Approximately 150 people convened at the 2014 American Equine Summit in upstate New York this past weekend.
It was held at the sprawling Equine Advocates sanctuary in Chatham, where 85 slaughter-bound horses, including famous race mare Press Exclusive, who nearly died en route to slaughter, have been given bucolic forever homes.
Attendees, who hailed from as far away as South Dakota, Pennsylvania and New York City, converged on the farm for the two-day conference, April 26 and 27, to be updated on the ongoing efforts to improve the welfare of American equines.
Victoria McCullough, international equestrian, philanthropist and owner of Chesapeake Petroleum, arrived at the podium like a general addressing her adoring troops.
A leader in the fight to strengthen laws against illegal horse slaughter in Florida, McCullough advocated for the passage of stricter laws after equestrian Ivonne Rodriguez’s horse was ruthlessly butchered years ago. In 2010, HB 765, which was sponsored by Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, was signed into law. And the new law, named for both McCullough and Rodriguez, makes illegal butchering a felony.
At the weekend conference, McCullough reported ongoing successes in her efforts to put horse welfare on the agenda of top lawmakers. Citing a recent meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, McCullough praised the vice president for his efforts to promote changes to the U.S. Omnibus bill, which effectively eliminates funding for horse slaughter plants in America.
Stating that more needs to be done to end horse slaughter, McCullough said, “We have to win the EU and Canada” and persuade those countries that horse meat should not be consumed by humans. “What do we do next? How do we stop our horses from being sent over the borders? My idea is to declassify equines from the food chain.”
A wide range of issues affecting equine welfare was discussed during the conference. John Holland, president of Equine Welfare Alliance, offered statistical evidence opposing claims that slaughter plants add jobs and benefits in their host communities. He countered those assertions by citing statistics showing a decline in crime rates after slaughterhouses close.
And George Strawbridge, Jr., international horseman and owner of Augustin Stable, spoke of his opposition to drug use on racehorses, and of the idea that racehorses should be started on the track at a later age so that their bodies mature.
As speakers tackled topics affecting horse welfare, outside in a nearby grassy paddock, rested a Thoroughbred who has been called a poster horse to end horse slaughter.
Press Exclusive, a race mare who earned nearly a half million on the track, and then gave birth to nine successive live foals before she nearly died en route to a slaughter plant, was enjoying some sun while napping in her field.
She cocked her head at new guests. After eyeing everyone, she rolled for a few seconds, and then hoisted herself up and darted off, zooming around her paddock like a diva performing for fans.
And after, she agreeably posed for photos, and accepted head scratches.
“It’s amazing she looks as good as she does, after all she’s been through,” said Susan Wagner, Equine Advocates founder. “When I look at her now, and see how great she looks at 18, I think she must have looked amazing when she was a 3 year old.”
Press Exclusive is among 85 horses in permanent protective sanctuary at Equine Advocates. A private donor, who agreed to sponsor the mare as a gift to his wife, pays her care in full.