Have the Tentacles of Horse Slaughter Touched the Set of Heartland?

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Horseshoe in the grassWritten By:  Heather Clemenceau

After a night of careful deliberation and a rigorous boxing match between each direction of my moral compass, I’ve finally decided to write about this issue.  I’ve written about Alberta a few times before – Canadian slaughterphile and HWAC Chair Bill DesBarres, the Calgary Stampede, and our anti-slaughter billboard have featured predominantly in the past.  DesBarres is also the paid public representative of Claude Bouvry – the owner of Bouvry Exports.  Horse slaughter seems to be almost an entrenched tradition in Alberta, with Bouvry’s two plants and the Stampede setting the tone for institutionalized animal abuse and neglect.

Fort McLeod is the capital of horse slaughter in Canada. In their white paper “Horse Slaughter – Its Ethical Impact and Subsequent Response of the Veterinary Profession,” the U.S.-based group Veterinarians for Equine Welfare denounces horse slaughter as inhumane and

“an unacceptable way to end a horse’s life under any circumstance.”

The organization also warns against the practice because of the wide assortment of drugs that are prohibited from use in animals “intended” for human consumption, but are given to horses and likely to be present in their flesh after slaughter. The group also outlines its “strong position” that due to these medications,

“…horsemeat derived from any US [or Canadian] horse can never be regarded as safe for human consumption.”horseshoes

The various feedlots nearby and the Bouvry slaughter plant were part of an investigation by Animals Angels in October 2012; you can read the full report here.   There is also additional footage of the various Alberta feedlots by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition as part of “The True Faces of Horse Slaughter” investigation.

Another staple in Alberta is the television show “Heartland,” a family series based on the Heartland books by Lauren Brooke. The series chronicles the highs and lows of ranch life and it is filmed in Alberta – feedlot capital of Canada.  The Facebook page is filled with perpetually optimistic fans pleading for better love lives for the characters,  and it’s a place where “True Heartlanders” are never bored with reruns.  As far as I know, the closest this series has come to treading on the topic of slaughter is an episode where a dozen wild horses are found in a “feedlot,” which the scriptwriters tell us is a “place where they keep cows before they kill them.”  I’m wondering if the producers have ever seen a real feedlot,  where thousands upon thousands of horses are waiting to be slaughtered,  not a dozen.   They’re not difficult to find in Alberta!  But realistically,  that’s just too much reality for a family show….

A few days ago the television show became embroiled in something of a scandal – it’s the only time I ever saw harsh words exchanged on that Facebook page.  And it was reserved for horse welfare advocates after several individuals recognized one of the trailers photographed at the Bouvry slaughterhouse as belonging to a well-known contractor and animal wrangler for the show.  John Scott Productions supplies horses for this show and others, as well as sets, props,  wagons and buggies.

It’s a working ranch with over 100 horses, as well as buffalo and longhorns,  according to their website. Although the Animals’ Angels investigation took place in October,  the connection wasn’t made until recently and then the Heartland producers were forced to deal with the reality of the incriminating photos and investigation posted on their Facebook wall.  While some threads were left up,  others and comments were quickly deleted.  Finally, it seemed as though the people handling their social media accounts decided that the appropriate response was to cease the heavy-handed deleting and give the impression that the situation was being addressed.

As you can see from the Animals’ Angels investigation, two of John Scott’s trailers were tagged at Bouvry’s on October 18th.

“10/18/12 –  Investigators arrived at 7:30 am.

The parking lot was already crowded. Two pickup trucks with stock trailers were parked at the unloading ramp. At 7:46 am, they both left and investigators followed. On the back of the trailers was written: Movie Horses –John Scott – Longview, Alberta. “

Scott Productions Trailers photographed by Animals' Angels investigators immediately after leaving the Bouvry plant

Scott Productions Trailers photographed by Animals’ Angels investigators immediately after leaving the Bouvry plant

Fans of the show were simultaneously shocked and/or in denial about the possibility that horses were taken to slaughter.  It’s an awkward situation for the producers of the show because the show’s entire premise is based on rescuing horses as an homage to the main character’s deceased mother.  Even though they cannot control what their contractors do outside of their business relationship with the show, it presents as an extreme conflict.  And it’s largely an unresolved conflict, at least to me and a few others, because we’ll never truly know which animals were taken to the plant on that day.

 “John’s horses are not abused.”

“Heartland is not going to stop working with him – he’s the only movie wrangler around.”

Because the investigators arrived at the plant at 7:30, the Scott trailers had already been unloaded.  The show posted a status on Facebook to indicate that these were buffalo that had been dropped off, which isn’t inconsistent since buffalo are present on the ranch according to the website.  But it gets interesting because the investigators have stated that the buffalo seen in the pens at Bouvry werheartland1e there THE DAY BEFORE as well as on the same day that Scott’s trailers were photographed – October 18th.   There was also some speculation as to whether the two trailers, small stock trailers, were large enough to haul buffalo.  Were these also Scott’s buffalo?  Who knows.  Bouvry doesn’t slaughter buffalo every day.

The producers maintain that the entire shipment was a herd of buffalo, and not horses.  Apparently there is a manifest that supports their statement.  I will say that, if these two trailers represent several head of buffalo,  they must have been very tiny indeed.  The producers stipulate that:

“No horse that has appeared on Heartland has ever been sent to a slaughterhouse. Mr. Scott invites visitors and fans of the show alike to stop by his ranch and see how well his horses are cared for. John takes pride in the way his operation trains and cares for his horses, as this has been a lifelong passion for him. Mr. Scott personally owns the horses that play Spartan, Paint, Pegasus, Harley as well as much of the equines appearing on the series.”

Crisis averted?  Perhaps not.  It may be absolutely true that none of the Heartland horse actors have ever been sent to slaughter, and no one accused Scott or his company of abusing animals.  It doesn’t guarantee however, that none of their supplier’s horses have never been shipped to Bouvry;  as we know,  healthy,  young,  viable and trained horses also get sent to slaughter and most of them aren’t abused beforehand either.  HWAC Chair Bill DesBarres,  like a sausage forever sputtering in its own grease,  will be the first person to proclaim that he cares about his horses as well.  He’ll also tell you that he sends each and every horse that is of no use to him directly to slaughter,  because “it’s a wonderful option,”  while simultaneously and inexplicably  describing humane euthanasia as an “awful experience.”

heartland2This entire situation is interesting because it addresses the need for or the appropriateness of industry accountability and governance.  While I personally object to talking heads attempting to direct off-work activities and morals, there is a great need for the horse industry to improve its image and more importantly, share their ideas on what can be done to improve horse welfare.  The racing industry for the most part has tried very hard to improve its image and necessitate aftercare for former racehorses.  Many employers require a minimal degree of off-work behavioural compliance with permits and laws,  and may stipulate that employees must “govern themselves accordingly” outside of work and not attract negative attention to their employers.  What can be required of 3rd party contractors is another matter entirely.  In the end,  the producers quickly squelched the possibility of further discussion, primarily because they are approaching their 100th episode:

“There are 10s of thousands of fans who are unaware of any of this and there is no reason to make this a key post on the blog.  We have a 100th episode to promote this Sunday. :-)”

Yes, it’s transparently clear where their priorities lie, although truthfully, I can’t really blame them under the circumstances.  But I seriously think the show must address the issue of slaughter in an episode,  perhaps in a manner more consistent with the original book.  I think it can be handled sensitively in a manner appropriate to their audience.  Another issue the show management should address is the mysterious phone call placed to a horse advocate from “Alberta Klondike Productions,” seeking contact information for posters on the Heartland Facebook page.heartland response

I sincerely hope that the statements of the TV producers are not part of a campaign of self-deception,  intended to conceal a possible ethical breach in killing animals whilst purporting to save them in a television show.  I hope that Mr. Scott does not send horses to slaughter – any horses, not just the ones performing on this show.  The reality is that we do not know what species of animal was unloaded that day in Fort McLeod  as the investigators did not see them.

Heartland SetSlaughterhouse operations violate nearly every principle of the humane treatment of animal ownership. Unfortunately,  the leadership within the horse industry has grown to lack empathy and compassion for horses that do not meet their expectations.  Horses do not understand why their colour matters, that they are not the correct size or shape, nor do they contemplate their appearance in a television show. In the unfortunate circumstance that a horse’s life does indeed need to be ended, it should be done as humanely as possible by humane euthanasia.

Heartland

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About Heather Clemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

42 responses »

  1. Can I post this to HEAT-lands page? Good read…shared on twitter…for some reason my computer will not like the page…like for bloggers? wtf…

  2. Reblogged this on Comedyflyer's Blog and commented:
    Heartland is a make believe show about ranching, horses ect with a devout following who live in the fantasy world of HEART-less land. While real horses are being slaughtered they are using ALL their energies to attack the horse advocates who are asking Questions & actually trying to save some real horses…..

  3. Heather, this is a very good blog. I know that the show use to be popular here in Colorado, but I think they are canceled it. I have sent this link to all the other people with Animals Angels. I am going to post it on our like page also.
    Thank you

  4. The producers are WRONG. Horses that have been on the show HAVE been sent to slaughter. Saw them at an auction, talked to the person who brought them in, they had flyers with pics and announced in the ring that these horses had been in the Christmas Special for the show Heartland. Every horse they took there went to slaughter. AND they were skinny to the point of being very weak.

  5. Heather, thank you. Having seen your FB posts, I knew you were dedicated to equine welfare, not just gushing emotions.

  6. I’m so disappointed in Heartland. I love the show. I did not see this blog and wish I had. do read it a lot as I’m addicted to the show but now I will be watching with a wearly eye. It will change it for me. How can a program that is based on saving horses from slaughter can close their eyes to it? I feel they had better do a show on horse slaughter next season or else. . .
    Thanks for putting this out there. Like I said I missed it and it does make a difference to me.

    • Everything evil done to animals is for profit – the bigger the better. One of the top officials from the Calgary Stampede Ranch at Hanna that breeds bucking horses was interviewed on television. last summer. He was proud of the fact they have over 500 head of horses and breed 100 foals every year. Like anything else, it is likely that less than 10% would make the grade for buckers. The other 90% would most likely end up in crates and shipped to Japan for slaughter as they would be drug free.
      Keep writing Heather. You do a great job.

      • That is extremely disgusting, 500 horses and breed 100 foals. People should not support the rodeo whatsoever. If you are buying rodeo tickets, you are in support of the abuse and slaughter that go along with it. Stop supporting especially this idiot that keeps on breeding horses. I hear their excuses, oh we love our horses and treat them so well. Stop spewing your crap. If you love your horses you would not put a bucking strap on them and spur them to doing dangerous things that they could easily break their spines/necks/legs. If you love your animals, you would never ask them to do such horrible things. This is not entertaining, it is horrifying and every time a horse comes out a chute we wait with held breath to see if they are going to survive this round.

      • Yes I have seen it. But they need to do more since the main story line was saving Spartan from slaughter. I was just floored that their wrangler was caught at a slaughter house. All these people who depend on slaughter to get rid of their cast offs had better realize that more and more people are watching and their names will come out. Here in the US if the plants open many advocates will be watching, taking note and pictures, and putting them out in the public. They will have no where to run. And since more the 80% of American’s are against horse slaughter, they will have to answer to the public for their part in this disgusting business.

  7. I just went to the Heartland website and you might like to know that they have removed the bio on the horse wrangler and stunt coordinator. I remember reading the whole thing about this guy and his horse operation but now don’t find anything about the horses or animals at all. I hate when people hide out instead of facing the music even if its bad. I will keep monitoring the website but after the 100th Episode I may be bringing it up again on the blog.

  8. How does one contact the producer of this show, i would like to call or write.
    Iwill also email CBC.CA about this program.

  9. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was slaughtering some horses at some point. Scott supplies horses to nearly anything filmed in western Canada and sometimes he needs to show a large herd running around. Since there are so many kill buyers in his area, I’m sure it’s not tough to make an arrangement. I’m sure his specialized and trained horses don’t end up there, but the `walk on’ animal actors may not be so lucky. Sad.

  10. I am very disappointed to hear this, as I follow this show pretty religiously. I have gone on their website but can’t seem to find a link to post anything. Good for you Heather, for bringing this out to the public. Alberta is so notorious for slaughter.

    • Alberta is not the only province that send horses for slaughter, EVERY province in Canada sends horses to the slaughterhouse. Alberta just stands out because two of the processing plants are in Alberta.

  11. He should get his background horses from a rescue like Bear Valley, not that far away, then return them. It’s a no brainer to me!

  12. Knowing John Scott personally and professionally for many years, I can say that his horses are well cared for and I have never known him to send them to slaughter. I would not doubt that their were buffalo in those trailers. They are not tiny stock trailers and you could easily fit 7 or 8 buffalo in each of those trailers. He does supply large amounts of horses to some shows, but I can tell you he does not buy huge herds of horses to appear in one or two scenes of a show. Most of these horses are rented by the day. The pay for a background horse for one or two days is not enough to warrant purchasing it. Crucifying someone like John Scott without knowing him or the film industry is unfair.

    • I gave a lot of thought to writing this Thardy. What made my mind up were the small number of people posting on the FB page with their own names, acknowledging that they knew or were acquainted with him and stated that he had taken horses to slaughter. If this is true then it should be known, given the entire premise of the show. But I realize the show is also make-believe and doesn’t necessarily mimic real life. It’s not necessary to know him personally or understand the film industry intimately in order to critique what is happening. But already the producers appear to be wrong in stating that “no Heartland horses have ever been slaughtered.”

      We need to speak out about the disposability of horses in any industry. I’ve not accused Mr. Scott of anything – it’s acknowledged that we don’t know the species of animal taken to Bouvry that day. Slaughter is not exactly an illegal activity either. Both the CHDC’s and Animals’ Angels photos and video of the feedlot conditions in Alberta show that they are filled with the dead and dying, mares who failed to deliver live foals, foals obstructed in the birth canal, etc. etc. you’d have a hard time demonstrating why any horse should go there.
      Furthermore, the Zurich Federal Veterinarian’s office have issues with Bouvry right now, and it appears there is or will be some sort of investigation.

      I was also disturbed to hear that a man who did not identify himself was calling asking for people’s contact information. This number showed up on call-display as “Alberta Klondike Productions,” which I gather is the film set. Who is this person and why are they trying to obtain private contact information? This occurred before I wrote the blog and combined with the statements from real people, it’s why I decided to write it.

    • How can you really know someone? Michael Vick known & loved by family & many people ..convicted of illegal dog fighting…Jerry Sandusky…Statues erected in his honor…we all know NOW what he was doing for yrs & yrs…The list goes on & on…that is why people investigate. Heartland says there is a manifest for the buffalo…can we see it? A written statement from Bouvry could stop this. Inquiring minds need to know.

    • The point is, who is he leasing those herds from? Likely it is from kill buyers or feedlots. Mr. Scott has a golden opportunity to take a stance and make a difference here if he really does care about the very animals that have made him a very good living.

  13. Well I for one am glad I’ve been given a heads up on this. Heather did say they are unsure of what kind of animal was dropped off. I love Heartland but it will change how I watch it. And now with the removal of the animal and stunt info part of their website it makes me suspicious. I know that horse slaughter is an accepted thing in Canada but when you attach it to cruelty then that changes things. We all have seen the videos, and I have the downloaded file of over 900 photos of horses going to American slaughterhouses, so I have seen the cruelty in this industry. But I’m glad that we have put these people on notice that the public is watching and they must stand up to what their watching public demands which is kindness to the animals that make up this show. I came late to this series but have become addicted with it because it fits into my mind set on how horses should be treated and watching it for the horse parts is my main reason for taking such an interest. With the main character working so hard to find homes for “unwanted horses” it is hard to see in real life that they would sent horses to slaughter in front of the public. I do hope that it comes out that it was buffalo, although I don’t like that either, but as long as it was not horses, the main character in this show, then well … and the plot thickens, as they say.

  14. The success or failure of a Telivision series is based on the number of people who view the show. I have watched the show off and on , however my wife WAS a regular viewer of the series. We are so glad this came to light, perhaps many others may see it the same way my wife and i do.

  15. I have watched this show religiously for 6 seasons now and they have done a number of shows about horse slaughter, either as a main topic or a side topic. Heartland has made it clear they are anti-horse slaughter, at least in the show. If they are using the srevices of a kill buyer, or someone who works closely with a kill buyer, I think they need to make some tough decisions and make them publicly. I still find it very hard to believe that horses used on the set, which would have to be somewhat trained, would be sent to slaughter. I saw the Christmas special and the horses did not look to be starving, so if they were thin, perhaps there was a third party who got them after they left the show. I am not defending Heartland but I do have a few questions. Regardless, I think heartland needs to answer them for all of us.

    • Many trained horses are going to slaughter…We have a few trained rescues here .At last weekends auction for hay the small square bales went for 10$ a piece…4/5 round bales kept inside went for 85$…the price of feed is making it hard to keep herds of anything…just imagine if you are feeding 100 head or more, ..even if the hay is cheaper, 40$.per bale..it is all dependent if you were in the drought region or not. It is not long racking up big bills. I have 9 horses & I am always doing the math..

  16. Unless you have a solution and the funds to back it up this is just another useless rant. Would you prefer horses starve to death or literally die of painful injuries? Horse slaughter is, unfortunately, a necessary evil.

    • Then explain to me how horses are starving to death and are dying of painful injuries and slaughter exists? Obviously whether slaughter exists or not, the starvation and injuries are still happening. It is NOT a necessary evil. we need to literally put a tight rein on things, like who has horses and who is breeding. The horse industry is seriously out of control. Like anything humans get their hand on, everything becomes a mess.

  17. Pingback: Have the Tentacles of Horse Slaughter Touched the Set of Heartland? | The Roaring Butterfly

  18. Personally I think this article is causing a lot of speculation about Heartland and its production. I know everyone loves a conspiracy theory, but we don’t know the whole story. I won’t be judging Heartland for what they did not know, and I won’t be judging John Scott Productions until I hear DIRECT evidence (not hearsay) that he PERSONALLY(or his personal co-workers, not other men he trusted maybe too early to buy his horses) brought horses to a slaughterhouse (a picture of his trailer at a slaughterhouse just doesn’t do it for me). If I find out DIRECT evidence to the contrary my opinion might change. But until then all this is to me is Hollywood reporting based off an insubstantial picture with many speculations and assumptions made.

    Sincerely,

    An Unbiased Viewer

    P.S. I do admire your stand against slaughterhouses. That said, if you or your reviewers do see DIRECT evidence, please take a picture or video or record something that shows horses being led to a slaughterhouse by John Scott et al. to share so you can expose the company LEGITIMATELY.

    • Well, how about people who attended auctions and saw horses advertised as “From the Christmas Special of Heartland?” They are here in the comments section. That directly contradicts what the production office has stated.

    • I had a reporter interview me as to what I saw at the auction. She contacted John Scott about the whole “auction” thing, and asked if those horses did go to the meat buyer. His reply was “well I can’t keep track of where all of them go” and when asked if he could produce records to prove where they ended up, he said he didn’t want to bother looking them up.

      The show itself is fine, but the producers need to be a lot more careful who they hire and where those horses are ending up. Especially that the show is confessing to be anti-slaughter.

      • Wow, when was this Brenda? Was an article on this subject published anywhere? I know that CHDC blogged an update on John Scott and a new wrangler taking over……..

  19. Pingback: New Here? | heatherclemenceau

  20. Awesome write-up Heather–very balanced and hoping this further promotes investigation and serious inquiries for Heartland producers–lets get this matter out in the open! Thank You once again for being such a great writer and animal advocate!

  21. I attended an horse sale a couple years ago where a horse from the heartland series was absolutely sold to a kill buyer

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