It’s no exaggeration to say that Arizona is true-blue American horse country. We have a proud history of promoting responsible horse breeding and a thriving equestrian sports community.
Arizona is also home to equine therapy programs for our disabled community, veterans, and survivors of other forms of trauma. Like all Americans, the people of Arizona love and revere our horses and understand the central role these magnificent creatures played in the history and culture of our nation, but also our beloved state.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the Arizona equine world. Too many horses are victims of theft, fraud, and brutality at the hands of “kill buyers,” predatory individuals who make their profit off the suffering of horses who have been discarded, abandoned, abused, or who simply find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. These unscrupulous profiteers are known to deceive unsuspecting horse owners into believing they will find their animal a good home, when in fact their motives are purely economic and have nothing whatsoever to do with the welfare of the animals.
There are more than livestock auctions throughout Arizona, some of which are in the business of buying and selling horses for slaughter. The kill buyers, who get their orders from foreign meat companies, lurk at these facilities and will lie, cheat, and steal to fill those orders.
One tactic they employ is to carefully watch for good people – including horse rescues and families – who want to save a particular animal from slaughter, then outbid them for that animal. After the sale, they will approach those goodhearted people and offer to sell the animal to them, but at a higher price than what they paid. It’s crass emotional extortion, but the kill buyers know full well that those they outbid are heartbroken and usually willing to come up with the funds to save the animal’s life. The kill buyers pocket the profit, which they use to bid on more horses. In other words, they prey not just on the horses themselves, but also on good people who are trying to keep horses from going to slaughter.
After the kill buyers do their dirty work at the auctions, retired race and show horses, formerly wild mustangs, and discarded pet ponies, are all loaded into crowded trailers for long journeys to slaughter plants in Canada or Mexico, where they die horrific deaths to be served up to diners in parts of the world where horse flesh is considered a delicacy.
It’s an ugly, predatory industry, and one that benefits no one but the kill buyers and the foreign meat companies. Americans are often shocked that horses are exploited and abused in this way, because we regard horses as our companions and partners in work, recreation, and sport. That’s why more than 80 percent of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
Some proponents of slaughter claim it is a “necessary evil,” but nothing could be further from the truth. There are programs to help horse owners provide for their animals, including hay banks, training assistance, and gelding clinics. Rescues and sanctuaries take horses in need and help horses in transition with networks of foster care providers. Many breed groups have retirement or second career programs. And if a person has a horse that they can no longer care for and all other options have been exhausted, it is far more humane to have the animal euthanized on the farm than to subject the poor creature to the terror, chaos, and cruelty of the slaughter pipeline.
We must bring our values as a people into alignment with federal law. On May 26, the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, was heard in the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. There are six Arizona legislators co-sponsoring this bill: Reps. Gallego, Stanton, Schweikert, Kirkpatrick, Grijalva, and O’Halleran. The time to protect our horses from the cruel and predatory horse slaughter industry has come, and Congress should act immediately to pass the SAFE Act into law.
Lynda Logan is with Advocates for Wild Equines in Phoenix.