Reader’s Clubhouse: Thoughts on slaughter

Jill and her horses

Jill Pflugheber, a microscopy specialist with St. Lawrence University in New York, is an academic with horses on the brain, and in her heart.

In an earlier life, she bred Thoroughbreds. Today, she is the proud owner of ex-racehorse Thoroughbred Napoleon Dynamite.

Like many fans of Thoroughbreds and racing, and horse lovers of all levels, she has some strong opinions about horse slaughter.

In this week’s Reader’s Clubhouse, Pflugheber offers her opinion on the state of slaughter, observing some positive signs in the quagmire, and areas where more could be done.

Q: As a former Thoroughbred breeder who owns an off-track Thoroughbred, what is your perspective on the issues surrounding horse slaughter, and the unwanted horse?

I think we can all agree that there are far too many very nice and certainly usable horses being sent to slaughter. Many of these come from the racetrack.  At the root of the issue we have overbreeding, especially of inferior quality horses. And generally, there seems to be a lack of accountability for the horses we create, and profit from.

The Thoroughbred racehorse industry has certainly made great strides forward in the desire to take care of these wonderful animals.

Some racetracks have funds set aside to assist retiring Thoroughbreds. And some even go a step further, putting a program into place that sanctions the connections of horses found going to slaughter. These programs are all individually administered by the racetrack.

Another positive, is a program offered by The Jockey Club, which allows owners to contribute money at the time of foal registration, towards the welfare of that horse.

This is all super, but I think we can’t stop here.  There should be uniform, universal sanctions, centrally administered for consistency’s sake, and with transparency.

I think breeders should be required to, in some way, provide for the retirement of those horses they brought into the world.  Perhaps that requirement would also weed out those who can’t afford to provide for the horse after it’s racing days are over, and might reduce the overbreeding that is part of the cause of so many horses without places to go. These funds, too, should be centrally and transparently administered.

Simple pleasure

Back when I was involved in the breeding industry, there really wasn’t any way to follow the horses you bred, thus making it difficult or impossible to keep “your” horses safe.

Now there are great ways to follow the workouts, entries, and results of any particular horse. It would be a step forward if there was also a way to automatically notify the former connections of a horse that the horse was in danger—being sold through an auction the “kill buyers” frequent.

And while lip tattoos are the standard, maybe microchipping should be required, as well. Lip tattoos can be difficult to read—although flipping a lip to see a tattoo is a quick way to identify a horse that’s been at the track. The microchip could easily be tied to an electronic database in which contact information of all owner, trainer, and breeder information could reside. A quick scan is all it would take to pull up all the information on the horse.

Q: If you could single out a great moment this year for those wishing to end horse slaughter, what would it be? And, what was the biggest challenge?

I think without a doubt the highlight of the year for the anti-slaughter camp is the recent announcement by Viande Richelieu that they would no longer accept Thoroughbreds at their two Canadian slaughter plants.

This was brought about by the high-profile case of former racehorses Canuki and Cactus Café, which were RETURNED from the slaughterhouse pipeline. (See the story in the Daily Racing Form).

Of course, there are still two other plants in Canada as well as Mexican slaughterhouses that will take Thoroughbreds, but perhaps this will lessen the desire of the kill buyers to bid on Thoroughbreds, at least in certain areas of the country.

As circumstances change, so, too, the challenges. Much attention is drawn to the horses going through both the Camelot sales and the New Holland sales via the internet.

Since racehorse connections don’t want to be handed sanctions, I am concerned about a possible shift in the way horses are transferred to kill buyers.  Rather than selling them at auction in Camelot and New Holland, I’m concerned that racehorses may be sold directly to the kill buyer, where they don’t get the same public attention.

Or, there may be intermediary people not directly associated with the track who buy and resell these horses, sometimes sending them right back to the “killer” sales.

Q: What is your involvement in the effort to end slaughter?

Napoleon Dynamite

My first mission was to save one horse for every horse I had that may have gone to slaughter. So, I was given Napoleon Dynamite, a former racehorse that needed a home. He reminds me of one of the babies I raised, Sally’sfirstchoice. I ran out of pasture, so now my mission is less direct.

However, I cannot help but peruse the weekly images of horses that have run through the sales and need homes, or else they will wind up in a Canadian slaughterhouse.  I can’t personally give them a home, or pay their “bail” money, but I CAN do background research on them, and I CAN share their information. Chalk up several more I at least helped with. I know I could never be on the front lines—I’m glad someone can do it, but that person is not me.

Perhaps the only other thing I can do is have an opinion, and be willing to share it.

Q: The slaughter issue is obviously germane in the horse world, but do you think the average American really cares?

The average American doesn’t see the slaughter issue. I think that when they are faced with the information, they care. We have been raised with the cartoon of “Old Dobbin” headed to the glue factory after finishing out his useful years—not a young, vibrant, and still-useful horse headed for someone’s dinner plate.

Americans think of horses more like cats and dogs than cattle and hogs, and since we don’t eat horsemeat here, the issue is not at the forefront.

And no, the subject of slaughter does not generally come up in the academic areas I work in (science) unless it is a personal story I am recounting to friends.  It’s definitely off the radar screens.

*Editor’s note: If you have an opinion about slaughter, or any other Thoroughbred-related topic, please email Susan Salk:

21 responses to “Reader’s Clubhouse: Thoughts on slaughter”

  1. Michael Breda

    As a former thoroughbred horse owner, this issue has always been close to my heart. I do believe that thoroughbreds want to run; but, like humans, they have a maximum ability and some are just going to run slower than others. Many owners take responsibility that if they are the last owner of a horse when it’s racing days are over, they find that athlete a loving home where it will be well cared for, and treated with dignity and respect. But despite the best intentions of many, too many horses still fall through the cracks, and meet a demise so unfitting their loyalty during their racing years. Thank you for helping keep this issue front and center.

  2. Jennifer Selken

    I’m a OTTB owner living in Quarter Horse country and it seems to me that the Thoroughbred industry has a different view on slaughter than the Quarter horse industry. My observation is that many people here have this throw-away mentality that if a horse isn’t perfect get rid of it and get a different one. As a TB owner I’m a little biased, but I’m impressed that so many people in the TB industry care about these horses and do what they can to make them safe as evidenced by the case of Cactus Cafe and Canuki and the Asmussen horses. Thank you for continuing to write stories about our wonderful TBs and bringing attention to them. I love to share them with my quarter horse friends 😉

  3. OneSpot

    The fact is that not every human being, even every horse owner, sees horses(not just TB’s) as the intelligent, loving and feeling animals that they are.
    I do not know how many “”discussions”” I have been privy to in that a supposedly educated horse person continually states that horses are not capable of feeling and that they are “”just”” reactive creatures. In all honesty I pity these people. But that there are those people even within the horse industry.
    And it isn’t just the big breeders of TB’s(QH etc) that are the problem. There are way too many back yard breeders that contribute to this issue as well. Even those that spend the time to research and breed “quality” horses.
    The economy in the US, and globally is not strong. To breed a mare, even with the best of intentions/breeding, is not being responsible. Not with the continuing glut of usable horses, and those that are sound for companion only situations.
    Sadly I do not see a way to govern this situation. There are only so many rescues. Money is not easily come by for them. And in the US.. with the drought conditions, feed isnt going to be getting any cheaper either.
    I am blessed that even being jobless right now, I can continue to care for my own OTTB. But I constantly see these small, back yard breeders talk about getting another foal on the ground. And “next years crop” Like they are just something grown in the field. And then not be able to feed and care for the ones they have in the manner they should be. Then they sell them to whomever has the $$ and shows interest. They are not helping the situation any more than complacency does.

  4. ann fox

    There are already horse ranches (where no drugs are used) breeding just for meat….they call it harvesting horses. The Conservative Government of Canada sees it as big business & cares nothing for the inhumane slaughter of another meat source. So even if everyone in the civilized horse industry becomes responsible breeders there will always be HARVESTED horses. Horses are flight animals & are hard wired to move away from anything that threatens them so slaughter as we know it can NEVER be humane. It won’t belong before the Temple Grandin’s & Sue Wallis’s of the world get on to this…trying to do it humanely?????? Live draft horses are shipped in containers from British Columbia to Japan…..a delicacy! The eating & inhumane slaughter of socialized companion animals is revolting, so those who want to profit from horse meat will always find a way to get the job done. When & if the day comes that I can no longer feed my 9 horse, they will be humanly euthanized on my property. I personally have not eaten meat since grade 4 ( A long time ago). To see horses become just another meat source is a betrayal & helping to spread the word is what everyone here is trying to do! I will be doing the happy dance the day horse slaughter is banned in Canada & people around the world see horses as the magnificent sensual creatures that are capable of loving you back on every level!

  5. Deborah Tiffin

    I care about the fate of all the horses, even the generic, un-pedigreed ones. All horses. We need to remember, always, as we speak about the inhumane business of slaughtering horses that it’s just plain wrong, morally and ethically. If the emphasis of the anti-slaughter movement remains on drug use in horses , or their former status as “companion animals” as reasons that render them unfit for consumption we’ll soon have large-scale breeding operations of animals bred specifically for slaughter, and more humane alternatives to the captive bolt, effectively bypassing our arguments. There’s always going to be some guy or another Sue Wallis that sees profit in dead horses as long as people keep buying horse hide boots (recently advertised at Timberland), smoked horse meat in the local deli, a cello-wrapped slab on styrofoam in the supermarket in Quebec or Europe or horse tartar in a restaurant. The end-game answer lies in readjusting our collective thinking about eating animals.
    Eat far less meat – of any origin, because ALL animals experience terror and despair at the slaughterhouse. Don’t buy or wear fur, or skins. Buy locally, from the producer. Refuse to buy supermarket or fast-food meat products. That’s the answer, for the animals we love and want to save as well as the environment of the planet we live on.

  6. ann fox

    What makes a horse inferior? And to whom? Inferior, inferior…..that word continues to resonate in my mind over & over again! Breeding for PROFIT…..without consideration of the big picture is what I see all around me!

    1. Jill Pflugheber

      Ann, perhaps I should clarify. When I say “inferior” I don’t mean that it’s a “bad” or inferior horse.

      What I mean is that some people who breed racehorses will breed a lower race quality mare to a mediocre race quality stallion, and then hope to sell the resulting progeny at sales dedicated to racehorse prospects (frequently yearlings). The horses have little chance at succeeding on the racetrack. In the early 90’s, I attended yearling sales–dedicated to potential racehorses–where kill buyers were present, buying up these yearlings. As an quick aside, shortly thereafter, minimum reserve bids of $1000 were set on yearlings, which priced them out of the kill buyer range. If you become experienced in reading catalogue pedigree pages, it becomes clear which sale horses are most likely to bring very low prices, or not sell at all.

      It seems to me that even royally bred horses have a moderate chance of success at the track. So in my thinking, it would be beneficial to limit the breeding of so-so racehorse prospects unless: a) the breeder plans on racing the horse him/herself and b) has a plan and finances in place to take care of that horse for it’s lifetime. If the breeder can’t afford it, they shouldn’t bring another horse into the world.

  7. louise martin

    After having a OTTB thoroughbred for 27 years, I hate to what would have happened to her if I didn’t buy her. She was raced before her second birthday and given to a dealer after four unsuccessful races…..Back then I was very new to the horse world and purchased her because I fell in love with her………..Now, I try my best to raise money and awareness about the OTTB’s. It is so great that there are people like Jill Pflugheber and the other contributing com-mentors who continue to help educate those who really need to know and can help our horses. As a photographer, when shooting photos of foals that are randomly out in a field, I wander what their future will be and pray for them. Thanks to all that are working toward ending the sad endings for so many!

    Thank you Sue!! You are doing a wonderful job!!

  8. Sharon Kennedy

    Jill is absolutely right that a retirement fund be established for the horses…in fact, St. Francis wanted all animals that labored on behalf of to be retired and kept in full comfort and compassion.
    Legislation should be enacted that any animal used for profit must have a retirement policy.

    Secondly, we should go after Premarin farms that use thoroughbreds to produce urine that is then manufactured into Premarin…this is a nasty business….mares are confined 24 hours a day, kept pregnant and their foals sent to the slaughter houses…..Premarin is a destructive drug for women to use…very detrimental to their health and well-being…..Personally, I believe that we need in every state and province an Ombudmans to represent animals in court where they have suffered abadonment, abuse, etc. There should be someone representing the animal kingdom because their rights are being ignored and this is not democratic or holy. As children of God, we have a duty and a responsibilty to do kindness and justice for all creation…..which means being persistence in prayers and work to give all horses whatever the breed justice and respect.

    1. Cecile A. Schoonover

      Sharon I loved your suggestions/remarks, you said sooo much that I also feel. Taking care of God’s creatures, looking after their welfare & remembering St. Francis and his role with animals.
      Animals are precious, they’re like babies.

      God Bless & Peace of Jesus always.

  9. PioneerCountry

    I would LOVE to see microchipping done. Remember lip tattos are only good if the horse actually trained/started at the track. \I have bred several who for various reasons didn’t but I have no way of ever following/finding them if they ended up in the kill pen.

  10. Jill Pflugheber

    Microchipping is required for TBs in many other countries. You can obtain a microchip from the jockey club for $10 (which, of course, does not include implantation). Basic registration fees for US TBs start at $200 and go up, depending on when you register. Additionally, many racehorse foals are nominated for things like state award funds or Breeders Cup. BC nomination is $500 if done as a foal. So, I personally think the addition of a microchip rule would be no major expense compared to what already gets spent.

    Highgunner–I agree that volunteers already have the slaughter issue on their minds. The general public and academics neither one have this on their radar, which is unfortunate. Hooray to all of you who do put forth your time and effort to stem the slaughter tide!

  11. Mindy Lovell

    Just wanted to let you know that the other plant in Canada out west does not do horses and we are still working on the last one in Quebec with the same type of proposal as was presented to Richelieu/Bouvry. What happened with Cactus Cafe and Canuki was truly remarkable as this was the very first time horses have been “pulled” from a slaughter plant – they are 2 very, very lucky horses in that respect. There is still much work to be done but I am convinced that with all the thoroughbred advocates working in conjunction with the racing industry, change will happen, is happening and NEEDS to happen. I have a thoroughbred aftercare program with 32 ottbs in it at the moment and my “herd” is a clear example that it does not matter how well bred they are, how much money they made on the track or if they were simply not fast enough, they all still risk ending up in the slaughter pipeline. It never ceases to amaze and disgust me at what you find in a kill pen – very, very sad as these horses have SO much potential for other disciplines – it is such a waste of some absolutely fabulous and talented horses.

  12. Highgunner

    “And no, the subject of slaughter does not generally come up in the academic areas I work in (science) unless it is a personal story I am recounting to friends. It’s definitely off the radar screens.”

    For our Generation Y volunteers, slaughter is definitely on our radar screen. We want “Responsibility over Disposability” and are reluctant to be involved in thoroughbred racing because of the prevailing legacies in the sport. We have seen and participated in working with horses that have responsible owners and know it can and should be done. Our organization sees so many volunteers that come for the cause and fall in love with the breed. Racing must make many changes if they want to attract and keep our generation.

    Chelsea Fields – Volunteer Director Thoroughbred Education Foundation, Inc. commenting for Highgunner

  13. Cecile A. Schoonover

    This whole issue of slaughtering horses, makes me absolutely sick. I have no horse, but when young I was around them, and I absolutely love them, they are one of God’s most beautiful creatures, they touch my heart so….as far as I’m concerned there is no humane way to kill a horse,they aren’t made to be eaten.
    They have served man through out the ages.
    I do think the idea of setting money aside for every foal that one brings into the world, is a grand idea, and having a way to keep track of this horse, through out it’s life is also good. I wish more people with money would get involved, I could be wrong, but money talks.

  14. Diane Maroscia

    A complete solution may not be possible but….in agreement with the writer, too many mediocre-quality Thoroughbred are being bred. At the Yearling sales these animals bring next to nothing, they go to the track where maybe they can or can’t compete, and then what????

    Owners have to get over the idea that “well, she can’t run, so let’s breed her”. I love Thoroughbreds and have always found homes for the ones I had who left the track, with me or someone who I considered would give them a good life and good care. I always was a “small time owner” but currently have three “happy ex’s” living out their lives with me. I had four but one had lost the quality of life through age and ataxia and had him humanely euthanized by my veterinarian. It was peaceful, he was unafraid, and I held him as he died. Not everyone has the facility to do what I do but I believe that a solution can be found.

    However, regardless of breeding, horses with impeccable bloodlines end up at the smallest tracks because they (1) can’t run or (2) become unsound at an early age and can’t compete at a higher level because of injury. The horses don’t know they have become “cheap” and continue to try their hearts out but the bills come in at the end of each month and the owners and trainers always are looking for an “out”.

    I would purpose that at the time of registration of the foals and/or the sale of yearlings at a Thoroughbred breeders’ sale, an amount of money be set aside from the fees or sales price for the further care of every Thoroughbred once he or she is retired from the racetrack. Maybe this would decrease the number of horses bred and give the horses that make it to the racetrack a chance to survive after their racing life is over.

    Thank God for those souls who provide facilities for these horses through their privately funded retirement farms….and I’m not talking about those people who merely take names and post them as horses for adoption….I’m talking about the people in the trenches, so to speak, who actually have a farm or ranch where retired racehorses are taken in, cared for, and have a chance at a decent life after the track. Not all of these horses are adoptable or suitable for a new job but, through their efforts and/or successes at the track need a dignified and safe place to go to live out their lives. Paybacks are Hell, the saying goes, but if one plays, one must be prepared to pay. Donations are welcomed.

    If a soon to be ex-racehorse cannot have a good quality of life after retirement, humane euthanasia is mandatory in my opinion. The slaughter houses serve their purpose, but a more humane way than the captive bolt needs to be found. The captive bolt was not designed for horses but is certainly more humane than the Mexico solution which is stabbing the horse to death (or maybe not to death but until the poor animal goes down and can be dragged or shoved along the path to dismemberment.

    We need more people willing to step up to the plate, legislation needs to be passed so that the Sport of Kings might have a chance to be the thrilling and noble sport it once was. The racing afficianados and horse lovers need to pitch in, take off their blinkers, and see what is going on, and change it.

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