This past week, Animals' Angels and our work uncovering the cruelty of the horse slaughter pipeline at auctions and markets across the U.S. was showcased in a lengthy expos� in the Blood-Horse Magazine. The Blood-Horse Magazine is a well known publication catering to the racing industry and its followers. We were thrilled that they decided to run this comprehensive article, which not only features Animals' Angels work but also explains how Thoroughbreds all too often find themselves at kill auctions - a fact which will surely resonate deeply with the readers of the magazine.
For the article, a Blood-Horse Magazine reporter accompanied Animals' Angels on several investigations and was able to witness first-hand the atrocities we routinely find at auctions frequented by kill buyers as well as the auction management's utter lack of respect for the animals that pass through their sales. We hope this commentary will be successful in raising much needed awareness amongst the Thoroughbred community as to the fate that awaits any horse sent to auction.
(The following is an excerpt from the Blood-Horse Magazine article)
Keith and Sonja Meadows, a husband-and-wife team from Westminster, Md., founded Animals' Angels. Traveling exhaustively and obsessively through rural America, Canada, and Mexico, they infiltrate livestock auctions and slaughterhouses, surreptitiously recording diseased and abused animals and posting the videos on the Internet, along with detailed investigative reports.
The Meadows' work has made them important figures in the emotional debate over horse slaughter in the United States. Their expos� of a horse auction in New Mexico created a statewide uproar that pushed the attorney general and the legislature into taking a stand against a proposal for a new slaughterhouse. To horse lovers, the Meadows are heroic gumshoes, blowing the lid off the slaughter industry's claims that its process can ever be humane. To auction house owners and ranchers, they're meddling idealists who, if they succeed in their goal of banning slaughter, will increase the suffering of old, infirmed horses by pushing cash-strapped owners to abandon their animals.
|horse down at New Holland|
Horses have not been killed in the U.S. for human consumption since 2007, when Congress withdrew funding for slaughterhouse inspectors. But the slaughter pipeline that begins in places such as Shipshewana now ends in rendering plants at Richelieu, Quebec, and Jerez, Mexico. Last year more than 150,000 American horses were shipped across the border to be killed for meat. Progress has been made, however - this year, the European Union banned imports of horse meat from Mexico, a prohibition long sought by Animals' Angels, which had presented evidence of abuse in Mexican slaughterhouses to EU officials.
Lambright's signs haven't discouraged the couple, who are on the auction grounds for the Good Friday sale. Keith, a retired naval intelligence officer, roams the catwalk, surreptitiously filming the action below. Dressed in a camouflage Bass Pro Shops baseball cap, a Carhartt jacket, jeans, and Timberland shoes, he blends in perfectly with the rural Hoosiers. Sonja, a lawyer who immigrated to the United States from Germany, walks through the pens, pointing out improvements since the last time the couple visited Shipshewana.
"This is better," she says, nodding at aluminum tubs in the barn where the auctioned-off kill horses are penned until they can be loaded onto trucks. "They have water for the horses now. I don't think the pens are so bad, either. The horses aren't crowded. When we first started going here, they put all the horses in one pen, so there was a lot of kicking and fighting and biting."
|horse going through sale at Shipshewana|
Nearby, a sweaty, frightened horse rushes a fence, as though judging whether he can jump to freedom.
Out of the auctioneer's sight, Sonja begins "flipping lips." Whenever she spots a horse that looks like a Thoroughbred, she inspects its gums for an identifying tattoo.
While no official statistic exists, the Equine Welfare Alliance has estimated around 10,000 Thoroughbreds have their lives ended in foreign slaughterhouses annually. By reaching through the slats of livestock trailers in the parking lot, Sonja found two Thoroughbreds at the New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania. One was returned to its owner; the other was slaughtered in Canada.
horse going through sale at New Holland
"Those racehorses usually don't go through the auction ring," Sonja says, alluding to the practice of peddling the former runners in parking lot transactions, often by owners and trainers trying to evade racetracks' no-slaughter policies. "So a buyer doesn't have a chance to buy this horse, and the horse doesn't have a chance to be saved. They do that to avoid these horses being found. There's a chance that somebody at the auction could flip a lip."
The first time Sonja found a Thoroughbred at New Holland, she photographed his tattoo. After the auction she logged on to The Jockey Club's website, identified the doomed creature as Beau Jaques, a 5-year-old gelding, and contacted his former owners. By then it was too late to save the horse, who had been dispatched by a bullet at the Richelieu Meats slaughterhouse in Quebec. Beau Jaques' owner had given him to a woman named Kelsey Lefever, a scam artist who promised to rehabilitate retired horses but sold them for slaughter instead.
After Animals' Angels helped uncover her deception, Lefever was fired from her job as a riding instructor and received five years probation for theft, during which she will not be allowed to own horses.
(Read more about LeFever here)
Hawser, a turf horse who raced successfully at Colonial Downs, was also traded in the parking at New Holland but had a happier ending. Working with a friend in California, Sonja identified Hawser and contacted his owner, Maryland trainer Kim Boniface, before the truck left for Canada. After Hawser's racing career ended, Boniface had sold him for $1 to a riding instructor who promised to give the horse to a little girl. She was horrified to learn he was on a slaughter truck.
Bobcat Bandit at New Holland
Sonja first reached Boniface's mother, who told her, "Can't be, because Kim gave him to a good home."
"We have the tattoo," Sonja replied.
When Kim heard the news, she thought, "This is not possible." But she and her parents hitched a horse trailer to a truck and raced to New Holland, where they found Hawser.
"I backed the trailer back to that place, and I brought him back to the farm and started feeding him real good," Boniface said.
After retrieving Hawser, Boniface placed the horse with trainer Steuart Pittman, who prepared him for a new life of trail riding and fox hunting. He was ridden by Pittman's sister, Polly, before his new connections wound up putting him down due to severe lameness caused by the wear-and-tear his body sustained on the racetrack.
"These people did a good thing," Boniface said of Animals' Angels. "No horse deserves to go that way. Hawser had a happy end because of these people. Without them, we would never have known, and that girl would have lied to us for the rest of her life."
The fates of Beau Jaques and Hawser were widely reported in local media and horse racing publications.
(Read more about Hawser here)
"I think exposure is the key," Sonja says when discussing Thoroughbred rescue. "A lot of Americans love racehorses. That puts a lot of pressure on these guys. I would like to show them how the whole process works, from the moment the owner drops the horse off for sale until it becomes a piece of meat. The whole process is hidden. If people knew, they would be in an uproar. I think we would get enough people to pressure Congress. Right now, only horse enthusiasts are contacting Congress to pass the SAFE Act."
To read the entire Blood-Horse Magazine article, go here.