Where your horses end up | AspenTimes.com

Where your horses end up

Many years ago, my potential father-in-law used to tell stories about the brutality of drilling wildcat oil wells and how, when looking for a decent meal in tiny Texas towns, he and his associates would sometimes be served horse meat, listed on the menu as beef. In Texas, it is illegal (since 1949) to sell horse meat for human consumption, so of course it had to be advertised as beef – to be legal, that is.HR 503 and S 311 are bills either passed or under consideration by the House and Senate, outlawing horse slaughter for human consumption.It’s an expedient question, though, as to where old horses go when they’re used up. Some responsible people with the wherewithal keep them around, providing care until they die of old age or until it finally becomes obvious that keeping them alive is more cruel than putting them down. Creative owners sometimes try to pass along unwanted horses, offering them either as kids’ horses (if they’re gentle enough) or as “pasture ornaments” for people with subdivision land but no desire to ride. But still, even then, they eventually wear out.If you don’t have the means to support an old horse that can no longer fulfill his job description, and no one wants to take him off your hands, there is the sale barn. You can hope that your trusty steed finds a home, but more than likely, he’ll end up at one of three horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. Every once in a while, a horse trader swings through the valley, buying up horses that nobody wants anymore, essentially taking them to the livestock auction for the owners. That lets some of us off the hook as far as direct responsibility goes – we can always claim ignorance.Tough choices, but what are you gonna do with an old or compromised horse? It’s not like they’re pets, for God’s sake, because nobody worries about how to get rid of pets. There’s an unspoken contract between you and a pet (for most of us), an implicit agreement that says you’ll deal with whatever comes up, but horses generally remain outside that range of how far we owners are actually willing to go with crippled or age-debilitated horses. Often, it is easier and less expensive to get rid of a human corpse.In many foreign countries, eating horse meat is not looked upon as the abhorrent practice we Americans consider it, and people in those countries are keeping the U.S. horse slaughterhouses profitable. Last year, between 88,000 and 100,000 horses were slaughtered in the U.S., for human consumption in Europe and Japan. In comparison, the U.S. is on track to slaughter 45 million head of cattle in 2007. The equine slaughterhouses, two in Texas and one in Illinois, are all foreign-owned.Not every area of the U.S. is as affluent as the Roaring Fork Valley, and the difference between selling a killer horse for approximately $1,000 or paying for euthanasia and disposal of the carcass (an average of $500 per horse) can be enough to break the bank. Abandoned, unwanted, crippled and diseased horses may soon be found to wander dry creekbeds and highway barrow pits, alone, looking for a shred of compassion and a quick end to their distress.There is nothing pretty about horse slaughter, but to think that politicians, who don’t seem to get anything of importance done, such as border control, have blindly managed to pass or consider anti-horse legislation in the midst of nothingness, seems unfathomable. As usual, we have taken something most of us know very little about, thrown some totally inappropriate, but politically expedient remedies at it, and we all go home feeling better about ourselves. I reckon we have let the horse population down.Tony Vagneur worries about some aging but gallant horses in his herd. Read him every Saturday and send mail to ajv@sopris.net

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