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March 18, 2013

Transport to Slaughter

The brutal truth behind horse auctions and the journey to slaughter


For many horses, the journey to slaughter begins at a local livestock auction. Show horses, camp and lesson horses, race horses, backyard companions, carriage horses, pregnant horses, even wild horses can be standing in a barn or pasture one day, and the next day find themselves loaded onto a trailer, headed for the weekly livestock auction.

Many horse owners bring their horses to these auctions with the expectation that the horse will find a good home. However, the pace of the auction and the often chaotic environment gives sellers little opportunity to show off their horse's strong points, and it gives buyers little chance to assess whether a particular horse is a good fit for them. Sellers often do not realize that middlemen for foreign-owned slaughter plants—called killer buyers—frequent these auctions, looking for young, healthy horses who will bring a good price at the slaughter plant.

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Purchased by Killer Buyers

When a horse is ridden or run loose into the auction ring, the auctioneer will quickly try to run up the bidding price. Often, killer buyers can be seen standing inside the auction ring, communicating directly with the auctioneer. At many auctions, would-be buyers include not only families looking for riding horses, but also horse rescue organizations trying to outbid killer buyers for horses that they know they can rehabilitate and adopt into loving homes.

While the auction environment is stressful, confusing and dangerous for horses, once they are purchased by killer buyers, their suffering intensifies. Driven by profit, the killer buyer will cram as many horses as possible onto a livestock trailer for the long journey to a feedlot or foreign owned slaughter plant. As in the auction pens, no regard is given for the age, sex, breed or temperament of the horses. In the crowded, cramped confines of the trailer, fighting, serious injury and even death are frequent occurrences. Once the horses are loaded onto trucks, they may remain there for days at a time, with no food, rest or water.

Transport to Slaughter

While some state laws prohibit the transport of horses on double decker trailers (designed for shorter-necked species such as cattle and pigs), current federal regulations allow horses to be transported on these trucks to any destination except directly to a slaughter plant. On these trailers, horses are forced into a stooped, unnatural position, unable to maintain their balance.

Startling USDA documents obtained by the nonprofit investigative organization Animals' Angels reveal horses arriving at U.S.-based slaughter plants with horrific injuries suffered in transport. Graphic photos depict horses with missing and dangling eyes and legs, severe head and back injuries—even horses dead on arrival. In recent years, there have been several horrific accidents involving horses being transported to slaughter on double-decker trailers.

Even in regular trailers, long distance travel without food, water, or rest is a recipe for disaster. Horses who fall down or are injured en route are considered "the cost of doing business." Even under the transport regulations, horses who are heavily pregnant, missing an eye or otherwise injured can be legally hauled for more than 24 hours at a time.

View footage that follows a double-decker truck from the Sugarcreek Auction in Ohio to a collecting station in Morton, Texas.

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Arrival at the Slaughter Plant

Upon arrival at the slaughter plant, the horses are unloaded into holding pens already crowded with other horses. Highly sensitive prey animals who are hardwired for survival, the horses are keenly aware of the activities around them. They can sense the fear and suffering of the horses being brutally killed inside the slaughter plant, and the smell of blood and death in the air around them. It is in these crowded holding pens that mares can give birth to foals and many horses who never should have been transported to slaughter in the first place are found dead or dying due to injuries suffered in transport.

The Slaughter Process

From the holding pens, horses are eventually herded through narrow alleys into the "kill chutes". In some plants, a captive bolt gun is used to drive a metal rod into the horse's head to paralyze (but not kill) the horse. Because of the anatomy, behavioral patterns and strong survival instincts of the horses, it is very difficult for the untrained slaughter plant workers to accurately aim the captive bolt—leading to numerous painful blows to the horse's head and body. In other plants, the horses are shot in the head before being hung by one leg to be bled out and butchered. In Mexican plants, a small boning knife known as a puntilla is used to stab the horse repeatedly in the spine, causing paralysis and eventual asphyxiation, but not unconsciousness. Some horses are still conscious as they are bled out and dismembered.

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