Americans have had a long love affair with horses. Whether on the racetrack, on television, or in Hollywood, celebrated steeds such as Citation, Secretariat, Black Beauty, Trigger and Mr. Ed have always been part of our national history and culture. Our nation was built on the backs of horses. Yet, today, our horse population is facing an unparalleled crisis caused by over-breeding, unsafe racetracks, and the demand for horsemeat served in many products sold in Europe.
Each year, more than 100,000 healthy horses in the United States are shipped across our borders to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. These animals suffer from inhumane long-distance transport and are subjected to cruel and clumsy slaughter practices. Consuming meat from American horses is also a health risk: Our horses are raised as companions, athletes or work horses, so they have been routinely given drugs that can render their meat contaminated.
However, American horsemeat is still sold in Europe. In the last few weeks, European officials and consumer groups have discovered beef burgers for sale in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain that contained horse DNA though it was not labeled as such. This isn't an animal rights issue. It is one of public safety.
How can this slaughter of American horses be stopped? The Humane Society of the United States continues to urge Congress to ban horse slaughter for good with a bill that would not only outlaw the practice within the U.S., but also the export of live horses to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. Horse breeders can also help by reducing the number of horses they bring into the world. The HSUS created the Responsible Horse Breeders Council, comprised of breeders around the country dedicated to improving horse welfare. Breeders will sign a pledge stating that they will take back any horse they have bred that becomes homeless whether that's because it has outlived its usefulness on the racetrack, in the show ring, or as a working horse.
A large part of the solution for homeless horses are the many sanctuaries and rescue facilities where horses can be rehabilitated and placed in caring homes, or live out their days in tranquility. The HSUS now operates some of the largest sanctuaries in the country -- the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center in Murchison, Texas, as well as the Duchess Sanctuary in Oakland, Ore. There are also smaller sanctuaries, such as Squirrelwood in Montgomery, N.Y., whose owners regularly go to horse auctions to purchase animals that would otherwise be sent to slaughter. But all of these sanctuaries need funding to continue caring for these horses.
We also need to take a hard look at how we treat these animals. Carriage horses in New York City should be banned. Horrific accidents have occurred when a carriage horse bolted into traffic putting itself, the driver and passengers in danger.
At the Aqueduct Racetrack in New York, many horses running in cheap claiming races break down, jeopardizing the safety of other horses and jockeys. One should also note the shocking abuse of Tennessee walking horses who are subjected to having caustic chemicals applied to their legs in order to achieve the unnatural "big lick" gait prized in the industry.
In 2012, The HSUS launched the Safe Stalls program, a national network of horse rescues, professionals, and enthusiasts who provide emergency care and shelter for horses suffering from cruelty or natural disaster situations.
But more needs to be done. The public needs to pressure lawmakers to champion legislation that helps horses. Racetracks might use a portion of the revenue realized through casino gambling to support homes for retired racehorses. Professional equestrians need to rally the world of show horses to make certain that none of their horses go to slaughter.
Companies such as Ralph Lauren and Ford, which ally themselves with horses through their products, should contribute money to programs that help equines.
But perhaps just as important, we need to let some of our European friends know that the horsemeat they consider as a delicacy can be riddled with chemicals from painkillers and other drugs these horses are treated with throughout their lives. By closing down the market for horsemeat, the slaughter houses will eventually be forced to shut their doors.
When we domesticated the horse, we took on the responsibility of caring for it throughout its life. It is only right that an animal that gives joy to so many should be protected from harm and allowed to live out its life in greener pastures.