June 25, 2014
HSUS Positions Relating to Equine Protection
The Equine Protection Department is committed to improving horse welfare through education, advocacy and direct support.
We lobby for legislation to protect at-risk equines from cruelty, assist horse-rescue groups and law enforcement agencies around the country and directly support horse welfare at our own rescue facilities.
The HSUS provides lifetime sanctuary to hundreds of equines and is the nation's largest direct-care provider for at-risk horses.
The Equine Protection Department focuses on a wide range of animal protection issues. We have developed a five-point Horse Welfare Program to promote basic standards of humane care and treatment for all horses, which states:
- All owners must take responsibility for their horses by providing basic care—including adequate feed, veterinary care, socialization, humane training, nurturing and sufficient space—to engage in natural behaviors.
- Horse owners, if unable to care for their animal(s), should sell or lease these horses to good private homes or give them to responsible therapeutic riding centers, sanctuaries, rescues or retirement facilities. Horses who are old, sick or debilitated must be guaranteed a dignified and painless end to life by humane euthanasia, administered by a licensed veterinarian.
- The horse industry must take responsibility for instituting policies and practices that encourage more selective breeding to ensure that overbreeding does not create a situation where there are too many horses for too few homes.
- The horse industry must also take an active part in the rescue and retraining of at-risk horses by providing additional resources to reputable horse rescue organizations.
- Wild horses must be given legal protection. It is financially unsustainable and inhumane for the federal government to continue to round up and feed horses in long-term holding facilities. Government agencies must use humane, effective and economical herd-control practices—including fertility control—to protect this indispensable part of our nation's wild landscape.
Soring involves the intentional infliction of pain to a horse's legs or hooves through the application of chemical irritants, chains, pressure shoeing, weighted shoes or other means to force the horse to perform the artificial, exaggerated "big lick" gait, which is sought after in gaited horses like the Tennessee walking horse. The Horse Protection Act, enacted in 1970, makes it a federal offense to show, sell, auction off, exhibit or transport a "sored" horse. Despite passage of that legislation and more than 40 years of government regulation, soring persists.
The HSUS is works to end soring by urging the USDA to step up its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, encouraging Congress to pass legislation to close loopholes in the Act and increase funding for enforcement, offering rewards to bring horse abusers to justice and supporting industry organizations that promote the natural gait of Tennessee walking horses and other gaited breeds subjected to abusive training methods.
In the U.S., horses are raised and treated as companion animals, not food-producing animals. Horse slaughter is not only inhumane but may also pose serious health risks to humans. Unlike animals raised for food, the vast majority of horses destined for slaughter will have ingested, or have been treated or injected with, multiple chemicals known to be dangerous to humans, untested on humans or specifically prohibited for use in animals raised for human consumption. Horses are gathered for slaughter from random sources at various stages of life, and there is no system in the U.S. to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure their meat is safe for human consumption.
Horse slaughter is a cruel, predatory practice. Whether in U.S. or foreign plants, horse slaughter has never been—and can never be—humane, owing to the nature of the industry and horses' naturally heightened fight or flight response, which makes accurate stunning difficult. Slaughter is a brutal and terrifying end for horses, not a humane end to life.
The humane euthanasia of animals has been acknowledged by a majority of animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, as an appropriate means of ending the suffering of animals in physical distress. Euthanasia is also used to end the lives of animals who have severe behavioral problems, such as aggression, and who threaten the health and safety of people or other animals.
The Equine Protection Department recommends only those methods of euthanasia that cause a rapid loss of consciousness with minimal pain, distress and suffering to the horse. We oppose any euthanasia techniques that do not meet these humane principles.
The HSUS opposes a variety of practices that cause unnecessary suffering and risk to horses in equine competition. These practices include the use of drugs for non-therapeutic purposes, the racing of young horses whose bones and bodies have not matured, and the excessive and unnecessary use of goads and whips.
The widespread, unregulated overmedication of race horses is dangerous to horses and jockeys alike. Race horses treated with painkillers and other performance-enhancing drugs are pushed beyond their limits, causing regular breakdowns that have potentially severe or fatal consequences for both horse and rider. The U.S. stands alone in its tolerance of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing. As a result, the racing industry is losing integrity and support. The HSUS supports a total prohibition on performance-enhancing drugs in interstate horse racing, including a zero-tolerance policy for drugs on race day. We also support the testing of winning horses in interstate off-track wagering, as well as random testing of other horses on race day.
The HSUS opposes rodeos as they are commonly organized because they cause torment and stress; expose animals to pain, injury or even death; and encourage insensitivity to the inhumane treatment of animals in the name of sport. We also oppose the use in rodeo of devices such as electric prods, sharpened sticks, spurs, flank straps and other equipment intended to agitate or inflict pain, as well as the common rodeo practices of bull riding, bronco riding, steer roping, calf roping, "wild horse racing," chuck wagon racing, steer tailing and horse tripping events.
The HSUS is committed to protecting the remaining herds of wild horses and burros from exploitation, eradication and inhumane treatment. We will continue to use our resources and influence to ensure that legislation protecting these wild herds is improved and properly administered and enforced.
The HSUS supports an environment where the number of people seeking to adopt horses is roughly equivalent to the number of at-risk horses available for adoption. We support aggressive policies to discourage overbreeding, promote the adoption of rescued horses and encourage public education and training programs to reduce the number of animals relinquished each year.
The HSUS is committed to protecting carriage horses who live and work in dangerous conditions in cities and urban areas around the country by supporting bans on horse-drawn carriage rides in urban settings. Horses may be easily spooked by a variety of stimuli, putting themselves and others at risk. When a complete ban on urban carriage rides is not attainable, we work with authorities to implement and enforce regulations to improve the conditions of carriage horses.