Our shame: the awful truth on horse cruelty (2022)

Two images of horses in Ireland were shuttled all over the world in the past month. The first was of Irish Oaks winner Chicquita, the elite thoroughbred owned by Australian Paul Makin that smashed all previous records when she sold for €6m at the Goffs sales complex in Kildare. The second was of an unnamed piebald cob mare lying dead on the ground in the Ballyguile area of Wicklow with her bewildered foal standing over her.

he two mares lived lives that were polar opposites. One, bred to be a champion, was always destined to be pampered and treated like equine royalty, while the other, of questionable breeding, faced an uncertain future from the get-go.

The piebald mare was assaulted by thugs who beat her as she lay on the concrete in Wicklow and left her to die. A garda investigation has been launched into the event, in which onlookers say the mare was forcibly shunted out of a horsebox by a group of men and beaten before being put to sleep by a vet.

The savagery and cold cruelty of the incident has resonated with animal lovers all over the world, and Irish equine charities have been inundated with offers to sponsor the foal left behind.

This mare is not the only one to suffer a cruel fate in Ireland. In recent weeks, a trotting horse in Co Tipperary was apparently driven into the back of a parked car at such speed that its neck was broken and another mare was found in Tallaght after its body was set on fire. Other horses have been abandoned to starve to death in forestry, dumped on waste ground and neglected for so long that they simply slump to the ground to die.

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But what makes these appalling incidents even more stomach-churning is the fact that the people who do these things will never be caught to face the consequences.

"I don't own her," is the most common defence used by those accused of neglect and cruelty. "I sold her months ago." "She's not mine, I don't know who owns her."

Since July 1, 2009, all horses, ponies and donkeys must have a passport and microchip by six months of age. So far, so good. But where the law falls down is that there is no transfer of ownership requirement when a horse is sold. A foal registered by a breeder in 2009 could still be in his name in 2013, even though he sold it four years previously and may have passed through multiple new owners since them. Unlike car sales, there is no onus on anyone to register the change of ownership of a horse.

"Transfer of ownership is essential -- microchips are useless without a requirement to change the owner's details," insisted Barbara Bent, chairperson of the ISPCA (pictured left). "Every time we pick up a microchipped horse, we are told that person sold the animal. It's so frustrating."

Both the ISPCA and the Irish Horse Welfare Trust, whose officers were called to the scene of the Ballyguile mare on Sunday night, say overproduction of horses is the biggest reason for Ireland's equine welfare crisis. While foal registration figures in the sport horse and thoroughbred sectors have fallen from a combined 23,000 in 2008 to approximately 12,500 this year, there is no sign of any slowdown in breeding in the so-called 'unregulated' sector.

"Uncontrolled breeding is a serious problem," said Ms Bent. "Young colts are not being castrated and this results in huge herds of animals grazing on public land. Virtually every mare we have taken in this year is in foal."

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Bent quoted the example of a man with over a dozen horses grazing on a limited area of land who left his colts uncastrated and now has up to 100 horses on the same patch.

"There is no sign of any fall-off in breeding in the unregulated sector," agreed Sharon Newsome, founder of the Irish Horse Welfare Trust (IHWT) (pictured right).

Adding to the problem of overproduction is the restricted access to horse slaughter to dispose of horses at the bottom end of the market. The horsemeat scandal last January shone a spotlight on the horse slaughter industry, prompting a tightening of the regulations and more stringent passport checks of horses going for human consumption. Just 9,237 horses were slaughtered in approved meat plants up to the end of October this year, less than half the 24,362 that were slaughtered last year.

Large numbers of low-value horses are now excluded from the slaughter chain, and with no threat of being prosecuted, their owners simply choose to abandon the animals to fend for themselves.

Horse welfare problems have reached such a level in Ireland that even charities have called on the Government to introduce a mass cull of horses. Earlier this year, Bent called on the Minister for Agriculture to provide a disposal facility to take horses with no future.

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"That might seem an unusual thing for an animal welfare organisation to say, but these horses have to go somewhere, and I would far prefer they would be disposed of humanely that starved to death," she said.

This week, the Irish Horse Welfare Trust also called for a disposal scheme to be rolled out across the country.

"A scheme where people could surrender their horses for disposal -- if it was managed well with the least amount of fallout -- is the only sensible option for imals owned by people who don't have the money to dispose of them. That would deal with the low-value horses that are stamped out of the food chain or have no passports," maintained Newsome.

The IHWT founder also called for a subsidised microchipping and passport programme to be rolled out for the unregulated horse sector, adding that extra help should be made available to the Travelling community, where literacy issues may hinder form-filling.

'We know from our own work that one vet, with enough help, can mark and chip 50 horses in a day," said Ms Newsome. "If we could temporarily subsidise passports, we could start to try and get on top of the horse population."

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney recently indicated that his department had a horse disposal scheme "ready to go" if needed. The scheme would allow for large numbers of horses to be taken into state ownership and, if necessary, humanely destroyed.

Coveney said he was determined over the next two years to "fundamentally change the attitude to horse welfare among some horse owners".

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"There are some people who have horses, whether for historical or traditional reasons or whatever, but don't have the resources or the knowledge to look after them. They seem to think that will be allowed to continue, but it won't," he insisted.

"Last year, we had multiple incidents of horses literally starving when grass stopped growing, tied to lamp posts, horses with no water, on public lands and NAMA-controlled land and we are putting a stop to that and I make no apologies to anyone for that," he declared.

Figures on horse seizures by local authorities (see panel) would suggest that the minister's campaign is well under way, but for many horses neglected and starving today, help is still a long way off.


Are horses abused? ›

Some racehorses are abused.

Some racehorses are mistreated and abused; they are drugged, whipped, and even shocked during races. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went undercover to document some horrible practices carried on by trainers.

What famous racehorse was slaughtered? ›

American Classics / Breeders' Cup wins:

Much to the outrage of many horse racing enthusiasts, reports indicate that in 2002, Ferdinand was sent to slaughter in Japan with no fanfare or notice to previous owners. He likely became either pet food or steaks for human consumption.

How do I stop my horse from being abused? ›

It's time to join together and put an end to the abuse!
  1. Physically Stand Up: If you are a witness to rough handling, training, or a neglect case, you might want to take action by becoming vocal or removing the horse from harm. ...
  2. Take Pictures & Videos: Document what you saw taking place or the animal's condition.
Dec 13, 2017

Do they slaughter horses in the US? ›

Horse Meat

A: Approximately 1 to 2% of the U.S. equine population is slaughtered each year. That number has not changed since horse slaughter in this country ceased with the closure of the last slaughter house in 2007. By comparison, approximately 10 to 12% of the U.S. equine population dies or is euthanized each year.

Do they shoot horses on the track? ›

Though the practise seems cruel, but 'destroying' a racehorse is usually more humane than forcing the horse to endure the recovery. Around 150 horses are 'destroyed', as the racing community calls it, mostly by lethal injection, at racecourses each year, usually after sustaining badly broken legs.

What happens to horses after slaughter? ›

Thousands of American horses are sent to slaughter every year and the vast majority would be rehomed; not every horse going to slaughter needs to go to rescue. The USDA documented that 92.3 percent of horses sent to slaughter are in good condition and are able to live out a productive life.

How are horses killed for slaughter? ›

Typically, a penetrating captive bolt gun or gunshot is used to render the animal unconscious. The blow (or shot) is intended to kill the horse instantly or stun it, with exsanguination (bleeding out) conducted immediately afterwards to ensure death.

How are horses slaughtered in Japan? ›

In most Japanese slaughterhouses, horses meet a frightening death. They are killed, are cut apart, and end up as food for dogs and humans. During a PETA undercover investigation inside Japan's largest horse slaughterhouse, in Kumamoto, we captured video footage of a Thoroughbred's last minutes.

How do you tell if a horse is mistreated? ›

In cases of suspected abuse or neglect, look for theses signs…
  1. Extremely thin or emaciated horses.
  2. Wounds on the body.
  3. Chronic illness.
  4. Limping.
  5. Signs of physical abuse.
  6. No evidence of food or water.
  7. Lack of shelter from extreme weather conditions.
  8. Sunburned skin.

How do you tell if a horse is neglected? ›

Talk to local feed and tack stores: if the horses' owners don't pay their bills, that can also be a red flag.
Higher risk horses include:
  1. Horses with lameness or medical issues preventing them from being ridden.
  2. Horses with little to no training.
  3. Off-the-track horses with little to no off-track training.
Feb 13, 2018

How do you know if the horse is being mistreated? ›

Problems such as lameness, being overweight or underweight, poor grooming and skin conditions or overgrown feet are a cause for concern but might not individually require intervention – if there are multiple issues to build a fuller picture of neglect, this should prompt you to contact the authorities.

Does Taco Bell use horse meat? ›

Taco Bell has officially joined Club Horse Meat. The fast-food chain and subsidiary of Yum Brands says it has found horse meat in some of the ground beef it sells in the United Kingdom.

Is horse meat in dog food? ›

In the 1920s, according to Nestle, slaughterhouses opened pet food companies to dispose of horse meat. It remained a major ingredient in pet food until at least the 1940s. Today, Nestle said, most pet food companies do not profess to use horse meat, partially for fear it would discourage people from buying the product.

Are horses slaughtered for glue? ›

No horses are killed for making glue, especially. That would be far more expensive than using chemical replacements. The chemical components don't use any dead animal parts, of course. However, they can be environmentally damaging.

Why do they put horses down with broken legs? ›

Because horses can not stay off their feet for long periods, broken bones do not have a chance to heal, and so often sadly the kindest way to help a horse with a broken limb is to put it down.

Why does a horse have to be killed when it breaks a leg? ›

A horse with a broken leg is usually killed because it is very difficult to heal a horse's broken leg properly. In addition, the blood flow of a horse depends on its hooves. Keeping a horse still for a long period of time to allow its bone to heal is an enormous risk to its life.

Why do horses have to be put down when they break a leg? ›

Do you have to euthanize a horse if it breaks its leg? Often the only humane option after a horse breaks its leg is to euthanize it. This is because horses have heavy bodies and delicate legs, and broken leg bones are usually shattered making surgery and recovery impossible.

What does horse meat taste like? ›

Horse meat is widely reported to be somewhat sweet, a little gamey, and a cross between beef and venison, according to the International Business Times.

What is horse meat called? ›

Horse meat, or chevaline, as its supporters have rebranded it, looks like beef, but darker, with coarser grain and yellow fat. It seems healthy enough, boasting almost as much omega-3 fatty acids as farmed salmon and twice as much iron as steak.

Do horses really go to the glue factory? ›

They get asked this question frequently: “No, Elmer's does not make glue from horses or use animals or animal parts. Our products are made from synthetic materials and are not derived from processing horses, cows, or any other animals.

Where do you shoot a horse to put it down? ›

Aim the firearm directly down the neck, perpendicular to the front of the skull, and held at least 6 inches away from the point of impact, and fire. Immediately after you fire the gun, the horse should collapse and may experience a period of muscle contraction or spasm that usually lasts no longer than 20 seconds.

How much do slaughterhouses pay for horses? ›

In 2016, the industry saw a surge in kill pen profits, while the number of horses actually being exported for processing was unchanged. In 2017, the prices were even higher, averaging from $850 on the low end to as high as $3000 on some horses.

Do Canadians eat horse meat? ›

Canadians only eat 660,000 pounds of horse meat a year. In parts of French-speaking Quebec and in high-end restaurants around the country, however, horse meat remains a popular option for adventurous culinary enthusiasts.

Does Canada slaughter horses? ›

Every year, tens of thousands of horses are slaughtered in Canada (54,000 in 2016). Many of these horses are transported from the United States, where horse slaughter plants have been closed since 2007. The meat is sold primarily in Europe and Asia and, to a lesser extent, Quebec.

How are horses slaughtered in Mexico? ›

Some of the horses that go to Mexico are slaughtered in an EU inspected plant, but many others to local abattoirs. In their plants, they are killed with the puntilla. The puntilla is a short knife that is used to sever the spinal cord in a fully conscious animal.

Do Japanese eat horses? ›

A delicacy in Japan

Horse meat is a delicacy in many parts of the world, especially in Kumamto, a city in Japan's island of Kyushu. There's even a store and restaurant — Ma Sakura — that specializes in horse meat.

Are horses the most abused animal? ›

Horses are one of the 4 most commonly abused animals in the United States, joining cats, dogs, and livestock.

How are horses being abused? ›

Abuse may be caused by hitting, kicking, throwing, beating, whipping, spurring, shaking, poisoning, burning, scalding, suffocation, etc. Animal sexual abuse: Any abusive act involving the rectum, anus or genitalia; or sexual contact with animals which may or may not result in physical injury to the animal.

Why do horses get abused? ›

Signs Of An Abused Horse. The most common form of abuse is simple neglect. There are many reasons that someone may neglect their animal: laziness, apathy, physical limitations, economic hardship, and ignorance are some of the more common.

How do you tell if a horse is abused? ›

In cases of suspected abuse or neglect, look for theses signs…
  1. Extremely thin or emaciated horses.
  2. Wounds on the body.
  3. Chronic illness.
  4. Limping.
  5. Signs of physical abuse.
  6. No evidence of food or water.
  7. Lack of shelter from extreme weather conditions.
  8. Sunburned skin.


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