An advocate for horses wrote this and asked us to publish it:
I stopped by a kill-buyer’s feedlot in Ontario the other day. I saw horses standing in the drizzling rain on concrete, with hay and water. I could smell the sickening sweet stench of silage from the cattle in the next paddock.
A thin grey older mare stood away from the rest and close to the fence. I walked over closer to her. She turned her gaze, clearly accustomed to people, not afraid. She was soaking wet from the rain, her hair slicked onto her back with dirt and water.
A younger heavier draft-cross stood by the hay. An appy/buckskin cross and a bay turned toward me as I approached the fence. Behind the bay I saw a paint – I saw part of a back and legs.
What were you all doing before you came here? Were you someone’s riding horses? What happened?
I looked at the grey: she was thin, and her hip bones were easily visible. She was smaller, perhaps just taller than a pony. If she is going to go for meat, what meat are you talking about? Slaughter is cruel, but this is especially cruel. A tag on her back bears the number “DM3”.
“What was your name? Did someone call out to you joyfully by name at one time?
Did you trot over to her for a groom, a ride, and an apple?
You are a number now, DM3.
How will you survive the transportation to Quebec for slaughter?
Will you be stomped, kicked, crushed into the side of the trailer by larger horses made aggressive by fear?
Who will be the person who shoots you in the kill box?
Who will he see at the end of his gun?
What will he feel?
And what will you experience in that awful moment?”
I took a few pictures quickly and walked away. I found the phone number for the kill-buyer through making a few calls. He was at an auction. I could hear the blistering voice of the auctioneer in the background: more animals being bought and sold for slaughter. I have been to these auctions.
The people sit on rows of bleachers rising up from a central ring where the animal – cattle or a horse – is prodded along by a man waving a paddle or a cane. The people
gaze expressionlessly down at the animal who is compliant and just trying to do what is expected. The man keeps tapping the paddle on hips and back. I told the kill-buyer I would call back later.
I called the following day and said I was enquiring about the paint horse and the grey for a client. He said he could not remember if the paint was still at his place. I said, well it was there a few days ago. He said he could not recall if that is a mare or a gelding.
And the grey, I asked. He said that she is a mare and was direct shipped from a farm to him. I wondered about the tag on the grey mare’s back – was it an auction tag or a reference to some file he has. But then I thought if I challenged him he would shut down and hang up. He said these are slaughter horses; they were direct shipped from a farm.
He went on to say that a lot of people are getting rid of horses right now and directly shipping them to him. I said that I thought they did that more in the fall and not so much in the spring after getting them through the winter. He said, yeah, he thought that too, but people are getting rid of a lot of them now this spring.
I asked if he sold horses to the public. He said he did that at one time but does not want to any more. He said he only deals in slaughter horses and that good riding horses don’t get sold at auction anymore and don’t get shipped to him.
It sounded to me that this man thought of himself as providing a service to horse owners. If owners have a horse that they do not want: maybe the horse is slightly lame or has some other health issue that is going to cost money; or has a behavioural problem that the owner just does not want to figure out how to work with; or maybe the person is moving away from home, then they can sell the horse at auction and he will buy her or they just ship the horse to him directly.
That way the owners quickly wash their hands of their horse and even make a bit of money. Good training takes time, effort, and sometimes an investment of money. Health care takes time and money. Euthanasia has a cost; as does burying a horse or calling for the removal of the body.
I have known people who have sent horses to slaughter: they were not short of funds. But they were often angry at their horse for throwing them, or bucking, being hard to catch, or some other transgression against the owner’s expectations. They treated their horse as if their horse ‘deserved’ to go to slaughter for letting them down. They wanted to distance themselves from the horse. They seemed to want their horse to be hurt the way their ego had been hurt. How childish this behaviour on our part is, but it is not uncommon.
And I know some amazing people who rescued horses from the knives of slaughter – people who have no money but have love and a deep commitment to their horse. I have seen so called ‘slaughter horses’ have meaningful wonderful lives after rescue. And I have watched people transform themselves into confident, proud horse guardians through the process of caring for and training their once slaughter-bound horse.
The kill-buyer has been told by a large segment of the horse owning population that he serves a purpose, that he provides a much needed service of removing a problem cheaply and even for a bit of cash. I believe he really feels that way, and has been shown over and over again by horse owners that he is serving a need. Let’s tell him we don’t need him anymore.
Let’s tell him it is time to hang up his keys and retire.