There are too many horses in the United States. So many so, that in 2016, 125,608 of them were shipped to slaughter in Mexico and Canada. Most years, we intercept a few and bring them to our sanctuary, Locket’s Meadow, to live out their lives in safety – fed, cared for and loved. In 2019, despite a dire need for more homes for horses, we didn’t rescue any new ones, instead focusing on bull calves who were previously destined to become veal, as well as goats and sheep. Why? Because horses are the most expensive animals to maintain and we knew we couldn’t afford another, nor could we provide anymore adequate shelter. The horse section of the sanctuary is full.
While we are a non-profit, my husband, David, and I fund the vast majority of our operation, with hay and feed alone costing more than $2,000 each week. Over and above that, horses require hoof care (several thousand dollars a month for our herd of around 40,) vet care, parasite control, supplements and medicine for countless reasons . . . oh yes, and then there’s mortgages and utilities and everything else . . . but it’s what we do because I love horses and my husband, well, he loves me. Poor David . . .
But back to the problem of too many horses. Those of you not in the rescue business may not know this, but the issue of excess horses and what to do about them is a matter of massive, angry and bitter debate. In fact, the very existence of horses, or any domesticated animals for that matter, is also up for debate (but I will save that for a later rant . . .) The tragedy is that most of the people wrestling over the situation all agree they love horses, but most every one has a different opinion as to how their population should be “controlled.” For example, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) believes the solution to “excess” horses, including their breed-of-choice, is slaughter. In their statement about their support of horse slaughter they talk about animals starving, neglected, abused . . . but they never mention money. Which is a shame, because in the end, it is only about money. Quarter horse breeders pump out tens of thousands of foals each year, looking for that perfect performer (hopefully a stud who will continue to make bank for them after retiring, siring lots and lots more horses) knowing full well that thousands of foals won’t be up to snuff and will eventually end up meat after a really terrifying, brutal and painful last few weeks.
As an aside, I find it interesting that people breed millions of unwanted dogs each year, but we never consider slaughter the answer to that problem; rather, they are humanely euthanized. By the truckload. Hell, if I’m gonna go on this particular tangent, I may as well add that when we watch videos of live dogs in Asian countries solidly packed and stacked in trailers on their way to slaughter, we are HORRIFIED! We would NEVER ship our millions of unwanted dogs to slaughterhouses and then to Asia as a meat product! We LOVE our dogs! Yet we profess to love horses while thousands of trailers, just as solidly packed with them . . . many of them sick, injured, pregnant . . . haul them to slaughterhouses every year. They are slaughtered and butchered, then shipped to Europe and Asia while most people turn a blind eye . . . I mean, like, they aren’t dogs, or anything . . . sigh . . . OK, tangent over, back to topic . . .
It can cost several hundred dollars to humanely euthanize a horse. Depending upon the weight of a horse, their flesh can be worth hundreds of dollars at market . . . money . . . money!!! It’s always about money . . . and how dare we ask people to take on the responsibility for offing their own beloved (or income producing) animals when they are no longer wanted when they can make a few bucks as they send their unwanted carcasses on their way?
To be fair, there are a lot of other organizations aside from AQHA, horse and otherwise, that are pro horse slaughter, and again, to be fair, it’s still all about money.
You might think animal rescue organizations would work together to find the solution to this enormous problem, but you’d be wrong. I’ve been at this rescue business for almost twenty years, and wow . . . nope . . . not so much. I was so naïve in the beginning, thinking that “loving” a horse meant the same thing to everyone. I have been well educated since then, thank you very much! It’s insanity and totally senseless, with organizations standing on principles that have nothing to do with reality. For example, the following excerpt is about two groups, both of them declaring they love animals. Below is an article about their all-too-typical dispute. This is a quote from CBS Boston, December 20, 2019:
“A non-profit horse rescue is shutting down. Online criticism may be to blame.
At Blue Star Farm in West Brookfield, the owners started rescuing horses years ago. Now, they have 28.
They are mostly draft horses that spent their lives working. Most pulled carriages, some were in police mounted units and some worked in fields. So in retirement, their new owners at Blue Star made sure the horses continued to work.
But some animal rights groups disagreed, saying the horses should simply run free. So the groups slammed the farm on Facebook, managing to convince the social media giant to remove the farm’s page, which is how they raise money to support the animals.”
The Facebook account was shut down just before Giving Tuesday, a fundraiser that we in the non-profit rescue world have grown to depend on. Blue Star normally would reap at least $15,000 in donations that day, but this time they only raised $1,200. They didn’t have the funds to make it through the winter, nor the heart, and after years of battling with those who advocate for letting the horses “run free,” they finally gave up. As I write this, Blue Star is in the process of placing 28 horses, a monumental task, and these horses have gone from complete safety into potentially dangerous situations (few people are as amazing as they like to say they are on their adoption applications.) Organizations who claim they love horses did a very bad thing . . . and they still didn’t achieve what they wanted, because all of these animals are going to homes where they will still be “captive,” and many will still have jobs. WHAT WAS THE FREAKIN’ POINT? They were never gonna get to run free! (This is why, when people ask me how to start an animal rescue organization, I advise them to become independently wealthy and then go for it . . . something we neglected to do in advance . . . doh!)
And while I’m here . . . why not let the horses run wild and free? Well, the two biggest reasons are these . . . where will they run free? And WHY? THEY AREN’T WILD ANYMORE AND THEY CAN’T SURVIVE THAT WAY! Ahem . . . sorry . . . I will calm down . . . But first, let’s visit the wild mustangs of the American West. So beautiful, so romantic . . . so . . . doomed. Why? Because they compete for land with beef cattle, and the beef lobby will win every single time . . . you know, money . . . so the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, the organization in charge of equines living on public lands, rounds them up using helicopters and ATVs, (a terrifying and heartbreaking event that many mustangs don’t survive due to broken legs from panicking . . . Google it, if you dare) herd them into crowded corrals and . . . just keep them there, baking in the hot sun, far from the cattle grazing on mustang land that was rightfully theirs. Some are shipped around the country to be purchased at auctions. Some languish in their corrals, and many die from the crowded, unsanitary conditions as well as injuries received in their pens. But Americans want their beef, and if they don’t know that wild mustangs, a national treasure, suffer and die so beef cattle can graze on our public lands (put aside partly for the reason of sustaining aforementioned wild horses) well, whatever . . . bring on the burgers!
Did I digress again? Sorry . . . I will try to behave, but . . . you know . . . horses . . .
So, now that we know there really isn’t any safe place for horses to run free, let’s talk about domesticated horses that actually are turned loose and allowed all that freedom some humans believe they deserve.
Let’s take a quick visit to West Virginia, where thousands of domesticated horses run free on thousands of acres. Idyllic! Inspiring! And yet . . . the following excerpt about these horses is by Tinia Creamer, Director of Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, INC:
“Many were dropped off, some had ‘owners’ who turned them out or claimed them all while using land illegally and dangerously and not providing any or enough care. They were reproducing across these lands.
They were injured, emaciated and reproducing. Few thrived, and almost none did well for long.
People were shooting them for sport, chasing them on ATVs, they were being hit on road ways, they were falling into mining locations, they were starving because the re-claimed land and active mine lands weren’t growing anything nutrient dense, and no one knew this was happening in West Virginia outside of the counties experiencing this, let alone nationwide.”
She went on to explain that there are fewer horses now, all for very bad reasons.
Tinia Creamer has spent ten years advocating for and rescuing these horses from their “wild” environment and adopting them to safe homes because horses ARE NOT WILD ANIMALS ANYMORE AND THEY CAN’T THRIVE, NEVER MIND SURVIVE! They need adequate nutrition, hoof care, safe pasture, and dare I say it . . . LOVE and COMPANIONSHIP to thrive and be happy! They are no different from domesticated dogs, who would probably fare better than horses if we decided to set them all free (aside from the obvious road carnage, and the problem of dogs scratching at front doors to be let into people’s houses for dinner . . . because we can’t actually undo domestication! Well, aside from cats, but . . . you know . . . cats . . . always defying the odds . . .)
And we go on and on . . . Some horse rescuers believe horses should be trained, as a trained horse is a safe horse (trust me, this is the truth!) and training can keep them safer from slaughter. Others believe they should be given space and have their autonomy respected, even if they don’t know what that is. There are those who believe no animals should be paid for, even in a rescue situation, as it demeans them as property (although I don’t know a single horse pulled out of a kill pen who ever quibbled about an idea as trivial as an exchange of money for their life – if it’s ransom or death, they are all gonna choose ransom.) Locket’s Meadow has been harshly criticized for giving pony rides at our fundraising events because animals “should not be used for entertainment,” even though our horses love pony ride days and all the attention they get from them . . . And we go round and round and round and round, but meanwhile, these horses that we LOVE with all our hearts, are suffering because we all believe we know what’s best for them (and in most cases, best for our wallets because horses are definitely big business from breeding to slaughter) and almost nobody is asking them what they want from life.
Except . . . I can. I have been talking to horses, and they have been talking back to me, for my entire life. As each horse comes into our rescue, we work though their issues (or not, especially if they come from the Amish world . . . more on that another time . . .) Some love having a job, contributing to what they see as their herd, or family. Others worked enough, thank you very much, and want to hang around and eat hay all day. Some start out thrilled to be a part of our programs, but there comes a day when they decide they are done, and we say, sure . . . go chill with the other retired ponies. Because we are a self-funded rescue (but don’t get me wrong, we are happy to accept donations!) we have the luxury of allowing our horses the freedom to choose. Hell, we have a few horses who’ve decided they don’t want to be in paddocks anymore, so I made them promise to stay on the property if I let them loose; they have never crossed the borders of our land.
What do horses want? There are as many answers as there are horses. The biggest crime we commit against them is the one where we lump them all into one group and decide what’s best for the whole lot. Sure, we created them thousands of years ago, but just as many of us believe we were created by a kind and loving God, and pray for mercy and justice, horses look to their creator “gods” for the same mercy and justice. We seldom measure up. In fact, we are a pretty crappy bunch of gods who seldom do right by the animals we have brought into this world.
Truly, we suck.
I can’t tell you what all horses want, at least not the ones I haven’t met. But I can tell you the stories of some of those that I have known . . . their loves, their passions, their sadness and regrets.
I am a Horse Girl, kissed by the soft lips of a pony long before I was born, and my job, or so they tell me, is to speak for them. So, sit back and have your hankies ready . . . their stories will be coming shortly . . .
I may not know what horses want, but they sure do.
Kathleen Schurman, and her husband David, own Locket’s Meadow Rescue Sanctuary in Bethany, CT. Kathleen works as a psychic and animal communicator to help support the animals, and also writes children’s books about them.