For many horses, the journey to slaughter begins at a local livestock auction. In our area this is similar to Mike's Auction in Mira Loma. Show horses, camp and lesson horses, race horses, backyard companions, carriage horses, pregnant horses, even wild horses can be standing in a barn or pasture one day, and the next day find themselves loaded onto a trailer, headed for the weekly livestock auction.
When you hear the term "This horse is going to the auction" this is basically the same thing as going to the slaughter. About 90% of horses end up as a slaughter in Mexico or Canada after going to a US auction. It is nearly 100% for older horses. We get emails on a regular basis that there is a horse to be given away "for free" on Craigslist. This is a guarantee that a "Kill Buyer" will be looking for free horses and they will end up at a slaughter house.
Many horse owners bring their horses to these auctions with the expectation that the horse will find a good home. However, the pace of the auction and the often chaotic environment gives sellers little opportunity to show off their horse's strong points, and it gives buyers little chance to assess whether a particular horse is a good fit for them. Sellers often do not realize that middlemen for foreign-owned slaughter plantsâ€”called killer buyersâ€”frequent these auctions, looking for young, healthy horses who will bring a good price at the slaughter plant.
Purchased by Killer Buyers
When a horse is ridden or run loose into the auction ring, the auctioneer will quickly try to run up the bidding price. Often, killer buyers can be seen standing inside the auction ring, communicating directly with the auctioneer. At many auctions, would-be buyers include not only families looking for riding horses, but also horse rescue organizations trying to outbid killer buyers for horses that they know they can rehabilitate and adopt into loving homes.
While the auction environment is stressful, confusing and dangerous for horses, once they are purchased by killer buyers, their suffering intensifies. Driven by profit, the killer buyer will cram as many horses as possible onto a livestock trailer for the long journey to a feedlot or foreign owned slaughter plant. As in the auction pens, no regard is given for the age, sex, breed or temperament of the horses. In the crowded, cramped confines of the trailer, fighting, serious injury and even death are frequent occurrences. Once the horses are loaded onto trucks, they may remain there for days at a time, with no food, rest or water.
Transport to Slaughter
While some state laws prohibit the transport of horses on double decker trailers (designed for shorter-necked species such as cattle and pigs), current federal regulations allow horses to be transported on these trucks to any destination except directly to a slaughter plant. On these trailers, horses are forced into a stooped, unnatural position, unable to maintain their balance.
Graphic photos depict horses with missing and dangling eyes and legs, severe head and back injuriesâ€”even horses dead on arrival. In recent years, there have been several horrific accidents involving horses being transported to slaughter on double-decker trailers. Some of these double-decker trailers have been outlawed in certain states.
Even in regular trailers, long distance travel without food, water, or rest is a recipe for disaster. Horses who fall down or are injured en route are considered "the cost of doing business." Even under the transport regulations, horses who are heavily pregnant, missing an eye or otherwise injured can be legally hauled for more than 24 hours at a time.
Arrival at the Slaughter Plant
Upon arrival at the slaughter plant, the horses are unloaded into holding pens already crowded with other horses. Highly sensitive prey animals who are hardwired for survival, the horses are keenly aware of the activities around them. They can sense the fear and suffering of the horses being brutally killed inside the slaughter plant, and the smell of blood and death in the air around them. It is in these crowded holding pens that mares can give birth to foals and many horses who never should have been transported to slaughter in the first place are found dead or dying due to injuries suffered in transport.
The Slaughter Process
From the holding pens, horses are eventually herded through narrow alleys into the "kill chutes". In some plants, a captive bolt gun is used to drive a metal rod into the horse's head to paralyze (but not kill) the horse. Because of the anatomy, behavioral patterns and strong survival instincts of the horses, it is very difficult for the untrained slaughter plant workers to accurately aim the captive boltâ€”leading to numerous painful blows to the horse's head and body. In other plants, the horses are shot in the head before being hung by one leg to be bled out and butchered. In Mexican plants, a small boning knife known as a puntilla is used to stab the horse repeatedly in the spine, causing paralysis and eventual asphyxiation, but not unconsciousness. Some horses are still conscious as they are bled out and dismembered.
Nearly all of the horses at Villa Chardonnay would eventually end up in a slaughter house if they were not rescued by us.
The resumption of commercial horse slaughter in the U.S. was blocked in January of 2014 as President Obama signed a budget measure that withholds money for required federal inspections of the slaughtering process.
Although the measure provides temporary funding for the federal government, it stops the Agriculture Department from spending money for inspections necessary for slaughterhouses to ship horse meat interstate and eventually export it to overseas consumers.
"This clear message from Washington echoes the opinions of an overwhelming number of Americans from coast to coast: horse slaughter is abhorrent and unacceptable," said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The president's action came as a New Mexico judge granted a preliminary injunction against a Roswell company from moving forward with its plans to start slaughtering horses.
The ruling by state District Judge Matthew Wilson will keep alive a lawsuit by Attorney General Gary King, who's seeking to permanently block horse slaughter in New Mexico. The lawsuit could serve as a possible insurance plan in case the federal government provides inspection funding in the future.
Blair Dunn, a lawyer for Valley Meat, said the company will continue to wage a legal fight to convert its cattle processing plant to the slaughtering of horses. He contended that the federal move to withhold money for meat inspections could cause U.S. trade violations.
"I don't see them opening now. No matter what, they are not going to violate the law," said Dunn, who also represents a plant in Missouri that wants to produce horse meat.
The last domestic horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007, a year after Congress initially withheld inspection funding. After federal money was restored in 2011, plants in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa began trying to start horse slaughtering.
King's lawsuit contends that the Roswell company's operations would violate New Mexico's environmental and food safety laws.
Valley Meat is trying to disqualify the judge who's handling the case because of comments posted by horse slaughter opponents on a Facebook page for the judge's election campaign. Wilson issued an order Friday saying he would consider setting a hearing on the company's request.
Horses that are injured or less than perfect sell for more money to the slaughterhouses than to an individual. Chardonnay is a good exampleâ€”Villa was able to purchase her for $400, less than the amount that they would have gotten from the slaughterhouse. Thoroughbreds are especially at risk. They race until their legs are splintered and are then discarded through slaughter. This would have happened to Nitro Active, the great, great grandson of Secretariat, if Villa had not saved him. Or two thoroughbreds rescued togetherâ€”Sultan and King David.
To these horses, destined to an inhumane and thoughtless death, Villa Chardonnay is a haven of peace and loving care to end out their days.
The political landscape continues in turmoil over this practice and is ever changing.