The last equine slaughterhouses in the United States closed their doors in 2007. While horses are no longer slaughtered in the U.S., that does not mean that U.S. horses are no longer slaughtered. Approximately 150,000 U.S. horses annually are now shipped and slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, about the same number as before the U.S. slaughterhouse ban went into effect. Rescuing a horse from this abysmal fate is not for the faint of heart, but is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.
When attempting to rescue a horse from slaughter at a low-end auction, it's crucial that you know the going rate for per pound for horsemeat. You don't want to inadvertently bid on a horse who isn't slaughter-bound because his price is too high. For example, if the current meat price for a 1,000-pound animal is about $400, any horse going for more than that isn't in current danger for slaughter. There's no money to be made by the "killbuyers."
Horses sent to low-end auctions are often purchased by killbuyers who have contracts with foreign slaughterhouses. These auctions are not a place for the novice to purchase to a horse. If you intend to go and purchase a horse directly, bring a knowledgeable horse person with you. It's also good to know who the killbuyers are -- some won't bid against a private bidder, but some will. If you lose the horse you're bidding for to a killbuyer, all is not necessarily lost. You -- or your knowledgeable companion -- can approach the buyer after the sale and make an offer on the animal. If the horse was sold for $250, for example, offer to pay $300 or $325. The buyer has just made a quick profit with no expenses and will often agree to the sell the horse.
As much as you may detest what the killbuyers do for a living, keep in mind that they are not the ones creating this unwanted horse problem. No matter how much contempt you may feel, always treat the individual with respect. A scornful attitude on your part could cost the horse his life if the buyer decides not to sell out of spite.
Working With Rescue Groups
An easier way to rescue horses from slaughter is by working with rescue groups. There are hundreds of such groups nationwide, many focusing on specific breeds. You can personally "bail" an auction horse for yourself through the group or donate money so that horses can be saved. Just do your due diligence before becoming active with any group -- there are scam artists out there.
Quarantining the Rescue Horse
Once you save a horse from slaughter, you can't simply bring him home and start rehabilitating him -- unless you either don't have other horses on your property or have sufficient acreage or a barn situation so that you can isolate him completely from other equines for at least three weeks. Quarantining a horse bought from an auction is an absolute necessity. If the horse comes down with any type of symptoms during the initial quarantine, he must remain in quarantine for another three weeks from the date that the symptoms disappear.
Even a healthy horse who enters the low-end auction circuit is quickly exposed to all sort of communicable diseases, especially strangles. If there are other horses on the property, they should be fed and cared for before the quarantined horse, to minimize the risk of contamination.
Fortunately, many barns specialize in quarantining the rescue horse. Ask the rescue group you work with for recommendations.
Vet, Farrier and Dentist
Have your vet, farrier and equine dentist -- if you don't use your vet for dental work -- out to examine your horse as soon as possible. Your vet will also vaccinate the animal and recommend a deworming schedule. If the horse is thin or emaciated, she can also recommend the best feeding plan for the animal.
Rescue Horse Considerations
If you decide to rescue a horse otherwise bound for slaughter, you must be realistic. Here are some considerations:
- This horse may cost you a lot more than anticipated, especially if he requires extensive veterinary or farrier work.
- The horse may never be sound enough or temperamentally suited for the kind of work you want him to do.
- He may be a lot older than originally thought.
- A horse who went into the auction relatively sound may be severely injured by other horses in the killpen.
- If you saved a mare, check for pregnancy. Even if the former owner didn't breed her, stallions and mare are often mixed together in the killpens.
Many rescue horses are true diamonds in the rough, and with good care and/or training turn out to be fine riding or driving animals. Others may have so many issues that they have no future other than as pasture pets. It's not unusual for an individual or group to rescue a horse that's in obvious pain or poor condition, just so that humane euthanization is an option rather than traveling hundreds of miles in an overcrowded trailer, at the mercy of other equines.