Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Ugliness and Truth of Horseracing Exposed: Unwanted Ex Racers Will End Up In Horrible Conditions and Auctioned Off For Slaughter

This issue has garnered a lot of attention lately due to the attempt to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. You can read about this act at:

This excellent article exposes the horrible truth of what occurs to retired racers and horses in general. Like we’re so accustomed to doing in this country, if it doesn’t make money, it’s not worth respect. That is the case here, as once loved horses are put into a humiliating and hell full situation.

“The racehorses that wind up at New Holland aren't all lame, or aged, or the byproducts of uninspired breeding. Often, they are horses who consistently run out of the money and whose owners can no longer afford to support them. Horse Illustrated magazine estimates that as many as 90 percent of all racehorses will be slaughtered.”

At the end of the article is a list of some agencies for anyone interested in horse rescue or adoption. After you read this article, those with a heart certainly will have such an interest.


Awaiting retired racehorses: Salvation - or slaughter
They're unwanted and auctioned off each week.

By Frank Fitzpatrick
Inquirer Staff Writer

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. - JJ's Max and dozens of other horses jostled flank to flank in the narrow stable like commuters on a crowded subway.

The 7-year-old standardbred's coat was as dusty as the floor. Three years after his last race, he was thinner than in his harness heyday. And though his left eye was clouded by a vision problem that ended that career, he seemed to see his fate.

His head hung low and unresponsive as Amish children in straw hats and white bonnets paraded past. He didn't react to the nervous whinnies of his companions in this dirty equine green room, or to the hands of the thick-chested men who rudely lifted his leg or yanked back a lip. Occasionally, he shuddered.

Soon, the bay gelding, who had won just 4 of 28 races and $5,666 as a second-rate pacer at Sports Creek Raceway in Flint, Mich., was untied and led next door, into the New Holland Sales Stables Inc. auction ring.

There, in a dung-scented building along Fulton Street in this 278-year-old Lancaster County borough, JJ's Max became part of the weekly New Holland auction, the largest horse sale east of the Mississippi, on June 5.

Ambling down a narrow walkway like some disinterested model, the horse was eyed by hundreds of crusty horsemen and farmers, by equestrian riders and spectators, and by the buyers and sellers who packed the wooden grandstands and narrow walkways for this long-standing Dutch Country ritual.

As horses of all sizes, breeds and ages were marched in and out of the ring, prospective buyers roamed the stables, getting a closer look at the day's later offerings. Men in plaid shirts and baseball caps ate plates of cream chipped beef piled high on homefries as they assessed the horseflesh. Women, many of them Amish, ushered groups of children through the stables, where the youngsters sometimes patted a horse's rump or tried to mount a pony.

This weekly scene, so rich in atmosphere and redolent of America's agricultural traditions, has a dark side as well, one from which, on this day, JJ's Max happily escaped.

Experts say that perhaps as many as 80 of the 400 or so horses auctioned off here each Monday, many of them former racehorses, end up in slaughterhouses, their meat bound for the restaurants of Europe and Asia.

"There are a few fools here who think these horses are going to Old MacDonald's farm," said Pennell Hopkins, an officer with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who patrols the grounds each week.

According to Animal Welfare League statistics, 17 percent of the more than 80,000 horses slaughtered annually for meat in the United States are thoroughbreds. Standardbreds like JJ's Max, a much smaller percentage of the horse population, probably make up another 2 percent.

But on this cool Monday, JJ's Max, who never had much good fortune on the racetrack, was lucky.

Once he was put on display, an auctioneer bellowed the identification number affixed to the horse's flanks. He briefly described the animal and began to warble for bids that never came.

It was over in 30 seconds.

Unsold, JJ's Max was taken out back of the rickety building. A handler unchained the metal gate to pen 24-A, a dark holding area that's called the "kill-pen" because the next stop for these horses is generally not some sunny pasture.

There, Kelly Young of the Lost and Found Horse Rescue spotted him.

"He looked so sweet," she said.

Young paid his owner $350 and took JJ's Max to the York County farm where her organization has brought hundreds of horses with similar stories. She comes here each week to rescue one or more of the doomed horses, typically former racehorses.

"These horses do a lot for us in their lifetimes," Young said. "They don't deserve to die in the horrible way they do."

The not-so-fortunate horses, bought by anonymous representatives of the slaughterhouses for a few hundred dollars, are hauled to one of the three remaining U.S. facilities - two in Texas, one in Illinois - or to others in Mexico and Canada that help satisfy the growing taste for horsemeat overseas.

Diners in France, Belgium, Japan and elsewhere, unnerved by recent mad-cow-disease scares, are paying as much as $25 a pound. A 1,200-pound animal can produce a sizable profit.

Young, Hopkins and numerous animal-welfare organizations object to the cruel demise of these horses, many of whom are healthy and fit. They often end up slaughtered because they become too expensive to keep once they can't race.

In the slaughterhouses, the horses are packed into a chute and stunned before having their throats slit.

"Horses are high-strung to begin with," said Chris Heyde, deputy legislative director for the Animal Welfare League in Washington. "So you can imagine the fear they're experiencing when they're crowded together in these places that smell of blood and feces.

"Then they go through a door into what is essentially a Dumpster," Heyde said. "A man above them has a pneumatic gun with which he fires a bolt the size of a roll of quarters into the horse's brain and then retracts it. The purpose isn't to kill the animal but to render it unresponsive to pain. Sometimes the process has to be repeated four or five times before the horses are bled to death."

Their carcasses, Heyde said, are then frozen and shipped overseas.

Heyde's organization is attempting to shepherd the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act through Congress, where it is stalled in the House's Energy and Commerce Committee.

"I think the overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to horse slaughter. But until we get a law passed, there's not much that can be done beyond trying to rescue as many as possible," he said.

Gretchen Jackson, who owns Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, has urged action on the measure, HR-503. In a teleconference last week, she said she and her husband cared for eight retired racehorses on their Chester County farm.

"Some are riding horses, and some aren't even up to that, and some are more than 20 years old," she said. "I just felt that when you own and breed a horse that is yours, it's your responsibility to care for that horse."

There have been some positive recent developments in efforts to save racehorses from slaughter. Rescue groups like Young's and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation are becoming more prevalent. And both the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the U.S. Trotting Association have been actively supporting these efforts.

"Our biggest [standardbred] adoption group has placed about 2,000 horses since 1990, and we have several other smaller groups that place maybe 10 to 100 each year," said Ellen Harvey, executive director of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association.

The racehorses that wind up at New Holland aren't all lame, or aged, or the byproducts of uninspired breeding. Often, they are horses who consistently run out of the money and whose owners can no longer afford to support them. Horse Illustrated magazine estimates that as many as 90 percent of all racehorses will be slaughtered.

Among the recognizable thoroughbreds Young has saved here are a half-brother to Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic and a 3-year-old son of champion sire Danzig.

"It can happen to any horse," she said. "Look what happened to Ferdinand."

That 1986 Kentucky Derby winner is believed to have perished in a Japanese slaughterhouse. The New York Racing Association recently initiated a Ferdinand Fund. Bettors there can contribute to an organization that cares for retired racehorses.

While the New Holland sale's operators did not want to be interviewed, they are doing nothing illegal. Within the horse industry, theirs is a well-respected and popular auction.

Each week, anywhere from 250 to 450 horses are sold there, everything from tiny ponies to massive Clydesdales to over-the-hill thoroughbreds.

Most buyers will use the horses for simple tasks - pulling Amish buggies, pony rides, equestrian lessons. The prices they fetched on June 5 ranged from $270 to $1,850.

It's the bargains that most concern Young.

"When you see a horse go for just a few hundred dollars," she said, "there's a good chance it's going to end up in the kill-pen."

The gruesome end many of these horses are destined to meet contrasts starkly with the carnival-like atmosphere outside the auction ring here.

By 8 a.m. last Monday, the large parking lots were humming with activity.

Dozens of pickup trucks laden with straw bales, stacked like blocks on a child's wagon, lined up for a hay auction. Another area was dominated by large horse trailers, which came from as far away as Wyoming and as near as Kennett Square and Malvern.

Elsewhere, at a colorful flea market, merchants sold copies of posters promoting a 1956 Elvis Presley concert, handsome leather saddles and other tack, used sweatshirts and corn dogs.

Inside the auction's main building, a snack bar dispensed sweet bologna-and-swiss cheese platters, $1.50 root-beer floats and the popular chipped-beef plates.

"It's quite an interesting place, it really is," said Hopkins, who colleagues say often is harassed by the sellers and buyers. "But you'll also see horses that have been abused, horses that have an eye hanging out of their heads, things like that.

"It can be a place of horrors, too."

Adopt a Horse

Here are some agencies for anyone interested in horse rescue or adoption:

Thoroughbreds:Re Run. Web site is

Contact Laurie Lane

at 732-521-1370.

Canter: Web site is

Contact Allie Conrad

at 301-980-0972.

Standardbreds: Standardbred Retirement Foundation. Web site is

Contact Gen Sullivan

at 732-462-8773.

All breeds and ponies:

Lost and Found Horse Rescue. Web site is

Contact Kelly Young

at 717-428-9701.

Horse Lovers United.

Web site is Contact Lorraine Truitt at 410-749-3599.

Equine Protection Network:

Web site is http://equineprotection

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