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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 kill buyers—frequent these auctions, looking for young, healthy horses who will bring a good price at the slaughter plant.

Purchased by Kill 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, kill buyers—middlemen who represent or sell to horse slaughter plants—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 that rehabilitate and adopt horses to loving homes. However, kill buyers often outbid rescues and legitimate horse owners, robbing the horses of the opportunity for a second chance at life.

Transport to Slaughter

While the auction environment is stressful, confusing and dangerous for horses, once they are purchased by kill buyers, their suffering only intensifies. Driven by profit, the kill buyer will cram as many horses as possible onto a livestock trailers for the long journey to a feedlot or foreign-owned slaughter plant. As in the auction pens, no regard is given to the age, sex, breed or temperament of the horses. Even pregnant mares, foals, and injured and blind horses endure appalling conditions—no food, water or rest. In the crowded, cramped confines of a trailer, fighting, serious injuries and even deaths are regular occurrences. Those who fall down or are injured en route are considered just "the cost of doing business."

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.

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 brain 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 some 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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