I’m a realist. Maybe it’s the Capricorn in me, perhaps it’s the farmer, or possibly it has to do with how much animal manure I shovel in a day, leaving me unable to deal with “bullshit” of the theoretical kind. For whatever reason, I find myself asking, “What’s the point?” way too often, then cutting directly to the chase, so to speak. Other people can debate merits, ethics, whatever they want, but in the real world of animal rescue, we generally have time to deal with one question – what’s the best thing that can be done for this animal? We take into account health (mental, emotional and physical,) happiness, and potential for their future. We also take into consideration what we need to do to be able to safely handle each animal, which for goats, sheep, and other smaller animals is not so worrisome. For larger animals, such as horses and bulls, well, it’s much more exciting.
We’ve had a lot of brouhaha about bull calves lately, for the oddest reason. A woman posted on the farm Facebook page that I am a “cruel bitch” for disbudding and banding (castrating) our bull calves. She said she had been thinking about donating to our sanctuary, but since we did this, we don’t qualify as vegan. Then she dropped a few F bombs and I wish I could say she then went on her merry way, but she clung to the thread for the rest of the day, making sure everyone knew how much she despises us . . . despite the fact (that I happen to know for a fact) that all sanctuaries debud and neuter their bull calves to increase the animals’ quality of life as well as to keep staff and visitors safe.
Which brings me to horses. Of course.
Because even if this particular variety of vegan (and I’m a vegan, I swear I am!) could wrap her arms around the fact that all sanctuaries take care of bull calves (and goats, sheep, etc.) the exact same way we do, they will never recover from how we treat horses (which is exactly how other strictly horse rescues treat them – and BTW, most farm animal sanctuaries don’t even attempt horse rescue because of the level of work, training and extreme expense that must go into them.)
But let’s back up before we cut to the chase. REALITY – there are 9.2 million horses in the USA, alone. An average of about 130,000 U.S. horses are sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico every single year. Many are horses that didn’t make the cut in the big breeding industries producing quarter horses and thoroughbreds. Some are from backyard breeding operations. Most make their way through the auctions and are collected in kill pens, awaiting the hauler who will drive them to their particularly gruesome deaths. However you look at it, reality is that humans breed way too many horses, and the percentage ending up in slaughterhouses is heartbreaking.
Here on Locket’s Meadow, we’ve been rescuing horses from slaughter for 17 years. Several hundred have made their way through our farm and on to adoptive homes, while many have stayed here. In the past two days I have been contacted and asked to take on two different horses as rescues. One is 15 and has leg problems so she can’t be ridden. The other is 22 and retired due to health issues, and the owners can’t afford to pay his board any more. (In many cases like the second one, they can’t afford the board because they already got a new horse that is rideable – few people can afford board for more than one horse.) If either of these horses ends up at auction (we are full and can’t take them,) they will definitely go to slaughter. People bid on sound, trained horses who are easy to handle, and that’s with good reason. An untrained horse is a deadly horse. And a horse that can’t be ridden is usually destined to be a dead horse, long before their natural time.
And so I cut to the chase. Most of the horses on our farm are trained to be ridden, even the dangerous Bad Boy Bobby. Probably half our horses are retired and hang around eating all day. Should anything happen to my husband or me, my equine vet, who also rescues horses, knows what to do. Those who are too old, special needs, or just plain too difficult (Bobby) to be adopted out will be humanely euthanized. Those who are trained to be ridden will be placed in carefully screened adoptive homes. My promise to my horses is that they will never experience the horror of filing through the slaughter pipeline.
In the real world, from which we rescue our babies, horses are sent to auction with little to no regard for the fact that most of them will become meat. The few who will survive the auctions ARE THE ONES CAPABLE OF HOLDING A JOB. If we don’t provide our horses with training, then keep them in shape in our small lesson program, their reality is that if they ever leave the fairy tale that is Locket’s Meadow, they will be shot in the head with a bolt gun (that may or may not stun them,) get hung by a hook through a hind foot, then sent down the slaughter line. After, of course, they’ve watched the same thing happen to the horses in line in front of them.
Our job is to rescue animals and keep them safe. If keeping a horse safe means we train them to be well-mannered and rideable, we will put in the very considerable time and expense to make that happen. Period. We don’t care who judges us or if they donate or not. We care about our babies and their futures, whether they are with us, or elsewhere.
This is the real world for horses, and it’s a horror show. Principles be damned, if we are going to rescue them, we commit to doing the best we can for them. Anything less is buying into a fantasy that doesn’t exist in this world, and turning a blind eye to that reality doesn’t help a save a single horse from a hellish life followed by a hellish death.
Are we ever going to be a “vegan” sanctuary? Nope. Not if we actually care about horses, we won’t. We are realists.
And for that, we make NO apologies.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by Locket’s Meadow, a farm animal sanctuary, where they literally never have time to ride because they are far too busy keeping up with the volume of manure being produced by their brood of more than 140 animals.