Pushing the federal law to end cruel slaughter of horses to the finish line

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on May 6, 2022 with 18 Comments

It is a long way from the stable, paddock and winner’s circle at Churchill Downs to the dark, dank and bloody slaughterhouses in which tens of thousands of American horses meet their sad and pitiable end each year.

Yet some former racehorses do make that terrible journey, and it’s hard not to think of them on the eve of the Kentucky Derby, the most celebrated of races.

The most dispiriting story of all might be that of Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner who retired as horse racing’s fifth-leading earner of all time and was sold to a stud farm in Japan in 1989. A few years later, with no notice to his former owners, Ferdinand was sent to slaughter, for use in pet food or for human consumption. More recently, in 2020, Private Vow, a 2006 Derby runner, met his end the same way in Korea.

The stories of these and other horses lead to one awful conclusion. Of all modern threats to the horse in the United States, horse slaughter stands out for its sheer callousness and deceitfulness. It’s a problem rooted in wrong and outdated views of horses and how we should treat them, and it’s a problem of our own making here in the United States. For that reason, we have to solve it here, too.

The international export trade that allows horse slaughter to continue can be summed up in a sentence. Year after year, after lives of trusting companionship and—in so many cases—loyal service, tens of thousands of American horses are cast off and condemned to an arduous cross-border journey into Mexico or Canada that ends with their death.

We’re trying to bring this horse slaughter pipeline to an end, and we’re getting closer to that goal than ever. The federal Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act has 216 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, and we’re pressing leaders in Congress to advance the measure for passage in the remaining months of the session.

Animal advocates have been fighting to end the slaughter of American horses since the 1990s and have made steady progress. In 2007, three federal courts upheld state legislation that effectively prohibited the sale of horsemeat for human consumption, which in turn effectively shut down the operation of horse slaughter plants on American soil. Since then, we have kept the industry here on ice by ensuring, year after year, that no federal funds can be used for USDA inspection of such plants.

This de facto ban on domestic horse slaughter did not end the trade, however, and stopping the export market has proven to be a difficult challenge. The killing shifted to Canada and Mexico, where there is an existing slaughter industry satisfying the appetite for horsemeat in Europe and Asia. Today, a network of bottom-feeding “kill buyers” in our own country continues to outbid potential caring owners and export American horses across our borders for slaughter. In 2021, 23,431 horses were exported for slaughter, down 13,454 from the previous year—a 36.5% decrease. Yet it’s still a shocking number, and a great betrayal of horses.

Passage of the SAFE Act would take the United States out of the circuit of cruelty as a supplier of horses to a grisly global trade in horse flesh. It’s a simple bill that permanently bans domestic horse slaughter as well as the export of American horses for slaughter elsewhere, something that 83% of citizens support. With the issue receiving a hearing in the Health Subcommittee in January 2020 and with nearly half the members of the House and six members of the Senate currently on as cosponsors, we are in the final stretch of getting this bill passed into law.

There are many in the racing industry who agree with us that horse slaughter is way out of step with American values. The Jockey Club, The Breeders’ Cup, the New York Racing Association and The Stronach Group (owner of five prominent racetracks) are all active in the campaign. Hall of Fame jockey and founding member of the HSUS National Horse Racing Advisory Council Chris McCarron has also stood tall in the fight, authoring editorials in two Kentucky newspapers, one in Lexington and one in Louisville, just days before this year’s Derby contestants line up at the starting gate.

Another one of the strongest voices in this struggle is that of Joe De Francis, onetime CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club and the chair of the HSUS National Horse Racing Advisory Council. De Francis has been a principled and consistent critic of horse slaughter and played a leadership role in spurring the industry to confront the problem directly. He has also been a stalwart in the broader campaign for horse racing reforms, testifying and advocating on behalf of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA, which we worked to enact in 2020) and playing a lead role in its implementation. As a Director of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, the national oversight body created by the Act, De Francis strongly supports and endorses the Authority’s decision to select Drug Free Sport International to create the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit that will serve as the enforcement agency for the drug and medication portion of HISA’s mandate.

There are no easy victories in the animal protection universe. They are all hard-won, and the fight to end horse slaughter has been one of the most demanding and difficult ones we have ever had to wage. Now, during this Triple Crown season, we urge you to join us in a critical push for passage of the SAFE Act. The slaughter pipeline is no place for our horses, and once the bill becomes law, they won’t ever have to face that horror.

Speak out to end horse slaughter

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Karen Ann Drennen says:

    I applaud the HSUS for explaining the SAFE Act so the American people can know how important this is and what is behind horse slaughter. The travesty these animals must endure is beyond words. There are homes for unwanted horses; but to stop this pipeline to Mexico, China and Europe you must also eliminate the reason why horses are sent to slaughter. Horses are seen as property and livestock;merely objects primarily by the government and the Horseracing industry. The Bureau of Land Management has an annual plan to capture 25K horses, this year alone, and take them off of federal lands where they run free due to overpopulation to keep them at appropriate management levels. Billions of dollars have been appropriated by our government to protect these American icons but in reality they are not using the money to study why the population is increasing or how to manage each separate herd management level efficiently in best interest of horses. Every year they round up these animals with cruel helicopters herding them to live together in open pens; some have land appropriated for them and others are not seen again. Population control which is appropriated for every year by dart method is not being done and now the populations are at a huge rate. The BLM’s answer, without any scientific input by the National Academy of Science, wants to use invasive dangerous surgery on mares as a method of birth control. They also have a failed adoption program where they give $1000 to buyers to adopt a wild horse or burro with no experience required. There is no monitoring system and these animals wind up with kill buyers. They also sell horses to buyers for as cheap as $25.00 and these animals are also bought by kill buyers who send them to slaughter.
    The Horseracing Industry breeds horses and when they are done racing 17% of thoroughbreds alone are sent to slaughter every year. You can see from the article win or lose when the industry is done with them that is where they wind up. They also send them to South Korea for stud service and after are slaughtered horrifically.
    The SAFE act passage is foremost this year for priority. Supportive vet care is needed also for owners who have sick or injured horses who need them humanely euthanized. The BLM needs a study by the NAS to see how horses can be managed in each individual herd management area and how to effectively use birth control instead of just rounding them up every year. The failed adoption program and their open sales are leading to kill buyers selling these horses to slaughter. The Horseracing industry has an obligation to their horses to find them after care and they need to stop killing horses whether it is in training on the tracks or sending them to slaughter. Can this “sport” ever be safe for horses?

  2. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Por favor necesitamos acabar con esta violencia ya no lo podemos permitir esto tiene que terminar ahora es injusto tanta crueldad y violencia por favor ya nomás matanza

  3. Diana Lewis says:

    Horses in our country that are shipped for slaughter is a miserable plight for these animals! We have the power through our voice to stop this inhumanity!

  4. Angel Sindt says:

    Not right at all

  5. Rachel Magmavite says:

    Stop the Slaughter of Horses! God Created them to Beautify the earth. Sincerely. Rachel Magnavite. Advocate for Horses

  6. Valerie Amrine says:

    You keep your hands off the horses and let’s fight to end the horse slaughtered once and for all.

    • Valerie Amrine says:

      Let’s end the horse slaughtering let the horses who have raced retire with dignity and respect they deserve better then being slaughter for meat We need to change Let’s end the horse slaughtering once and for all.

  7. sara rahbar says:

    Animals are not food

  8. John Woodell says:

    Horses are smart, majestic animals that should not be slaughtered because they’re of no use to these cold hearted people. They should be allowed to live out their lives after their faithful service.( if you could call it that).

  9. Jen Wakefield says:

    I don’t think I’ve disagreed with the HSUS on a topic before, but I do on this. How are horses different from cows that people eat? People also eat dogs, rats, and snakes in some parts of the world; how are horses different? I don’t eat animals, but for people who do, how are horses any different from scorpions, turtles, sheep, goats, pigs, birds, elk, fish, or bison? And why shouldn’t their deaths feed people? I absolutely support the humane raising and slaughter of any animals used for food, but your preference for some animals over others astounds me and I do not support it.

  10. Venice Tucker says:

    Pray horses need be free go no more abuse

  11. Doris Knapp says:

    There is so much evil in the world but humans can help and save themselves but animals cannot! They need our help and by GOD we should help them!! Animals are GODS’ creations and they were not put on this earth for humans entertainment and to be used however humans want to use and abuse them! Animals deserve the same freedom that humans have! What does it say about humans that abuse, torture and kill animals inhumanely for any reason? We have to save and protect animals from evil humans and that is the bottom line! We just have to do it PERIOD!

  12. Barbara Spencer says:

    Horses are are our friends and we need to take care of them! Slaughtering them is totally inhumane!!!!

  13. Eva Adgrim says:

    All this is because we have money in the industry. The horses is no use when they not can earn money to there owner. I hope that one day there will be no horse or dog race , not dog or roosters fighting. I know this is about horses. I hope there will be a law that say we can not transfer horses so easy so that will be a stop to this slaughter transports.

  14. Suzann says:

    It would be nice if we just ban the slaughter of horses in Canada and Mexico , it would be a win for horses in the convenient of North America.

  15. patoue says:



    Please stop killing horses and past the safe act. 216.

  17. lisa.grant says:

    keep the horses safe

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