Here to defend the indefensible | AspenTimes.com

Here to defend the indefensible

John Holland
Aspen, CO Colorado

Being a horse-slaughter supporter is not an easy job. Americans, by a 2-to-1 majority, believe horse slaughter is cruel and unnecessary. Money, the only real reason behind horse slaughter, just does not cut it as a justification; therefore, the industry’s defenders have always found themselves on the wrong side of human sympathy. This has become more pronounced with the graphic stories coming out of Mexico of the unspeakably brutal way they slaughter our American horses! Yet, there are always those who will defend even the indefensible.

In his column, “A Horseman’s Dying Dream” (The Aspen Times, Nov. 17), Tony Vagneur shows he is truly a master of propaganda and spin. Vagneur artfully paints a pathetic (and undoubtedly fictionalized) old horse breeder and afflicts him with advanced lung cancer. Having drawn our sympathy to this character, he then treats us to a story in which the old man must sell his beloved little herd of 10 ill-bred horses. If the old man was not slowly dying and lugging an oxygen bottle around with him, he would be just another backyard breeder of poor quality horses. But we do not dare think this of Vagneur’s tortured protagonist.

To make the horses even less valuable, Vagneur has the manes and tails of these horses irreparably encrusted with burdock weeds. The horses have been neglected, but Vagneur compassionately lets the owner off the hook for this because of his tragic (and convenient) physical disability.

Then Vagneur tells us that, despite their best efforts to help (which apparently fell short of simply removing the burrs), the local auction would not take the horses because of the condition of their tails. Then, in righteous indignation, Vagneur blames this all on the mindless antihorse slaughter zealots. Vagneur artfully avoids saying the horses were rejected for the slaughter sale, preferring to use the oblique accusation that the recent closing of domestic horse slaughter houses had “taken the speculation out of the grade horse market.” At the story’s end, the horses are simply shot and Vagneur blames “mindless zealots suckling at the hind teat of conformity.”

I suppose that I am one of those “mindless zealots,” although I might fall a bit short of the mark, as I have no idea how one “sucks on the hind teat of conformity” or “takes the speculation out of the grade horse market.” All the same, as one of the zealots Mr. Vagneur blames for this Gordian tale of tails, I feel I must point out that the story falls completely apart at even the slightest brush with reality.

For example, the slaughter of American horses has not ended with the closing of the domestic slaughter plants, but has simply moved over the borders. Canada, which had three operating horse slaughter plants last year, now has six. And the export of slaughter horses to Mexico has increased by a factor of five. Slaughter for the year-to-date is about 80 percent of last year’s level and is rapidly approaching parity.

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Incredibly, Vagneur blames the low prices for horses on something that has not even happened, failing to mention that much of the country is suffering the worst hay shortage in living memory, that grain prices have skyrocketed (because of ethanol production), and that even cattle have been sent to auction in such numbers that some are not even selling. Only pending federal legislation (HR.503/S.311) could stop the slaughter of American horses.

But the absurdity does not stop there. The proposition that horses would be rejected by a kill auction because of burrs in their tails is laughable. Kill buyers are interested only in the body condition of horses. In fact, the daughter of one well-known kill buyer is famous for cutting off the tails of horses in his slaughter pen to sell them for paint brushes and tail extensions!

But finally, even if Vagneur’s tall tale was true, it should not make us sad. If I were that pathetic old man and if I really loved my horses as he is supposed to have, I would much prefer they were mercifully shot in the familiar settings of their home than they were hauled for days packed in trucks and then stabbed until their spinal cords were severed, only to be hoisted by a hind leg and butchered fully conscious! If those of us who want this barbaric cruelty to end are “mindless zealots,” then what are the correct words to describe someone who distorts reality like a pretzel to defend the indefensible? I can’t think of any fit to print.

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