Greener Pastures for Cast-Off Horses

By on July 26, 2011 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

In the introduction to The Bond, I was able to narrate the path from peril and misery to safety and comfort of so many animals at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, and in their collective story explain the litany of broader threats that animals today face in society. There, in the biographies of these creatures, I trace the stories of chimps used in circuses or laboratories, bobcats or mountain lions kept as pets, and horses destined for the international meat trade. At the same time, it’s also a story of mercy, since every animal there made his or her way there through some act of determination and kindness.

Our Duchess Sanctuary near Roseburg, Ore., run in partnership with the Fund for Animals, is another of our five animal care facilities. But unlike Black Beauty, it specializes only in caring for horses. In the stories of the animals there, we shine a light on one of the shabbiest cruelties committed against equines in North America–the abuse of horses by the drug industry. 

A horse formerly used for the PMU industry, safe at Duchess Sanctuary
Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS
A former PMU mare at Duchess Sanctuary.

Duchess has nearly 200 horses formerly used to produce a once-popular estrogen replacement drug called Premarin, which is short-hand for pregnant mare urine (PMU). At PMU farms, which were concentrated in the Dakotas and the prairie provinces of Canada, female horses were impregnated, tethered in narrow stalls, and had their urine collected for six months of the year to extract their estrogen. The resulting foals were treated as byproducts, and often sent to slaughter. That was the same fate for many of the mares once they were too old to produce.

In short, they were confined and exploited for their reproductive hormones, and then exploited again as they were sold for slaughter. The company driving the cruelty was Wyeth-Ayerst, which was purchased a few years ago by Pfizer. At the peak of the Premarin trade in 2003, there were approximately 55,000 horses in production for their estrogen-loaded urine. 

Then, after public health concerns emerged about Wyeth’s estrogen-replacement drug, as well as concerns about the welfare of the horses, the market for the drug collapsed. Within a few years, PMU farms started shutting down and the number of horses dropped to just 2,000.

The drug industry didn’t pay for the care and well-being of the animals it discarded, but thrust the responsibility upon others. Many rescues stepped up to help, and The HSUS worked with one of these rescues to found the Duchess Sanctuary and provide these horses with a home. The sanctuary is the permanent home of nearly 200 of these formerly mistreated horses, and now, they can graze in rolling pastures and bond with others. You can see them living the good life in the video below.

We call on the drug industry to stop mistreating horses for profit, and we are still waiting for the companies involved to live up to their responsibility and pay for the care of the animals they exploited for so long. It should not be the obligation of animal welfare groups and advocates to clean up the mess knowingly created by these companies.


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