Some horses led to rescue, some led to slaughter


SPOKANE — Thousands of horse owners can’t afford to take care of their animals and are giving them up or abandoning them. Some are ending up in slaughterhouses, drawing protests from horse-lovers, but others say there’s no alternative.

Last year nearly 150,000 horses were slaughtered and many times the road to the slaughterhouse begins at auction.

Down at the Davenport horse auction it’s a buyers market. Horses that would have sold for $200 dollars a year ago are going for next to nothing. At a recent auction One of them was a ten year old mare, rideable and healthy, which had its bidding start at $200. The auctioneer works the crowd but there are no bids so the price begins falling as the auctioneer begs anyone to bid on the horse.

Today healthy horses are being sold for $25 or less. If you’re looking for an even better deal head to Craigslist where it’s easy to find free horses.

Demand for horses is plummeting because the cost of caring for them is skyrocketing. Hay prices reached an all time high this year, doubling in price from two years ago. Local stables are charging more than $300 a month, compared to $150 just a year ago.

That, compounded by the increasing cost of living for their owners, and it’s created a perfect storm resulting in a flood of unwanted horses.

When the auction door swings shut the horses are going to one of three places: A new home, a horse rescue or to slaughter in Canada or Mexico.

There’s a quiet battle brewing at the horse auction. On one side you’ll find horse rescuers like Debbie Richmond who go to auctions to bid on unwanted horses. On the other side you’ll find slaughter buyers bidding on horses to ship to foreign slaughterhouses.

“You bid against the main slaughter buyers there, there are usually two maybe more,” horse rescuer Debbie Richmond said.

Nearly all of the 48 horses at Richmond’s Newport rescue were purchased at auction.

“There are a lot of good, sound, well broke horses whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.

But Richmond can’t save them all; in fact she and others like her don’t even come close. According to the USDA, more than 47,000 horses have been shipped to Mexico for slaughter this year. In 2007 nearly 37,000 horses were shipped to Canada for slaughter. More and more American horses are being sent to foreign slaughterhouses because the remaining horse slaughterhouses in the United States were closed by court order last year.

From there, most of the horse meat is exported to Europe and Asia where people eat horse like Americans eat beef.

The method of slaughter depends on the country. In Canada, slaughterhouses typically use a “captive bolt stunner” to knock the horse unconscious before slitting the horse’s throat so it bleeds to death. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires that a veterinarian supervise every slaughter to ensure it’s humane.

That’s not the case in Mexico, where some slaughterhouses don’t have government oversight.  The Humane Society caught workers in one Mexican slaughterhouse stabbing horses to death. Central Washington slaughter buyer Chuck Walker refuses to ship his horses to Mexico because of what he calls cruel slaughter practices.

“I would get out of this business if I had to ship to Mexico,” Walker said. “Things aren’t done right there, they kill them cruelly and its too far to ship anyways.”

Walker runs a horse feedlot outside of Toppenish where the horses fatten up before they’re trucked to Alberta for slaughter.  He’s more busy now than ever before.

“I buy for a Canadian plant and we’re just getting flooded with them and they can’t handle them,” Walker said.

Every week a truck loaded with about 30 horses leaves Walker’s lot. The slaughterhouse won’t take any more than one load because they’re also overwhelmed with horses.

“I can take in ten times more horses than I can get rid of,” Walker said. “Why put them in the ground you know? Why shouldn’t someone benefit off it, they spent money on this thing, its no good, why should it cost them money to get rid of it when they can sell it? It can be used in the food chain.”

Walker doesn’t need to go to auctions anymore as plenty of people contact him directly, wanting to sell their horses. Walker says that he can’t help everyone and that many horses that aren’t sent to slaughter will die from neglect.

“People are turning them loose and they’re getting hit on the roads, they’re starving to death, they’re turning them loose on the reservation here and they’re dying out there, and they don’t adapt,” Walker said.

Most horses on feedlots have little chance of going anywhere but a slaughterhouse but Walker’s horses have one more shot at life because of Samantha Milbredt.

“Everyone thinks that slaughter-bound horses are all old and crippled, they are there for a reason, honestly, some are there for a reason … there’s a lot of good riding horses,” Milbredt said.

Milbredt is with the Columbia Basin Equine Rescue and for some she represents the last line of defense for these horses. She gives them all a chance to prove they’re adoptable.

“If you can’t catch it, chances are you can’t ride it, if you cant ride it, you cant adopt it,” she said.

Milbredt comes once a week to Walker’s feedlot to assess the horses bound for slaughter. She hires high school rodeo riders to saddle up and take each horse on a ride.

Not every horse passes the test while others do exceptionally well.

If they pass the riding test Milbredt posts their picture and information on her horse rescue’s website hoping someone will adopt the horse before the slaughter truck comes.  Adopters have to pay a fee to Walker, the feedlot owner; and to Milbrendt’s horse rescue. So far, the program’s been a huge success.

“Since August of ‘04 we’ve rescued about 3,500,” she said.

So for some of the horses at Walker’s Toppenish-area feedlot there is a happy ending. And up north at Debbie Richmond’s Newport Rescue one more horse gets adopted which means one less to a foreign slaughterhouse.

“When she showed up her eyes lit up it’s like she’s been waiting for her to show up,” Richmond said.

Despite a proposed law to ban the export of horses for slaughter several large veterinary organizations are opposed to bans on slaughter as they believe slaughter provides a humane alternative to abandonment.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners estimates that an additional 2,700 rescues would have to open to support all the horses if the law is passed. But still rescuers say there must be another way like cheaper birth control for horses or humane euthanization.

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Reader's Comments

One Response to “Some horses led to rescue, some led to slaughter”

  • I am in the process of rescuing a horse named Razzle from Chuck Walker’s feedlot. Samantha is helping me and I think everything they say here is true. It is way better to see a horse go to slaughter than starve or be left without water to die of thurst! I’ve seen people who let their horses halters grow into their heads! Chuck Walker you are heaven sent and Samantha too. Thank u for giving her a chance to save the ones that can be and feed others with the ones that can’t be. The other people who abuse or mistreat or just set free are the bad people ! Thank you to Chuck and Samantha

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    Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

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