Those who profess to care seem to clearly outnumber those who evidently do not, yet those who are uncaring prevail far too often. It is not the numbers that determine the outcome, but whether those who claim to be good are willing to do something about it. I wanted to reblog Kevan’s thoughtful article challenging the equestrian community to creatively end North America’s reliance on horse slaughter, after reading it on Facebook last year.
Not only was I was impressed with the quality of the writing and the solutions he proposed, but also impressive is his commitment to being one of those caring individuals who simply does not pass by by a horse in need thinking, “that’s too bad. But s/he’s not my horse.” Of course, Kevan’s also an amazing photographer, whose work can be viewed on his Facebook page – Maneframe Im•age•ry
Written by: Kevan Garecki (reproduced with permission)
All Photography © Kevan Garecki and Maneframe Im•age•ry
“Strictly by definition there are over 100,000 “unwanted” horses who enter the processing end of the industry every year. There are no hard figures for how many others await something better, but the “sighted mouse” theory may apply; if you see one, there are undoubtedly far more hidden from view.
Rescues turn away exponentially higher numbers of horses than they actually take in; SPCA offices strain their resources to depletion & beyond; and fewer & fewer private individuals are producing viable rescue alternatives, despite the rising head count. In other words; we’re trying harder & getting nowhere faster. It’s time to take a harder look at feasibility & be accountable for what we give.
There are too many “unwanted” horses for us to reasonably expect to save all of them. The market is so saturated that this situation is not likely to improve for some time to come. Unscrupulous breeders & sales agents, uneducated buyers & a plethora of other influences will continue to sway the market until the product it offers improves. With 100,000+ horses annually heading to slaughter, the only way we can hope to get a handle on salvation is to elevate education & awareness, and to severely curtail foal crops in years to come.
Prevailing economies are not likely to pass any time soon; so instead of expecting more money to rain from the heavens we must make more effective use of the
resources we have at present, and expect those resources to shrink before they flourish once again. More importantly, we must work smarter; networking to improve availability of resources, focused fundraising that targets donations in kind in addition to cash, sponsorship programs for groups instead of individuals, & structuring of volunteer programs to maximize results from their efforts are but a few areas that need revising. The current rescue landscape must change; we can no longer willy-nilly “rescue” every horse we see. We must inject another dimension into the process; looking farther into the future. In essence, we must re-invent rescue, or else “salvation” will become semantically equal to “stockpiling”.
Breeders, buyers, trainers, agents equine service providers, & government must now take the responsibility to assume the “bleeding edge” of control over this unacceptable situation. Responsibility (or lack thereof) is a major contributor to the issue; because not enough people took that stance and resultantly flooded the market with the horses we are now faced with rescuing or inevitably, slaughtering.
I have a series of challenges for the equestrian community, and there are some tangible perks for those who pick up the gauntlet:
• Veterinarians are in the soup along with the rest of us; you helped the vast majority of domesticated horses into this world, you can help us fix the problem now. I have repeatedly tried to launch gelding programs to prevent marginal stallions from entering breeding programs, & to offer free euthanasia for cash-strapped owners. These efforts have met with disdain from the medical community. You have education on your side, share it with the public, even if it means taking an unpopular stance. Many of you took an oath to actively work towards the greater good of the equestrian communities that support you; those words are knocking …
• Breeders are the most oft attacked for the current problem, but those with experience hesitate to share their knowledge. It’s not enough to hold onto a valued breeding philosophy; you need to explain to the masses why you breed the way you do, and take responsibility for your get. If you end up with a foal that fails to further the breed ideal, then do the right thing then & there instead of trying to recover your losses. You owe this & nothing less to the breed you purport to uphold.
• Trainers make money training horses, and to do so they must occasionally assume the role of agent, advisor & guide for their clients when the chequebooks come out. You want to be in a position of authority? Then act like you deserve it! If you see a horse that is incapable of meeting the clients’ needs, then be the professional we need you to be and pass that horse up rather than shovelling unheard of sums of money into your bank accounts only to watch the horse be shuffled off from one home you know damn well won’t work to another.
• During an era of prosperity, equine service providers flocked to the calls for everything from horse-sitting & equine chiropractic to haute couture grooming & dinner parties for stud
services. Once the public was suitably fleeced and money drained out faster than gas through a luxury SUV, we were left holding the bag with the bill in it. Now that the barest necessities such as hay & shelter are scarcely affordable, the herd of “unaffordable” horses joins the ranks of the “unwanted”. Yes, some of the more gullible owners may have needed a swift kick in the bank account, but others were just trying to make a dream come true, or help a kid learn to ride, or maybe just make a home for a horse they could barely afford. Still think it was funny to charge $500 for a clipping … ?
• Owners! Instead of discarding that horse because s/he cannot perform to your expectations or needs, look into retraining for alternate jobs. Look not to the breeder for a shiny new foal, but to the current get for matches to your quest. We recycle metal, glass, forest products & much more to save the planet; but make little effort to finding alternate productive service for the horses who serve us. Stewardship assumes many guises, and holds a multitude of responsibilities; not the least of which is that life you took on when you bought that horse …
• Education must be the precursor to enforcement, so to those in the echelons of the enforcement community I pose this; if you are not in the position to educate, then you cannot morally enforce. Informed officers are your single best resource to stem the tsunami of neglect & abuse. Teach your officers how to spread the word, be seen as the source for information, be the “go to” for help instead of cringing under self-imposed Damoclean legerdemain. There are resources you can tap into, I can & have offered this and much more to many SPCA offices. Time to be all you can be.
• A tip o’ the hat to the American politicians who waded into battle for the sake of a few influential constituents & laboured long to rescind anti-slaughter legislation in their own states. When the highest power in the land said “No”, you conspired with other power brokers to create your own island of nepotism! Didn’t the KKK try something like that a while back … ? Apparently the wants of the few outweigh the needs of the many in the Land of the Free. Government is supposed to be of the people, for the people as I recall in my history classes; or perhaps that was re-written along with the outcome of the War of 1812?
• If we can’t viably save a horse, then the only moral thing to do is to release him/her from further suffering. Vets, breeders, trainers & owners alike must all accept the very real possibility of having to euthanize a horse if their prospect of adoption or homing is less than ideal. We can’t save them all, so let’s concentrate on the ones we can look after; but in order to do that we must educate ourselves in making intelligent choices, and be ready to release the rest so as to prevent them from a life of depravity & neglect. Is “life without possibility of parole” better or worse than “death row”?
No one is innocent in this situation; you are either part of the solution or you reside squarely in the realm of the problem; by allowing the problem to persist you procreate it through inaction. Those who care can only outnumber those who do not because they prove their devotion by working actively towards the solutions. Those who profess to care yet do nothing are little more than agents of the ones who care not.
I don’t believe anything constructive comes from posing a problem without offering solutions to it, so here are my attempts at blazing a trail out of the mess:
• I am not a fan of regulation, but one look at the flood of foals every year proves we cannot be trusted to police our own ranks so some form of continuity must be enforced upon us. I propose licensing for breeders, and a qualification process to prove fitness. Fees should include a levy that goes directly into a fund administrated for the benefit of rescues & animal welfare.
• Breed associations could provide a point system based on breeders’ past crops & performance. Potential buyers could purchase compilations of breeding activity & shortlist based on a breeder’s rating. The higher the quality of foals, the more points a breeders gets. The better their earnings, the more points they get. Breeders should also receive substantial recognition for responsibility towards recovering or recycling horses who may not make the grade and are retrained or otherwise assisted at the breeder’s own expense. In short, good breeders would benefit exponentially, poor breeders would no longer be able to finance the equine equivalent of “puppy mills”.
• Breeders should be required to post a performance bond on their foal crops. Failure to ensure welfare of their get would bring about enforced support, be it in the form of care or euthanasia.
• Trainers cannot morally represent their clients in the purchase of new horses. They can advise but ultimately it’s up to the owners to educate themselves when looking at a horse. If you have to ask a barber if you need a haircut, maybe you need to look in the mirror instead. Immerse yourselves in the transaction; make an informed decision based on all available information. Your vet, farrier, chiro, trainer or miracle-working cowboy cannot “fix” a horse that is conformationally unfit, unsound or otherwise debilitated. Buy what you need, buy smart!
• Major players must be made accountable for the demands they put on the industry & provide alternatives, such as supporting adoption foundations for these ex-athletes. The racing community places 2-year old horses into competitive service, but then provides little or no support for the burnt out 4-year olds that practice creates.
• Major venues & breed/discipline associations should donate a percentage of their income to welfare & support. This doesn’t mean you get to raise the rates for next year’s shows or memberships, take the money out of your own pocket; like the rest of us do …
Does this anger you? Do my words inspire ire & rage? Good! Then you’re just the person we need, for you have passion & passion is what is needed to chip through the crust of apathy. Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”