Barbaric acts must be halted

Texas is home to two plants that slaughter racehorses for food

11:19 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Editor's note: This story contains some graphic descriptions that some readers might find objectionable.

GRAND PRAIRIE No, they don't shoot horses anymore. They blast a four-inch bolt into their skulls to stun them. Lift their bodies with chains or a giant claw. Chop off their heads. Hang the remains so that the still-beating heart pumps out all the blood. Then strip the hide, quarter the carcass and package the meat for fine dining overseas.

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Or at least that's the way it's believed done at the last three horse slaughtering plants that are stomached in our country, two of which are in Texas just a short drive from Lone Star Park.

That's why it seemed odd to me that the world's thoroughbred industry would dare bring its showcase event, the Breeders' Cup, to Lone Star Park this week. Much of the industry's leadership the Breeders' Cup itself, major racetracks like Churchill Downs and Lone Star, groups like the New York Racing Association and the country's oldest horse auction house, Fasig-Tipton are all on record in opposition to the barbarism that is horse slaughter. Choosing Texas, North Texas of all regions, threatened to make the leadership look hypocritical.

"We support ... barring slaughterhouses," Breeders' Cup spokesman Jim Gluckson declared.

To further prove it, the Breeders' Cup this week for the first time availed part of its program for a presentation from the Fund for Horses on the need to save horses from a horrific end at Dallas Crown in Kaufman, Bel-Tex in Fort Worth or the other horse killing house in Illinois. A news conference is scheduled for Friday.

There will not be a better platform to bring attention to this animal cruelty than to have the horseracing industry address it at the Breeders' Cup. Even those in the business who support horse butchery as some sort of humane measure, or prefer to keep it as the sport's dirty little secret, will be forced to confront the issue.

"It's the right platform for the right cause," said Lone Star spokesman Darren Rogers, "because it [horse slaughter] is not right."

There is absolutely no good reason this state must be among the last to tolerate such an atrocious practice. The two horse death houses are foreign-owned. Their product is solely for overseas' markets. Their revenues do not make them major cogs in the regional economy.

One would think, too, that the people working there would prefer less gruesome, more rewarding jobs. Texas would look smart, not to mention less uncivilized, to find alternative work for them.

And isn't this the state that more than any other has duly recorded the horse's contribution to history, immortalized it in folklore and celebrated it as an icon?

Because record keeping isn't accurate, no one is certain how many racehorses, including quarter horses, wound up among the 50,000 horses slaughtered last year. Estimates are as low as 10 percent or, according to recent records from a Texas slaughterhouse, as high as 75 percent.

Nonetheless, horse racing is the horse business' centerpiece industry and must bear the cross for its image.

"We're not just talking about crippled horses," said Skip Trimble, a lawyer with the Texas Humane Legislative Network. "There are some good horses going through."

Adam Richey remembered hearing that a horse he once raced at Lone Star Park, before another owner claimed it, was severely injured running elsewhere. Word got back to him that the new handlers were contemplating selling the horse as meat.

"I had my trainer call the other trainer and ask how much he wanted," Richey said from his Dallas home the other day. "He said he wanted $600, slaughterhouse price. I gave him $1,000."

He put the horse in his barn for 90 days to heal. Since then, Yankee Castle has been frolicking on Richey's East Texas farm.

That's the way it should done, and the wealthy who make up the Sport of Kings can afford it.

Still, there are unproductive or past-their-prime thoroughbreds that wind up like '86 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand. After not producing much while standing stud, it was discovered he was slaughtered in Japan.

If the Japanese and Europeans want to eat horsemeat, which they consider a delicacy, they should be left to butcher their own equine.

Evidence is scant, too, that refusing to slaughter horses will lead to stables full of unwanted horses and an increase in cruelty. In fact, horse slaughter in this country has declined dramatically since 1990, down from roughly 300,000 a year, according to federal records. It can be done away with.

Texans actually realized all of this sometime ago. Butchering horses for human consumption was outlawed here in 1949. But as time passed, enforcement lagged and companies quietly set up shop here and found enough seedy horsemen to make their repugnant business profitable.

As attorney general in 2002, John Cornyn affirmed the state law and threatened to shut down the operations in Texas. But Dallas Crown and Bel-Tex immediately sued in federal court on the basis that interstate commerce law supersedes state law. Federal Judge Terry Means in Fort Worth has yet to issue a ruling.

A federal bill could've made the lawsuit in Texas moot. But the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act got stalled before the House Committee on Agriculture.

So who cares about the economic impact of the Breeders' Cup or its putting Lone Star on the map? Its greatest legacy would be the extermination of horse slaughter here and the triumph of national legislation to end the despicable deed everywhere.


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