One of the worst times of my life was sobbingly ‘explaining’ to my Arabian he had to be put down due to his broken leg. I held his head as best as I could while 1100 pounds stumbled to the ground. Then he was buried under a huge redwood tree in the pasture. Other horses milled around the tree for days. I watched for weeks as the ground settled around his grave and I could make out the outline of his body. I’d bring bits of timothy and apple and cry into the dirt in pointless ritual every day.
Proponents say we in this country do not eat horse meat “because of sentimentality and romanticism”. I’d like to hear their thoughts when I start making jerky out of their dogs.
Horse slaughter for meat production only ended in this country in 2006!
Last month, Congress passed a bill that re-introduced the industry in the name of economic growth. I’ve been watching this closely in the hopes that it would fail, or that it would be vetoed.
I get it, they are big animals. They get old, sick, or injured like my guy. But there are better ways than shipping off a horse once his purpose has been served. Burial, cremation, donation. Donation?! Yes, I tried to donate my horse’s body to the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. Sadly, transport fees were astronomical. Plus, I selfishly wanted a grave to visit.
But! Much of horseflesh rendering is not from aged or surrendered ‘pets’. If you’ve ever seen a wild mustang round-up, when hundreds of frightened horses and burros are corralled in metal cages and trucks as their first interaction with humans, your heart would bleed. From this is where many horse products are derived. These are not fodder animals. They have specific, intricate social systems. (Admittedly, a horse can be stubborn and dumb as a brick when alone with a human. But pair that horse, or give it a herd, and that horse comes alive!) We shudder at the destruction of elephant families in Africa, yet most know nothing of what happens in our own western states. Breeds of horse and burro are native to almost every continent. Although the mustang is not native to North America, it is a symbol of our nation’s growth, a vestige of the tribes of First Nation natives, and a thing of beauty. I have seen several of these round-ups. When horses are truly terrified or in pain, their screams sound like that of a woman.
Ranchers of the West are increasingly releasing their horses into the wild due to economic strain, exacerbating an already difficult situation and introducing genetic instabilities from highly over-bred horses. It costs almost the same in money and labor for sterilization (stallions->geldings) and fed contraception (mares) of wild herds as it does for their destruction and consumption.
If France or Japan wants horse meat why won’t they slaughter their own? Because they no longer have roaming wild herds and they too will not eat their ‘pets’. Even remaining tribes of ‘horse people’ in Mongolia, who ride, breed, milk, render, eat and pelt their horses, do not systematically slaughter when numbers grow. Having the privilege of owning horses taught me a very important lesson about animals. Domesticated species are at our mercy. Whether they are fed, clean, let outside, is dependent upon us. Wild species are disappearing because of land practices and loss of habitat the world over. We’ve eliminated key predator species and wild ‘game’ is continually exploding. (For sake of argument, I’m not going to address hunting by humans here. But I do recognize the benefits, although not a hunter myself.)
We truly are the stewards of the animal world, whether by divine intent or evolution of conscience. I will not eschew other cultures for their dietary practices. But in my nation, where I have a vote, I have a voice. For the last five years it has been illegal to slaughter captured wild horses. As of November 30th, this may no longer be the case. Congress and our President messed up here. I am not ashamed to admit romanticism and sentimentality are a big deal on my little patch of the planet.