Written by: Heather Clemenceau
John Scott has had a year of highs and lows – since starting into the movie business in 1969, he has balanced his own cattle, horse and buffalo ranch with work on Academy Award winning movies such as Unforgiven, Lord of the Rings, Legends of the Fall and Days of Heaven, along with other films and series such as Hell on Wheels, the 13th Warrior, Klondike Gold, and the family TV series Heartland. Earlier in 2014, he was awarded a 75th anniversary ATB Agriculture buckle (awarded to farmers and ranchers), and soon afterwards it was rather abruptly announced in the July/August 2014 issue of Horse-Canada magazine that he was no longer wrangler for the TV show Heartland.
The Heartland show is a series chronicling 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.”
In late 2012, Animals Angels photographed a stock trailer belonging to John Scott Productions at the Bouvry Slaughterhouse in Fort MacLeod Alberta. The feedlots nearby and the Bouvry slaughter plant were part of an investigation by Animals Angels; 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.
When I wrote my original Heartland blog in March 2013, speculating on whether JSP horses were being sent to slaughter on that day when Scott’s trailer was observed at Bouvry, we didn’t know and still don’t know what species of animal had been taken to the slaughterhouse. Previously, the Heartland show, via their Facebook page, denied that any horses featured in the show had ever gone to slaughter.
But since the announcement that Scott was no longer wrangler for Heartland, it was noticed that horses advertised as being from the series were showing up at various auctions throughout Alberta, in fairly close proximity to the Bouvry slaughterhouse, and usually where kill buyers were present. As well as being a supplier for movies, Scott is also regarded in Alberta as a horse trader.
In addition to the two auction sites mentioned, he also brings horses to the Innisfail auction north of Calgary, where kill buyers are also in attendance. In May and August of this year, John Scott Productions had two partial herd dispersals at Hebson Arena and Irvine Tack and Trailer. The owner of Irvine Tack & Trailer is Scott Irvine – a well known and very active kill buyer in the province. Having auctions of any animal on a kill buyer’s property puts money in their hands and enables them to slaughter more horses in the long run – it’s the same argument some people use for refusing to purchase brokered horses directly from kill buyers.
These two sales, which disposed of dozens of horses and mules, represented a large number of Scott’s usual 150 head of horses. Quarter horses, appys, paints, grade horses, and mules were variously described as having been used as as driving horses (2up, 4up and 6up) reining horses, bucking horses, and used in parades and blacksmith competitions, the Calgary Stampede, various movies including Heartland, and in ranch work. One horse was advertised as being an RCMP horse. Most were in their early to mid-teens, with others being described as “smooth mouth” horses who could no longer take heavy work.
Hebson Arena Sale, Okotoks, Alberta
Irvine Tack and Trailer Sale, Crossfield, Alberta
After what appears to have been a lot of hard use, most of these well-broke horses deserved a soft landing – to new lives as lightly-ridden trail horses for beginner and intermediate riders. Many of these horses should have been able to bring at least $1,000 each, but obviously Scott would have included some horses who didn’t work out for him or could no longer do heavy ranch work, and therefore aren’t as desirable on the market. Typically the horses described as “best for occasional trail use” don’t do well at auctions because they are often not completely sound. So it’s unknown how many of these horses went on to new homes and whether any may have been sent on that final trip to Bouvry, not far from either of the sites.
In any case, I think it’s wishful thinking to accept the statements of the TV show at face value – “No horse that has ever appeared on Heartland has ever been sent to a slaughterhouse.”
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.”