Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My letter

My letter to my congressperson:

Let me first start by saying I've never written a congressperson before. However, two issues you are to vote on have actually moved me to do so: HR305 and HR503. I will try to be as brief as possible but cannot sacrifice completeness.

HR305 is the Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2009.

HR503 is to ban the export of American horses for slaughter.

I am a graduate student at the U of M in Comparative and Molecular Biosciences. My advisor works in the department of Animal Science. I have had to sacrifice animals for my research. I have no qualms about eating meat. I am not afraid to pet a cow intended for slaughter. I understand the delicate balance between humane treatment of animals and efficiency of agriculture as a business. Would I make changes? Yes, but I do understand.

There are tens of thousands of unwanted horses in America, just like dogs and cats. Unfortunately, people equate the very true "Horses are expensive" with "Horses are valuable". This is an unfair equivalent. Some horses have very high value (winning racehorses, horses with fantastic pedigrees, very well-trained horses), while others do not (losing racehorses, horses that have developed riding issues such as throwing riders, horses that have suffered injury from sport, horses that were never trained, "grade" or mixed-breed horses of unremarkable parentage, old horses). People who make the equation of horses being expensive to horses being valuable may breed thinking to gain money, and often breed poorly-marketable animals. The low-end horse market is simply flooded.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners estimates that the minimum yearly cost to care for a horse, not including veterinary and farrier expenses, is $1,895.

The market is so flooded I can go buy a trained, young, papered, healthy horse for under 3000, likely even under 2000. You can imagine how cheaply I could purchase one of lower quality than that. If I'm prepared to pay the 2000 a year to maintain a horse, why wouldn't I be willing to pay the very slight extra for a much higher quality animal? Why would I pay to keep something dangerous, or injured?

And thus, we have unwanted horses.

One would think a breeder would be particular about what they were breeding, worried they would have this financial, unsaleable burden. Well, they don't have to worry, thanks to American horse slaughter.

At hundreds of auction houses across the US, horses are auctioned to the highest bidder. Some are pleasure mounts, some are professional show horses, and some are unwanted for other various reasons. At many auction houses, there is someone known as a "kill buyer". He will buy any horse for about 300 dollars or under. He will smile at the seller. He will promise a good home. He will listen to the little girl selling her pet tell him what kinds of treats her pony likes. He will buy the broken down horses. He will respond to "free horse" ads. If you're very cool about it, you can buy one off him before leaving the auction house provided there's an instant profit for him.

These auction houses exist in Minnesota. I have watched several kill buyers argue over prices. They quote prices by the pound. The kill buyers in question have land in Kansas, where they fatten the horses up and ship them to Mexico. I knew the woman next to me at the auctionhouse. She was selling three horses. She had already bought two before hers were up on the auction block. She needed some better horses for her summer camp. She had a 3-horse trailer, those three were not coming home. I asked her if she would sell to kill buyers. She told me there is no slaughter anymore.

"Horses are shipped across the border to be slaughtered now. You can look at the Las Cruzes, NM report, at least a thousand per week," I told her. She didn't think it was possible. At one point the auctioneer, who liked to say where the horse was going after sold, joked when the kill buyer purchased one saying "This one's Mexico-bound ladies and gentlemen!" The kill buyer: the Auctioneer's son.

There are two main destinations for the slaughter-bound horse. Mexico and Canada, as you may guess. Horses are transported there, sometimes in what are called "double deckers," This being because they are two levels high. There is an internal ramp to the second level, which is narrow. They were designed for cattle. Horses are crammed in the tight trucks, and are often injured in various manners. They fight. Sometimes there are are foals in the same trucks. There was an accident that made the news when one was tipped over. Some surived- photos available http://www.kaufmanzoning.net/foiaphotos.html.

The horses are then slaughtered in manners differently than anticipated. In Canada it is captive-bolt, like cattle. The machines were designed for cattle, but are decent at rendering the animals brain-dead before rendering. In Mexico, at at least one slaughterhouse the horse is run down a chute, where it is stabbed in the neck (repeatedly, with an ordinary-looking knife), until the spinal cord is severed, and then rendered after falling. It is likely conscious. Both examples are readily available on youtube.

It is my personal opinion that horses are unsuitable animals for traditional slaughter. Horses are very reactive. Horses have very large nostrils, and very strong flight responses. Example: a horse tragically died in our arena of a twisted gut (colic). The horse was promptly removed. No blood was present, nor was this a lasting illness. The area was very well ventilated. I could smell nothing. Upon entering the arena a day later, my horse became wild with fright and unrideable. It took a full week. I have no doubt that horses entering a slaughterhouse are aware of their surroundings and to be frightened.

You would think, given the reasons above, that making transport conditions and slaughter like the above illegal would be an easy decision. Unfortunately, it is not.

Not all unwanted horses are sent to slaughter. Many are simply neglected. High hay prices (drought last year doubled them), failing economy (you know...), higher property taxes, and some do not have the transport to sell a horse, or think that it will pick up, or make excuses (such as old horses are skinny, mustangs don't have vets or farriers, I can breed her and sell the baby and make money, some trainer will want my bad horse as a project) and this causes the owners to retain horses they cannot afford. Neglect is common.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Quarter Horse Association (largest breed registry), and the American Veterinary Medical Association and various Rodeo associations are pro-slaughter. Their reasoning is not unfounded, but it is flawed. They say that without slaughter the value of all horses will drop, including the high quality ones and run the horse industries to the ground. Neglect will be everywhere. Unwanted horses accumulating like rabbits. They paint a picture of the kill buyer as a garbageman, cleaning up after everyone.

Yes, I believe that banning slaughter and slaughter-related methods of transport will lower horse values. But, not ALL horse values.

The bottom of the horse market is artificially high, which is what encourages the breeding and irresponsible ownership in the first place. This fattens the pockets of the breed registries (many slaughter-bound horses are registered, and more breeding makes more registration fees).

Yes, tough times are ahead for horses. However, the solution is not to enable this fingers-jammed-in-ears "I Don't see this" attitude behind breeding more horses, pretending the kill buyer is not sending them to slaughter, and pretending the slaughter is humane.

High-end horses are still expensive. There will always be sub-par offspring from even the best breeding stock to supply the average horse-owner. All of the cats at the Humane Society have not made purebred Ragdolls any less expensive. All the Labs available at the shelters do not make a trained hunting dog undervalued. The reasoning is greed.

I urge you to please vote to end this cruel practice. To affirm that Americans are not afraid of setting a higher standard. You may contact me if you would like to further discuss the issue.

Thank you for your time,

Friday, February 6, 2009

10 things....

Been a long time. I'll update on the Doop and myself in a bit.

Update: the appy in the below post is down to 200 dollars. Not surprising.

One thing I enjoy doing is watching Dumb Girlie Horsie movies. I know they're stupid, often insipid, and usually feature long shots of just horses running around for no reason. I'm not an idiot. I don't make my husband watch. Anyways, I thought I'd share the following:

The Top Ten Things I learned about Horses and the Horse World by watching Dumb Girlie Horsie Movies.

10) Horses make lots of noise. They're always whinnying and snorting. They rear a lot too to look majestic for you. It is not a sign of aggression.

9) Hay is soft and snuggly. It is always fun to snuggle up in a stall with a horse. They won't step on you. There is no poop. It disappears after a "chores" montage demonstrating responsibility.

8) The more people don't like you, the more horses will.

7) English is for snobby girls.

6)Horses are not tamed and broke by hours of training or require you to ever be authoritarian, you just give them treats until they like you and then they let you ride! Bonus if they're completely batshit crazy to everyone else- they just need the love a small angsty girl can give them.

5)Feel free to walk on any farm to work your wiles onto horse owners. Don't call.

4) Lessons are for suckers, you're a natural if you love horses enough.

3)Any horse can do anything if you just believe in them hard enough. Children are the best at spotting talent. The more people think it is rank and untalented, the more awesome that horse is furreals.

2)All the boundaries set by your parents, barn owners, or teachers are just to keep you from reaching the next level, because they don't believe in you. Prove them wrong.

1) There are thousands of washed-up ex-superstar trainers just waiting for a young girl's exuberance to break them out of their funk and launch the pair into super stardom!