A Look at the Horror of Horse Slaughter

The USDA says 90% of horses are healthy when they begin their horrific journey to the slaughterhouse. These horses are shipped in cramped, overcrowded transports to the slaughterhouse. They often have no food or water for over 24 hours. In the summer they endure extremely hot temperatures during these transports.

Once at the slaughterhouse, the horses are typically shot in the head. They are then hung by their back legs upside down, many times while they are conscious.

In testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on July 25, 2006, Christopher J. Heyde, Deputy Legislative Director for Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL) urged lawmakers to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 503. (The bill did not become law in that Congressional session and has the same number, H.R. 503, in this session.) Heyde pointed out the numerous polls showing most Americans support an end to horse slaughter for human consumption.

Heyde described the horrific conditions for horses during transport and when they are at the slaughter houses. He testified, "The horses end up at the slaughterhouse in a variety of ways, all unlucky.

Sometimes they are sent by individuals or groups no longer able or willing to care for them. Sometimes they are retired or injured racehorses, riding school or show horses, federally protected wild horses, foals born as a by-product of the Premarin industry, or stolen horses.

"The majority is not actively sold to slaughter by their owners, but instead arrive at the slaughterhouse via livestock auction, often sold by owners unaware of their ultimate fate. Those purchased at auctions by individuals known as "killer buyers" may then be shipped on trailers for as long as 28 hours without water, food or rest".

Heyde described for the Subcommittee his visit to a slaughterhouse, "When I visited a slaughterhouse, there was a double-deck trailer fully loaded with horses from Canada located at the rear of the nondescript facility. The horses filled both rows and were unable to stand normally, forced to keep their heads low. Despite the fact that several of the horses I could see had cuts and blood trailing from their mouths and noses, all looked otherwise healthy and fairly young…. Workers poked some of them with long fiberglass rods through holes on the side of the trailer. The horses, typically very sensitive animals, slid and fell down the ramp, only to be whipped by another worker’s rod. All exhibited "flight" behavior, pacing in prance-like movements with their ears pinned back against their heads and their eyes bulging.

"Once inside the building, I saw more callous workers beat the horses on the nose, forehead, neck, back or hindquarters to get them to move until they entered the kill chute. Egregious acts of cruelty took place right in front of me. Running across the floor of the barn was a grate-covered drain about three feet deep. A section of the grate was missing in one of the stalls through which horses were being forced.

Because they were crammed into a space and panicking, each horse fell into the open hole, unable to get out since the floor was wet and slippery. Workers continued to beat the horses until, following a terrible struggle, they were able to throw their bodies out of this hole. This only stopped once I began to close the grate-only then did the workers take action.

"Just after this first incident and again due to the overcrowding and panic, a large male got one his legs hooked over one of the upper rails of the fence. Workers proceeded to beat him continually until he lunged forward, gouging his leg open on the solid metal fence and forcing his leg free of the rail.

"When the veterinarian and I tried to report the two incidents, we were unable to locate a US Department of Agriculture inspector in the facility. Sadly, the plants that defend their operations are quick to say things are fine within their facilities because USDA inspectors are present to ensure the humane treatment of animals. However, as … ample USDA inspection reports show, cruelty and improper handling is a serious problem.

"In fact, according to a recent General Accounting Office report on the US slaughter industry, ‘the most prevalent noncompliance documented was the ineffective stunning of animals, in many cases resulting in a conscious animal reaching slaughter.’

"Further, USDA is not present to witness the majority of handling of the live animals and the slaughter process, instead they are relegated to the final stages, observing the processing of the meat.

"I left the slaughterhouse with a sense of disbelief at the magnitude of this brutal treatment. Despite what I had heard from the industry and its supporters, these horses were not old, sick or past recovery. They were adoptable, sellable, sound horses. And if a horse happens to be in bad shape, he or she should never be subjected to the long and arduous process involved in slaughter, but should instead quickly be humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinarian."

For more on the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act and how you can help pass it, click here. Help pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act