by Camila Shannon
There are about 9.2 million horses in the U.S. today. This includes horses used for racing, showing, competition, sport, breeding, recreation and work. Thousands and thousands of horses fall victim to abuse, neglect, and often horrific cruelty. People are often willing to use any method possible to produce the desired performance. However, the abuse of horses, regardless of the situation or industry, is unacceptable and needs to be put to end.
The horse racing industry is very misleading about its nature. Many people are either ignorant about what really happens, or mislead. A multi-billion dollar industry, horse racing is driven by profit, which often compromises the welfare of the horses. This leads to cruelty, corruption, and sadly the death of thousands of horses every year.
While the horseracing industry promotes a glamorous image of horse racing where racehorses live in fancy barns, have the best trainers in the country, and then live out their retirement happily well-looked after by loving owners, the reality is much different. Because of the nature of the industry, thousands of horses are produced every year in order to score a few good fast ones. Slow horses who don’t make the grade are often killed to collect insurance money or sold to the slaughter industry.
Thoroughbreds (the breed used for racing) are forced to begin racing when they’re still technically babies and their skeletal systems aren’t done growing. Because of this, they’re not ready to handle the pressures of running at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour on hard dirt tracks (horsefund.org).
In addition, thoroughbreds have been bred for their flashy looks and the ability to run very fast, while the horse itself is actually quite fragile (horsefund.org). This causes racehorses to suffer severe injuries and health problems. To enhance performance and keep them on the track even when they’re in no condition to be racing, they are pumped full of illegal drugs, including anti-inflammatories, steroids, and other drugs to stop them from feeling pain from an injury (PETA).
When a horse is severely injured, rather than paying for veterinary fees for a horse who will never race again, the horses are either killed and dumped at a landfill, or they are sold for slaughter (PETA). Thousands of horses die every year on the tracks and in training. Many more are severely injured and killed. On average, 24 horses die each week at racetracks across America (nytimes.com). In 2008, over 1,200 horses were raced to death (horsefund.org) In addition, horse racing is also very dangerous for jockeys.
Although there are some nice trainers who don’t abuse their horses, the industry is still rife with corruption and cruel practices. But people are slowly gaining awareness about the abuse of racehorses and starting to protest against it.
A popular tourist attraction in New York City is riding in horse-drawn carriages. Operators of horse and carriage businesses like to call it “a tradition that connects people with horses and their history”, “iconic”, and “romantic”. But what people don’t know or often don’t see is that the horses are suffering in today’s crowded cities. In the past, privately owned carriage horses were just for their owner’s pleasure and use, and not used for commercial purposes.
But now that they are just a means of making money, their treatment has greatly deteriorated. New York is the biggest, densest urban area in North America, and certainly no place for horses to be working up to nine consecutive hours at a time. New York carriage horses must work long hours in all weather, heavy traffic, and breathe exhaust fumes from motorized vehicles.
The smoke and exhaust fumes from urban traffic are dangerous for horses. Breathing the smoke and exhaust fumes often causes severe lung damage in the horses, similar to the kind of damage one could expect from a heavy smoker (banhdc.org). Weather conditions can prove fatal for working carriage horses. In some cases, horses have died from heatstroke after working in scorching summer heat and humidity (banhdc.org).
Many carriage horses develop leg problems and lameness from being forced to walk on the hard asphalt surfaces of city streets, which can reach up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit in hot weather (banhdc.org). Over-worked carriage horses often break down in the streets. In addition, horses are highly sensitive to loud noises and unexpected sounds. Driving among the heavy traffic and loud noises of the city is very dangerous and often causes carriage horses to spook and bolt, putting the horse, passengers, and also pedestrians in danger (nyclass.org).
Altogether, with the exhaust fumes, the constant pounding on hard city road surfaces, the effort of pulling a heavy carriage loaded with passengers, the harsh weather, and without proper rest or sufficient hydration, the suffering of a working carriage horse is constant. At least 13 horses have died publicly in NYC in the last 30 years, and those are just the ones that have been publicized by the industry (carriagehorsesnyc.blogspot.com).
This also doesn’t include all the horses that die in their stalls from neglect, injuries, illness, and exhaustion. Finally, the stable conditions for many carriage horses aren’t much better and many horses do not receive adequate veterinary care (banhdc.org). Although many New York, and other cities, do have some regulations governing working conditions for carriage horses, these regulations are rarely enforced (banhdc.org).
TENNESSEE WALKING HORSES
Tennessee Walking Horses are a gaited breed known for their smooth gait, gentle disposition, and flashy movement. They have a distinct four-beat “running walk”, and many compete in show competitions. There are two basic categories of Tennessee Walking Horse show competition – “flat shod” and “performance.” (demillefoxtrotters.com). The difference lies in the desired leg action; “Flat shod” horses wear regular horseshoes and their leg movement is much less exaggerated.
The “performance” horses, however, are fitted with extra big horseshoes – tall, heavy stacks of pads that force the horses to stand at an unnatural angle, just like wearing high heal platform shoes all the time. These horses participate in “Big Lick” competitions, in which they are evaluated on a very exaggerated, high-stepping gait. Most horses that participate in the Big Lick competitions are tortured in order to produce this artificial gait.
A very common practice used by trainers is called “soring.” Soring involves applying corrosive chemicals to the ankles of the horses, so that the mixtures eats into the skin, prompting them to lift their legs high (humanesociety.org). In addition, large metal chains are often wrapped around the ankles and objects are inserted between the horse’s hoof and the stacks, which greatly adds to the pain and suffering (Huffington Post).
Other gaited breeds such as racking horses and spotted saddle horses also suffer from soring (www.humanesociety.org). Some action is already being taken against the cruel practices used by trainers for the Big Lick competitions. Stacks and soring are prohibited at shows sanctioned by the United States Equestrian Federation and some other breed organizations. The Horse Protection Act of 1970 prohibits the use of soring to enhance the Big Lick movement, although it still occurs a lot despite the law (humanesociety.org).
Another big issue in the horse world is the slaughter of horses for human consumption. In 2007, the US closed the last horse slaughter plant operating on US soil (American Veterinary Medical Association). But the horse slaughter industry still thrives, just not in the US. In places in Europe and Asia, horse meat is prized as a delicacy. As tasty as some people may consider the meat, slaughter is an inhumane, unnecessary, and terrifying way to end a horse’s life.
Approximately 100,000 American horses are slaughtered every year so that diners in places like Italy, France, Belgium, and Japan can satisfy their appetites (humanesociety.org). Because of the ban on horse slaughter in the US, the horses are transported across the border to plants in Mexico and Canada. Horses are forced to journey in small, overcrowded trucks where they are deprived of food, water, and rest for more than 24 hours, often in extreme heat or cold (humanesociety.org).
These horses are often seriously injured or killed along the way. Throughout the entire journey, from transport to arrival to slaughter, they are subjected to violent abuse and inhumane handling. Death is rarely quick and painless, but often drawn out and excruciating for a horse (www.humanesociety.org). It is not possible for commercial horse slaughter to be humane because of the nature of the industry and the unique biology of horses, which separates them from other livestock animals used for slaughter.
Being skittish by nature and because of the unique shape of their heads, horses can’t be restrained as required for accurate stunning. As a result, horses suffer horribly and are often conscious during slaughter (ASPCA). Countless horses that have been working in other industries and businesses, such as rodeos, horse and carriage operations, horse racing, and show competitions (including Tennessee Walking Horses participating in Big Lick competitions) that are no longer deemed serviceable find themselves sold to the slaughter industry and killed for easy disposal.
Highly intelligent, sensitive, gentle, and hardworking, the horse is perhaps one of the most abused and mistreated domestic animals in the world. But we humans can change that. By spreading awareness and educating people about the abuse that goes on in these industries, we can get rid of it. We must strive to give our loyal companions and loving pets the humane treatment that they deserve.
By donating to horse rescues we can help save the lives of some of these abused or abandoned horses. People can also protest against the cruel practices of the horse world and sign petitions to end them. But one thing is for sure, horse abuse, or abuse of any kind, is not okay, and must be put to an end.
Bershadker, Matt. “It’s Time to Retire Horse Slaughter for Good.” ASPCA. ASPCA, 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
Bogdanich, Walt, Joe Drape, Dara Miles, and Griffin Palmer. “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Mar. 2012. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
Bunting, Greta. “Carriage Horses : What You Can Do.” Carriage Horses : What You Can Do. Equine Advocates. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
Bunting, Greta. The Horse: The Most Abused Domestic Animal. 1997. Print.
“COALITION TO BAN HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGES.” PeTA Fact Sheet. PETA. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
“Fact Sheet.” Horse Racing. The Horse Fund. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
Forel, Elizabeth. “Carriage Horses – NYC.” Carriage Horses – NYC. 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
Hibbard, Laura. “Tennessee Walking Horses Tortured, Undercover ABC News Video Reveals (GRAPHIC VIDEO).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 May 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
“Tennessee Walking Horses : The Humane Society of the United States.” The Humane Society of the United States. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
“The Horseracing Industry: Drugs, Deception and Death.” PETA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.
“The Tennessee Walking Horse.” The Tennessee Walking Horse. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.
“The Unwanted Horse and Horse Slaughter.” The Unwanted Horse and Horse Slaughter. American Veterinary Medical Associa. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.