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Before Horses Die

Published: 5/17/2011
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"Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind."  -  Henry James

By Maddy Butcher Gray

Mainers think about horse slaughter more than folks from other states.


Because they slaughter horses in Canada. The horse slaughter plant in Massueville, Quebec is a short five-hour drive from my house.

The other reason Mainers contemplate slaughter is because of our recent tough economic times. We live in a poor state made poorer by the Great Recession. When push comes to shove, owners may send their horses into the slaughter stream as an alternative to backyard neglect and starvation.
Ok, owners may not knowingly send their horses to slaughter. But don’t kid yourself. When a horse is sold or given away, unless its an extraordinary arrangement, that horse could easily head north.

It’s that bad.

So it was no surprise that LD 1075, a horse slaughter-related bill, got traction in the state legislature, the media, and social networking platforms. The PETA-type folks lined up on one side. The livestock-, breeder-, and Farm Bureau types lined up on the other. There was a whole lot of chest-puffing before the bill was voted “Ought Not to Pass.” With its messy, misguided language, it died a quick, painless death.

If only we could say the same about our horses in crisis.

It's too bad organizations like PETA and HSUS hold a monopoly on the words "ethical" and "humane." More moderate animal lovers can be alienated by their dogma.

It's equally disappointing that good horse people found themselves advocating for a heinous end for Maine's many unwanted horses. Better to be pro-slaughter than side with extremists who invite unenforceable, unfunded regulations.

While these disparate entities took their sides, they seemed to ignore the obvious common ground:
  • Horses are not children and do not have similar rights and representation.
  • Horses are not commodities like oil or corn.
  • They fall somewhere in between kids and crops. They will die and should be treated humanely until then.
From my perspective, based on interaction and discussion with horse owners and advocates, and from some basic research on the topic, it’s much more productive to discuss the humane treatment of horses, rather than what happens to their bodies after they die It’s much more productive to discuss the humane treatment of horses, rather than what happens to their bodies after they die.(ie, horse slaughter).


Because many, many more horses are at risk from cruel and neglectful treatment by private owners than as potential slaughter candidates.

For every horse sent to Viande Richelieu in Massueville, there are more suffering and waiting to die in Maine pastures.

So how do we improve their situation?
  • Educate and reach out to neglectful owners.
You get more with honey than vinegar. If you see a thin or suffering horse, the first interaction should be of inquiry and assistance, not confrontation. If you are a knowledgeable horse owner, you might offer suggestions. If you’d rather address the situation at arm’s length, there are organizations to help: Maine Equine Welfare Alliance, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the state Animal Welfare program, or local Animal Control Officer.
  • Treat horse ownership as a privilege, not a right.
When I lived briefly out of state, the town Animal Control Officer was charged with inspecting every horse barn, every year. If you are an upstanding horse owner, where's the harm here? There was no sizeable fee. The town’s horse owners were held accountable, just like dog owners.
It helped maintain an equine census, kept a history of all barns, and flagged potential abuse and neglect cases.
In the eight years living in that town, there were no cases of cruelty or neglect.

Most Maine horse owners scream and jump up and down when you talk about regulation of ownership and breeding. We'd rather operate with impunity and assume that problems within our horse community will work themselves out on their own.

But have you looked around lately?

And have you noticed how little clout we have compared with, say, the state's dog owners?
Is it any surprise that other animal advocates scoff at our renegade ways?
  • If it helped weed out irresponsible breeders and incorrigible owners,  I’d welcome oversight.
  • If it could raise funds for education, advocacy, vaccination and gelding clinics, I'm all for it!
  • If we toed the line here as responsible owners, breeders, and neighbors, I doubt we’d have such a massive problem of unwanted horses.

Fewer unwanted horses means fewer heading to Canada.

View Reader Comments:

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5/17/2011 Margy
Fantastic article Maddy!
5/17/2011 Estelle
I couldn't agree more..I have absolutely no issue with inspections or even registering my horses with the town. As long as the fee is reasonable I cant imagine why anyone who has nothing to hide would have an issue, but as you said, many folks do. If they could find a humane way to make slaughter and everything that leads up to the death of the horse humane, I personally have no issues with it. I am however totally against it as it stands now. What needs to happen, but never will is for folks to be accountable for the living beings they take on, not to get that last buck out of them by sending them to slaughter or handing them off because you cant afford them and risk they will end up at slaughter because you sold or gave them away, it is very likely that will happen. Either free lease to someone within a distance from you that you are willing to be able to drive to see that horse at most every 2 weeks. Draw up an extensive contract and have it notarized, and KEEP checking frequently until it's time to put the horse down. I have done exactly that and it worked great, but you have to do the contract and include every thing in it, have it notarized and not get lazy and stop making frequent visits no matter how good the home seems to be on previous visits, things change all the time, don't make your horse pay for that. The second option is to Man up, do the right thing and put the horse down. Then you get, well I cant afford that, let me tell you a bullet is cheap and done correctly is at least as humane as euthanasia, probably more humane in many instances. So there is my usual very strong opinion, I have been fighting for horses for lots of years, have paid for it at my job by doing what I do on my own time, paid for it with people I know who don't agree with my passion on the subject, but that doesn't matter, animals have no voice and need us to be their voice and as long as I can speak I will speak on their behalf.
5/18/2011 Julie Kenney
I am wholeheartedly with you on this Maddy. What a well-written, well-thought out article. I'm not sure registering with the town would do a lot of good. There are tons of incorrigible dog owners who don't, but on the other hand, horses are a little harder to hide. But I would welcome any ACO on my property to inspect and show them what healthy, well cared for horses look like, at any time.
5/18/2011 Shelli
Nice article! I really like Estelle's comment. I couldn't have said it better myself. One more thing would be that horse owners need to stop over breeding. There's more horses out there than willing or able people to take care of them. Over breeding has contributed to a lot of the poor situations horses find themselves in. Many people breed to make an extra dollar and it does horses in hard economic times a real injustice. I think breeding should be regulated. In some states you have to have a license to breed certain animals such as dogs, why not do that for horses. This too would make people mad, but in the long run it could control over breeding.
2/8/2012 MaryAlice
Absolutely agree with you...more people need to hear this and the state of maine licensing division just like with our dogs should agree. Thanks for the article

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