“This is what they are reduced to. After the glory, fame, adulation, they end up on a windy plain at a knackery waiting for a bullet in the head. They communicate with each other. They suffer, they quiver, they shake, they mourn. There is absolutely no dignity for horses who have kept people employed and made them money.” (Ward Young, Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9/28/13)

“I do have a soft spot for some horses. But it is business and I can’t afford to get too attached.” (prominent Australian trainer Peter Moody)

In Australia, roughly two-thirds of the 18,000 Thoroughbreds born each year (the second largest “crop” in the world) will never see a starting gate. The “wastage” – an industry term for the young, relatively healthy horses who do not (or no longer) make the cut – usually ends up as part of the 40,000 horses slaughtered annually for dog food and European palates. The Herald article sets the scene:

“It is hard to imagine a more dispiriting place than the Echuca Saleyards, known as “the doggers”. Here, the horses that are not sold as riding horses, or not rescued, go to the kill pens – to be sold as dog meat. Among the depressed, neglected horses with swollen legs, protruding bones and bad hooves are young, beautiful thoroughbreds and yearlings who were not good enough. Distressed and frightened, the whites of their eyes rolling, neither well fed nor cared for, the horses sense that something is very wrong.

Some of the horses comfort each other, others step forward with trust in their huge liquid eyes as the auctioneer comes to them, shouting, and they are sold for $200 to pet-meat knackeries. One horse is so frightened by the noise it tries to leap out of the high metal pen. It is deeply upsetting to see them driven out in trucks bound for the knackery, where they will spend their last minutes on earth in a corrugated iron shed with ‘Fresh Pet Meat’ crudely painted on it. They will be rounded up and taken one by one into the killing box, where they will be shot in front of each other.”

A world away from the $6 million Melbourne Cup…


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Using USDA FOIA Breed-Specific Data and USDA National Agriculture Statistics, a Wild for Life Foundation study found that on average 19% of horses being sent to slaughter are Thoroughbreds. In the six-year period from 2005-2010, this translates to 23,500 Thoroughbreds trucked, slaughtered, and butchered annually.

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While all animal slaughter is horrific, the horse trade is particularly heartrending: Horses are flight animals and instinctively recoil in terror at the sights and sounds of the abattoir, making them elusive targets for the men charged with shooting them in the head. As a consequence, many will require multiple hits, and even at that, some may still be conscious (or will regain consciousness) when shackled, hoisted upside down, slashed, and exsanguinated. The lavish attention and winsome names while earning, a bitter lifetime ago.

horse slaughter photo gallery
auction to slaughter photo gallery

In 2012, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) released undercover video from yet another Canadian equine slaughterhouse, Les Viandes de la Petit-Nations in Quebec, the fourth of the four licensed slaughterhouses to be exposed for cruelty. Some key findings from the CHDC investigation:

…40% of the horses were not stunned (killed or rendered insensible to pain) after the first captive-bolt shot, with one needing 11 hits over a four-minute period.

…Video shows a bloodied pistol brought out from the suspension/butchering line, suggesting that horses who should have been unconscious or dead upon reaching that stage were not.

…The government inspector paid to ensure a humane kill was seen observing the stun box for a total of 3 1/2 minutes over a period of two days.

World-renowned veterinarian and Tufts professor Nicholas Dodman reviewed the tapes:

“I estimate about 20%, appeared terrified, positively shaking with fear and making vain attempts to escape.”

“The stun box itself was clearly set up for cattle with a caliper-type head/neck restraint to assure cattle’s immobility. Clearly, horses would not tolerate such a restraint because of their flighty disposition. This meant that many head-shy or apprehensive horses were moving their heads to-and-fro and presented the operator of the captive bolt pistol (CBP) a moving target. Since that target – the brain – is approximately the size of a grapefruit and is positioned inside a skull with the dimensions of an office trash can, it is clear that the risk of the operator inaccurately hitting the target is high.”

“The fact that the floor of the stun box was slick, made so by blood and other body fluids, meant that some panicked horses were slipping, sliding, and falling as they tried to propel themselves forward or backwards.”

“Many horses who required a second or third shot, and some who were only given one shot to the head, retained muscle tone for some time, with some running in place or lurching from side to side, indicating that some level of consciousness was likely still present as they slowly expired.”

“My final conclusion, after reviewing 150-plus horse slaughters in this series of videos, is that the process was terrifying for most of the horses and, in many cases, horribly inhumane.”

Scott Jagow of the Paulick Report filed this “video postcard from Saratoga”…

From racing patrons in the video:

“And it’s just something so special, that you can take your kids out in the ‘backyard’ with a cooler and have a picnic…and it’s all good.”

“It’s maybe the only place on Earth I know where people actually walk around with smiles on their faces all the time, win or lose.”

“This cocktail of great racing, an enchanting town, the history, it all adds up to be just a great experience every day.”

The mawkish piano music at the video’s end reminds viewers that the bittersweet farewell has arrived once more. Here, though, is my return postcard to all those who long ago succumbed to the rotten bill of goods that is horseracing. The videos below may be called many things, but “surreal” and “calming” are not among them. This is the fate awaiting many, if not most, of Saratoga’s darlings, who upon arrival at places like Bouvry Exports must wonder, in their own equine way, wherever the adoring eyes of summer have gone.

Roughly 30,000 Thoroughbreds die like this each year, a real-life consequence of an enchanting day at the old racetrack…



On Friday, a federal judge halted, at least for the time being, the opening of horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Iowa. While this represents a small victory for equine advocates, the larger issue – where the slaughterbound come from and how we can stop it – receives secondary coverage at best. Polls show 70-80% of the American public opposes horse slaughter, but why is there not a similar distaste for one of slaughter’s primary suppliers – horseracing? This is where Robert Redford, Bill Richardson, and the like can have a greater impact. This is where their outrage should be focused.

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Roughly 19% of the 175,000 American horses currently being shipped to foreign abattoirs are retired Thoroughbreds. And while definitive studies on the former Quarter Horse and Standardbred athletes butchered are lacking, it’s a good bet that the combined number either equals or exceeds the Thoroughbred count. So yes, continue to protest these hellholes, both here and abroad, but go after the source too. Oh, and don’t forget to remind the Europeans how their delicacy is produced. In the end, it’s the flow, not the site, that matters.

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According to the Equine Welfare Alliance (from USDA statistics), in 2012, 176,223 American horses were shipped to Mexico (110,202), Canada (59,812), and Japan (6,209) for slaughter. 176,223. That’s a 32% increase from 2011 and the most American horses slaughtered since 1993. A Wild for Life Foundation study found that roughly 19% of the horses shipped to slaughter are Thoroughbreds. In other words, about 33,000 Thoroughbreds met cruel and violent ends in abattoirs last year.

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Now consider this: The Jockey Club estimates the 2012 foal “crop” at 22,500, meaning significantly more American Thoroughbreds were exsanguinated than born. Bustling butcher lines. Is this, horseracing industry, what you mean by “responsible aftercare”? Something to ponder as the annual pilgrimage to Saratoga continues…

How they die (from the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition):
2010 undercover video of two Canadian slaughterhouses

2011 undercover video of yet another Canadian slaughterhouse