong.
Turns out, I was wrong about the safety of all horses, not just the wild ones.
In the years that people were fighting to protect wild horses from slaughter, of course said slaughter still existed. Horses’ hooves are used in many items from Jell-O to glue and horsemeat is a growing delicacy in Europe.
Family horses, old horses, show horses, even wild horses, I learned, due to a loophole in the wild horse protection laws, and yes, a large number of ex–racehorses, are sent to slaughter every year.
This answered my question about the racers. Because many of these celebrated athletes lacked regular training or had leg injuries, they were cheap and often ended up at auction. From the auctions, in previous years, these horses were sent to slaughter at the three U.S. slaughter plants in existence.
Back then, I was a young girl who loved horses and had little idea of this business of murder.
When hard working advocates succeeded in closing these U.S. plants, I childishly rejoiced in the naive idea that that was the end. Horses were safe.
What I learned as an adult when I went searching for the reason these Thoroughbreds were so cheap was that slaughter was still very much in existence and the horrific experience went beyond the most grotesque of imagination.
Now days, horses are slaughtered in Mexico and Canada by the thousands. They are driven long distances in cramped trailers intended for cattle transportation. They lack adequate care and basic food and water.
At these plants, they aren’t just killed. They are stunned, often ineffectually, in the head and hung up by their hind legs. Then their throats are cut.
These are the same beautiful creatures that have amazed me with their strength and grace my entire life.
I had to do something. I was no longer shopping for a horse for my sister. I was dead set on helping the horse rescues I found online in whatever way I could. This might have meant donating horse supplies and being done with it, but no, I had made up my mind.
I was going to bring another horse into my home because I could and I firmly believe everyone should do the same if they can. It isn’t about convenience. It is about the sanctity and beauty of life, a horse’s life, any life.
What if horrible fates awaited our senior citizens, our injured friends, our retired football and basketball stars?
Before I knew it, I had filled out the appropriate paperwork and was scheduled to travel an hour outside of town to visit the foster farms housing rescued racehorses.
I first met Leslie, a woman who used to be in the racing business. Now her beautiful farm is full of rescued horses. Together she and I drove far out of town to the farm where most of the horses were kept.
Along the winding road to the other farm, owned by a delightful woman named Gayle, we passed the horrific evidence of this atrocity. Behind pole fencing in bare paddocks were many horses of all ages, sizes and degrees of health.
With many of these horses still obviously in their prime, this could have been any horse farm. Only, it wasn’t. It was a kill pen, owned by a man who buys up all kinds of horses at local auctions and ships them to Mexico on a weekly basis. They never return.
Anger boiled my blood and I felt helpless. The only thing I could do was continue on to the rescue to try and adopt a horse and in turn, help the organization save more horses.
At Gayle’s farm, I was greeted by a woman who truly has a way with horses. She speaks softly and kindly to them and they really do listen. These giant, graceful beings are completely attentive to a small-framed woman in her sixties.
Gayle and Leslie introduced me to many different and amazing horses. Through spending the last several weekends at Gayle’s farm, I have picked out a gelding named Drift. He is young, born in 2006 and a chocolate brown, almost black in color. He has a dainty head and kind eyes.
After an injury in his knee before his racing career really began, the people that owned Drift sent him to a veterinarian. When they learned he required time consuming, costly surgery, they proved their lack of concern for the horses that make them money. They were only concerned with the horse as a business asset and told the vet to euthanize Drift.
The vet knew Drift was otherwise perfectly healthy and beautiful. He refused to do the job and contacted the horse rescue.
Now, almost five years old and healthy, Drift has amazed me with his level head and willingness to please. He is a delight.
I rode him this past weekend and he did great . He is living proof that these athletes can be wonderful friends and go on to have full lives after their racing careers. He is also a testament to the people like Gayle, Leslie, and many others, who fight hard to save horses’ lives from the hands of greed.