Could There Be a Truer "Summit of the Horse" Someday'

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I'd thought I might attend the Summit of the Horse at the beginning of this month in Las Vegas, but from what I've read and seen about it, I'm kind of glad I didn't. I think I would have been frustrated, because it doesn't appear to have lived up to its billing, although I have to praise the organizers for having the guts to emphasize an extremely important and extremely controversial subject. That subject is horse slaughter, the horse world?s equivalent of abortion. And even though other subjects that should concern every horse owner (but rarely do) were discussed at the summit, it was horse slaughter that drew about 99 percent of the coverage. They did offer panels on other important subjects, though, including ?The Horsemen?s Forum ? Necessary Steps to Restore Lost Value and Normal Markets? and ?Healthy Lands/Healthy Horses?Restoring ecological balance to federal lands, controlling excess and unwanted feral horses on state, tribal, and private lands.? United Organizations of the Horse, also called United Horsemen and located in Cheyenne, Wyo., organized the summit, and the presenters were almost entirely horse owners, trainers and service providers from the Western disciplines or politicians from the western United States or Canada. The exception was Dennis Foster, the executive director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, located in Virginia, who talked about the threat animal-rights groups (like the HSUS) pose to anyone who does anything with horses. But most of the speakers had subjects related to equine slaughter and some did urge a revival of the practice in the United States, which ended in 2008, after Congress curtailed funding of USDA inspectors for horse-slaughter plants in 2007. Before you get your back up about a discussion of horse slaughter, ponder these numbers: In 2006, 11,080 U.S. horses were shipped to Mexico for slaughter, instead of going to the three plants then operating in the United States. In 2008, after the American industry shut down, that number jumped to 57,017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. Ponder this too: According to WSJ.com, ?In the past two years, seven states, including Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota, have adopted resolutions urging Congress to support horse processing, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Montana restricted court challenges to future equine processing plants. And Wyoming passed a law allowing any state-licensed meat-processing plant to sell its products, including horseflesh, to state institutions, such as prisons. No federal inspections are required if the meat does not cross state lines.? Perhaps the smartest thing the summit's organizers did was to invite Dr. Temple Grandin to speak, and I think that her insights and influence could be extremely important in developing humane slaughter as one method to deal with our country?s great unsolved equine problem?the as many as hundreds of thousands of unwanted horses. I saw Dr. Grandin speak nearly 10 years ago at a convention (long before the movie was made about her) and then read one of her books about animal behavior. While I found her words about training horses simplistic and not terribly applicable to high performance, there is no question that her autism provides her with an unusual insight into how a wide range of animals think and live. SHe's worked closely with other livestock groups and slaughterhouses to considerably refine the slaughtering of chickens, cows, pigs and sheep, and sHe's worked with zoos around the world to create enclosures and habitats that have dramatically improved those animals? quality of life. I've not been able to find a report, videotape or transcript of Dr. Grandin?s presentation, but I'm sure it was thought provoking. I'd strongly suggest that United Horsemen and other groups (political and otherwise) that advocate equine slaughter enlist her to help them develop a slaughter process that is entirely humane for the horse and palatable for the human, including the shipping of horses from their origination to the slaughter plant. To me, it's the hours and hours of transport that's the biggest problem. Even in the best circumstances, shipping is stressful for horses, a fact disturbingly few people understand. I wasn?t familiar with United Horsemen (beyond the name) before I started doing research to write this blog, and it appears to me that it would be unfair (and incorrect) to label them as just a pro-slaughter group as a result of this summit. On their website, they explain what seems to be a comprehensive program for unwanted horses: ?The United Organizations of the Horse and the United Horsemen?s Front promote positive solutions and a range of options for all horse owners, regardless of their economic situation, how many horses they own, or what they do with their horses. People who own horses should have the right to choose how they end that ownership. For some people, processing may be an acceptable choice. Others may find it unacceptable; not only for horses they currently own, but also for horses they sold or otherwise lost track of in the past. This is the motivation behind the National Do Not Slaughter Program. ?We have established a microchip database that goes several steps further than the existing identify-and-locate registries. In order to accomplish this we have partnered with AVID, the industry leader in animal microchip identification. AVID works with us to maximize the effectiveness of the Registry by providing microchip kits and coordinating with their existing database of equine microchip customers. ?The National Do-Not-Slaughter Registry will actually pull a horse out of the processing system and hold it for a minimum of 72 hours. The person linked to the microchip information, whether current or former owner, has the option to save the horse by buying it back for the cost incurred in the slaughter process up to that point.? Here's a passage I firmly agree with: ?Believing firmly that there are fates far worse than slaughter, and that a quick, painless death is far preferable to a horrifically painful and prolonged death by starvation and disease, our organization is dedicating itself to finding reasonable, responsible, and humane solutions to the current dire situation in the horse world. Through this unified and holistic system we can help horses and help people, and most importantly of all, help the equine economy begin the long road back to normal functioning. ?The Rescue, Rejuvenation, and Slaughter Programs are complemented by the Equine Assurance Program, which is an industry driven assurance program to address both animal welfare issues and food quality and safety issues through licensing, certification, and training?as well as the Horses for Humanity Program which is specifically focused on using horse products for charitable purposes where horse meat can be provided to the hungry, or be contributed as pet food to nonprofit animal shelters.? I hope that this isn?t the last Summit of the Horse that the United Horsemen hold. I hope they're willing to continue to explore the care and feeding?and the death?of all kinds of horses, subjects almost all other horse groups avoid or dance around. But I hope that in the future they will include a wider range of equestrian organizations. Other than the MFHA, no English-riding organizations to which I belong were represented?for instance, the U.S. Equestrian Federation?and I'd like to believe it was because no one asked them, not because these groups? leaders turned them down. And, as I said, I hope future discussion of how best to re-institute horse slaughter as an option for certain horses and their owners will include serious input from Dr. Grandin.