The state of Oklahoma has approved a law allowing for the slaughter of horses. The horse meat will be sold for export.
Most of us cringe at the thought of sending horses to slaughter. Animal rights activists fought the law, and even its supporters were not happy about it. However, for horses, there may be worse sufferings than a processing plant in Oklahoma.
During the past five years of killing drought, horses have stripped their pastures down to dry dust. Commercial horse feed has become exorbitantly expensive. Some horse owners have rationed their horse feed down to a trickle, and then to nothing.
Thousands of horses are starving to death.
Starving horses succumb to a range of nutrition-related diseases. Veterinary treatment for horses is expensive—assuming you can find a vet who treats horses. Many horse owners experiment with medicines from the local feed store, which are also expensive, and will not work until the underlying malady is treated. Meanwhile, horses grow weaker and sicker.
In the last couple of years, horses for sale have glutted auction barns. The selling price of horses dropped until their owners were willing to give them away, but could find no takers.
At that point, some people drove their horses to the next county and let them out on the side of the road to fend for themselves. Others let their horses starve in the back pasture. Some of these horses escaped, to become a problem on neighboring fields; and some died, to become a thousand pounds of hazardous waste in a barren landscape. Horse rescue groups could not keep up with the number of horses that needed care.
Many owners have been shipping their horses to slaughtering plants in Mexico, where it is legal to butcher horses. It is estimated that 166,000 horses were shipped to Mexico and Canada last year, and even more horses are headed to Mexico this year.
The long trip across the border is an agony for horses; the lack of water, the exposure, the stress. The abuses of a Mexican slaughtering plant are another misery altogether. The only relief for these horses comes with their passing. Their meat is sold for food.
Allowing the slaughter of horses in Oklahoma, if nothing else, saves tens of thousands of horses the long drive down to Mexico. It is a bad option among many bad options to relieve the suffering of these poor horses.
Animal rights groups protested the decision to allow horse butchering, and nobody is happy about the slaughtering. But what are the alternatives? I welcome your ideas on how to address this tragedy. We have not experienced some of these problems since the 1950’s, or even since the Great Depression.
A thorough education about horse welfare is a good start. If potential horse owners clearly understood the costs and challenges of keeping horses, they might be more thoughtful about taking on the responsibility. This is true under normal circumstances, but it is doubly true in this historic, lingering, killing drought.