Long Island Press

Americans Wake Up To Equine Abuse

BY ALICYN LEIGH 08/31/2006 10:45 am

 Cruel abuse of horses: One has
severe facial and head injuries.

Imagine traveling to Japan, Belgium or France, sitting down to dine in a fine restaurant and finding that the special on the menu is American Thoroughbred.

In 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 94,037 horses were slaughtered for human consumption at the three foreign-owned horse slaughter plants in this country (two in Texas and one in Illinois).

Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), says he believes the numbers are even greater than that.

"An additional 34,796 horses were exported to Canada, Japan or Mexico for slaughter," he explains. "So, in total, an outstanding 128,833 American horses were slaughtered for food, either within or outside the United States."

Severe equine abuse occurs every day, as these magnificent, intelligent animals continue to be betrayed by humans. According to USDA statistics, seven out of every 11 horses will be slaughtered, says Christine Berry, president and founder of the Equine Protection Network (EPN)  in Friedensburg, Pa. Horses have given their lives to the human race for centuries, and have served in wartime, in law enforcement, as carriage horses for transport, providing therapy for the disabled, providing companionship and so much more.

Money is what many experts say is the reason behind abuse and slaughter. A horse sold at auction in America for 40 cents per pound can rake in up to $15 per pound on the retail market. European restaurants charge as much as $40 for a horsemeat entrée.

"When the combination of money and horses come together, our horses suffer," states the EPN's Berry.


Serving It Up

The three U.S. slaughterhouses that export horsemeat for human consumption are Cavel International, in DeKalb, Ill., owned by Velda N.V. of Brussels; Beltex, in Fort Worth, is owned by Multimeat N.V., also of Brussels; and Dallas Crown, in Kaufman, Texas, is owned by the French company Chevideco. The slaughterhouses have had an effect that goes beyond their borders, though: For several years, people who live in Kaufman have complained of the health hazards. One resident stated that she finds horse blood "in my bathtubs, sink and toilets," a result of the blood spills and overflows that clog up the local wastewater treatment plant and septic systems. The complaints have led a city commission to unanimously rule that the plant be closed by September.

Billionaire oilman and Texas rancher T. Boone Pickens and his wife, Madeleine, heard about horse slaughter for human consumption four months ago, while aiding in the rescue of some 800 pets from Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

Pickens says that "horse slaughterhouses receive USDA oversight that costs taxpayers millions of dollars—all for horsemeat that is sold and consumed as a delicacy in high-dollar markets and restaurants in Europe and Japan."

Apparently, these slaughterhouses use accounting loopholes to pay little or no taxes, shipping 100 percent of the horsemeat and the profits abroad. The largest customers are France, Belgium and Italy. The plants sell to importing companies that are owned by their own parent corporations, and thus adjust their income so as to avoid paying American taxes.

"Last year the Dallas Crown slaughter plant in Kaufman, Texas, paid only $3 in taxes," says John M. Holland, an independent horse advocate from Shawsville, Va. To add insult to injury, after the HSUS prompted Congress to cut the funding for equine slaughterhouse inspectors, the USDA avoided those good intentions by "permitting slaughterhouses to pay for their own independent inspectors," according to Markarian.


Racehorse-rescuer Paul Sorvino with,br> 5-year-old Mr. Quick, who is being,br> trained as a children's riding horse.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA)/H.R. 503

Pickens testified on July 25 before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee in support of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (HSPA) (H.R. 503), a strongly bipartisan bill designed to end the slaughter of horses in this country, as well as their export, for human consumption.

"Horse slaughter is un-American. It's a black eye on our nation that demands action," says Pickens.

At present, the AHSPA has about 180 co-sponsors in the house, but U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has yet to let it out of committee. And time is running out on this bill.

"People can help by contacting their representatives and telling them that it is unconscionable that a bill with such overwhelming bipartisan support both from the people and Congress should be blocked by a few powerful men at the behest of a group of foreign-owned companies," pleads Holland. The vote on H.R. 503 is scheduled in the House of Representatives for Sept. 7, and then the Senate will vote.


Responsible Racehorse Ownership

Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, ended up in a slaughterhouse in 2002, with his highly

prized meat ending up in Japan. Chris E. Wittstruck, Esq., founder of the Racehorse Ownership Institute at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, teaches responsibility through his invaluable program, the only course available for Thoroughbred and Standard-bred racehorse owners. Wittstruck also
discusses issues relevant to estates and the fate of horses in disability and their disposition at death. He reflects on how Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro shattered his leg at the Preakness and says: "People who would send a dozen roses to Barbaro wouldn't give a damn about the horse who pulled up lame yesterday at their local
racing oval."

Wittstruck's continuous mantra is that if you want to buy a racehorse,

the last thing you should do is buy a racehorse. One needs to first be immersed in every aspect of the business and industry (tax, insurance, licensing, acquisitions, claiming, auctions, race conditions, illness, injury, etc.).

"My course includes raising awareness—that responsibilities don't end once the racing career is over," says Wittstruck. "You have a 1,000-pound living animal. It needs constant care and attention. What provisions are you making that it won't fall into the hands of killers when taken to auction?"


The Road To Slaughter

Equine Protection Network founder Berry began her quest in 1995, determined to make a difference in the lives of abused, neglected and slaughter-bound horses. Berry says that she founded the EPN after she witnessed the violation of New York law regarding the transport of horses in double-deck cattle trailers, known as "torture trailers," and what she describes as horrible living conditions for horses at the New Holland Sales Stables (NHSS) in New Holland, Pa.

"I could not understand why hundreds of weekly visitors to the NHSS stood by doing nothing, while sick, injured and lame horses were loaded into inhumane trailers," says Berry. Privately owned NHSS is the largest public horse sale facility on the East Coast. Approximately 200 to 400 horses, depending on the time of year and the
market, go to the sale weekly, and 25 percent to 40 percent of them are bought directly by so-called "killer buyers," for slaughter.

"New Holland may be the largest sale of its kind east of the Mississippi, but it is not the only one," shares Berry, who has many disturbing memories of the animal abuse she has witnessed. She's seen horses being loaded onto double-deck trailers, horses whipped viciously in the face (two pony mares actually spun around and ran over their foals) and more. She has seen horses that had broken legs or untreated injuries, as well as some who were emaciated

and nothing more than skeletons. She saw one downed horse on the ground, crippled and in so much pain that he could not rise to drink.


Celebs To The Rescue

Amanda Sorvino and her dad, well-known actor Paul Sorvino, have been rescuing large canines for the past five years.

Referring to the image of sides of beef hanging in a meat locker, accomplished horsewoman Amanda says, "Since we moved to a 58-acre equine compound in rural Pennsylvania, we've been sparing ex-racehorses a hanger at the meat locker, with our new organization called HorseFellas, a privately owned division of www.dogfellas.net."

HorseFellas offers lodging, pasture, training, rehabilitation and advanced vet care to once slaughter-bound Thorough-breds and Standardbreds. Some of the horses are being retrained to become
children's riding and show horses by HorseFellas trainer Valerie Wierzbicki.

"The horses will then be adopted out to approved homes. The others, having sustained serious injuries on the track, will either remain in the family or be adopted out to 'friend and pasture' homes," says Amanda.

Paul Sorvino sends a message to the horse show kids and their families: "Never obtain a horse that you do not intend to keep forever. If your horse is no longer 'in the ribbons,' don't get rid of it to make room for your next horse. Make sure it gets placed in a reputable home."

Amanda and Paul do know of some trainers/owners, such as friend Bob Kotenko, an ex-jockey-turned trainer from Penn National, Pa., who places slow runners or injured horses in new homes after their time is up at the track. But the Sorvinos still believe that "horseracing is not the sport of kings, but the sport of death."

"It's a black mark against a society that is so empathetic towards a near Triple Crown winner, but turns a blind eye to the plight of less accomplished racehorses," says Paul. "These lesser lights [horses] suffer injuries every day at tracks across America and land in slaughter plants like Dallas Crown. If a horse can't race its way to the Triple Crown, it could end up at Dallas Crown."

A pinto horsehide coming off
the Dallas Crown slaughterhouse conveyor.

Premarin Mares

Holland, a lifelong horse owner who works with many humane groups, became an outspoken opponent of horse slaughter in 2003. He and his wife, Sheilah, read a story about the plight of the pregnant mares' urine (PMU) horses used to create Premarin, a female horse urine-based drug used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to ease the symptoms of menopause in women.

"We decided to adopt a PMU mare from a site run by United Animal

Nations. The mare was so undernourished that she lost her foal in transport to our farm," Holland says. The HSUS estimates that there are at least 50,000 production mares on the 500 PMU farms in North America.

Peter Touham (not his real name), an undercover investigator who works on
animal-abuse-related issues, became more aware of the abuse of Premarin horses when he was sent to North Dakota and Canada to do a full-scale investigation. There, he learned just how bad a life Premarin mares must endure.

"I became an advocate for Premarin horses while in the course of doing an investigation into Premarin," he says. Mares used to produce Premarin (named for its source, pregnant mares' urine) are usually either Percherons, Belgians, Quarter Horses or some combination thereof, who are tied up to a urine collection device for at least 150 straight days, starting in September every year.

"In order to produce PMU, mares are impregnated and confined to tiny stalls for the duration of their pregnancy," describes Touham.

At the PMU farms, urine is collected from mares of all ages chained inside narrow stalls who are forced to stand on concrete floors and unable to turn around. A harness keeps them held in place to a rubber collection cup, and they sometimes get so tired that they go down but are unable to avoid lying in their own feces. There is little or no hoof care. "I have personally seen cases where the front hooves have been so neglected that they grow out and curl back up," says Touham.

Women can help to prevent the abuse of female horses by asking their physicians or gynecologists not to prescribe Premarin. Instead, women can choose from other hormone replacement drugs not manufactured from the urine of pregnant mares.

"Alternative choices made synthetically, such as Cenestin, Estratab, Estraderm or Ortho-Est, do have similar efficacy when used to treat hypoestrogenic [estrogen-
deficient] states," says Dr. Jill Rabin, chief of ambulatory care at the obstetrics and gynecology department of Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.


Premarin Proof Positive

Equestrian enthusiast Lesli Hiller has been in the saddle for more than 30 years. Every day, she rides a privately owned horse, stabled at North Shore Equestrian Center in Greenvale. Her experiences are unique because the horse she rides, Oatmeal, was a Premarin foal. Hiller has been riding and caring for Oatmeal since he was 3 years old; he is now 5. She says that horses "can be highly intelligent. Oatmeal knows words such as 'good boy' and he knows what 'back' means [to back up]." If she repeats an exercise more than once he gets it right away. Oatmeal also knows his grooming routine and picks up his feet for cleaning even before she asks for his hoof. Hiller says she is inspired to be with these gentle giants because she "really loves them. Once they know you, it's like having a big dog. When you are riding, there is a level of trust I have for the horse, and vice versa: We are one. And when I am on his back, he does anything I ask him to do—it is truly an amazing feeling," says Hiller.

Because Oatmeal was not raised in
normal conditions—his mother was unable to move about while her urine was being collected—he has quirks. "He will not let anyone else get on him to ride him, and his temperament can be unruly," says Hiller.

A white horse with an extensive
head wound awaits slaughter
with other horses at the Dallas Crown plant.

What To Do

Equine abuse must stop. Every horse deserves to be treated with kindness and respect for all that the animal has given to society throughout time.

"Issues like slaughter and rescue don't usually present well unless somebody is doing a Sally Struthers-like 'Save the Children' exposé," states the Racehorse Ownership Institute's Wittstruck. The EPN's Berry advises those who still don't see the harm in animal abuse to read the book Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, which encourages people to treat animals with less cruelty. She says, "In Black Beauty, the character, Joe Green, recognized Beauty and brought him home from the auction. But for 5 million American horses, including Ferdinand and Excellor [a champion racehorse who was sent to a slaughterhouse in Sweden], there was no Joe Green at the auction—and they were forced with whips and electric cattle prods onto double-deck cattle trailers on a one-way ride into hell, forgotten and betrayed by the owners they gave their lives for."


Rally Date: The HSUS is holding a national rally to stop horse slaughter at
10 a.m., on Tuesday, Sept. 5, on Capitol Hill. See: www.rallyforhorses.com