May 12, 2004  USA Today
Horse meat for dinner? It's enough to make one gag
As the sporting world looks forward to the race for the second jewel of the Triple Crown this weekend in Maryland, fans should take a moment to remember and appreciate former champions the graceful giants who made us stand and cheer, galloping into sporting history.

Ferdinand, the Kentucky Derby champion in 1986, comes to mind. Churchill Downs marks his esteemed place in Derby history with a plaque. Ferdinand was a strong, beautiful champion who was sold to a Japanese group to be put out to stud, as many former champions are.

Ultimately, though, Ferdinand's remarkable run ended in a slaughterhouse. Two years ago, he was killed and presumably sold for human consumption.

As a person who works with horses and sees the humanity that these animals possess and their importance to the history of this country, I am deeply troubled that thousands of them are being led to the slaughterhouse. I suspect Americans who cheer on race day, have seen their giggling children ride horseback and have an appreciation for the days of the Pony Express, will understand my outrage.

I am a horse trainer who lives a blessed life. I love what I do and have been fortunate enough to enjoy success. I work with thoroughbreds, training them to run as fast as they can. On the track with the sun rising from the east, the fog lifting off the infield and the steady tap of the sprinter's stride echoing across the rail that is my office.

But one aspect of my job, my industry and indeed, even my country, upsets me.

Unceremoniously killed

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that every year, more than 50,000 horses are slaughtered for food in this country. In the United States, a country that was built by horse-drawn wagon trains and that celebrates the accomplishments of Roosevelt's Rough Riders, tens of thousands of horses are unceremoniously killed each year.

Foreign-owned slaughterhouses cart them in, butcher them and ship the meat overseas to Asia and Europe. This is not done for famine relief or directed toward the poverty-stricken. Rather, horse meat is a delicacy in these destinations.

Before slaughter, the horses often suffer in disturbing conditions. "Killer buyers," as those who purchase horses at auction are called, sometimes stuff the animals into unventilated trucks. The horses are sent on long rides and subjected to inhumane abuses such as electronic prods or beatings.

Food export

Just two slaughterhouses carry out these deeds. Both are in Texas, where it is, ironically, illegal to sell consumers horse meat. A third facility is being planned in Illinois.

This country can't allow the destruction of horses animals that carry value and tradition in our culture for food export.

I'm grateful that horse meat would trigger the gag reflex in most Americans. The thought of horse slaughter should trigger a similar reflex in U.S. lawmakers.

The House of Representatives last fall moved to end horse slaughter for food. And just last week, in the wake of the Kentucky Derby, the Senate introduced similar legislation that would include a ban on shipments of these doomed horses to Canada and Mexico.

As we celebrate that rite of spring known as the Triple Crown, let's admire the power, the grace and the beauty of champion thoroughbreds that run the Derby, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

And remember Ferdinand, as tough as that might be to stomach.

Nick Zito is a two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer (Strike the Gold and Go for Gin) who also trains The Cliff's Edge and Sir Shackelton. Both will run in the Preakness on Saturday. Zito is a member of the National Horse Protection Coalition.