April 2011

Keith Dane is the director of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the United States, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Is responsible horse ownership a long-term commitment? At The Humane Society of the United States we believe it is. That and nothing less.

A recent correspondent to this publication boldly asserted that horses were as “disposable” as an old pair of skis or a bike. She criticized The Humane Society of the United States for believing differently. To her, we say: Bring it on! [see Hope Holland’s editorial “Is HSUS Blaming Us?” in the February print edition and on The Equiery’s Archives online]

The HSUS, backed by thousands of responsible horse owners and millions of animal lovers, is ready to argue the case. We have in fact promulgated a five-point Horse Welfare Program to engage other horse aficionados, horse publications, and the larger equine industry on the subject of basic responsibility to care for the horses in our lives.

A horse is not a garden rake to be tossed aside. A horse is not a rusty bike or last year’s holiday toy. And horse owners should not be telling their children that there is no difference between a castoff piece of inanimate junk and living animals who have the spark of life in their eyes and the drive to please in their hearts.

Your recent correspondent resorted to inexcusable euphemism in saying that horse overpopulation was simply for the lack of a “viable control device.” And, exactly what is that “device”? It’s a slaughter plant, where cast-off bicycles and old skis, excuse me, where living and healthy horses are killed and processed into meat for export. America has said that it does not want this iconic animal treated with such 19th-century barbarism. Many horsemen and women say it. I’m one of them.

Instead of arguing that slaughter plants are a “control device,” responsible horse owners should be standing with millions of Americans in saying that domestic horses should not be made to suffer the long-distance and inhumane journey across our borders to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada.

A better solution for horses is to prevent overpopulation through responsible breeding. And for instances when at-risk horses fall through the cracks, The HSUS also believes that the equine industry needs to step up as an active partner in the many efforts underway in the United States to rescue, re-train and re-home horses. To say, as your correspondent did, that the industry “has always managed” its responsibilities is as absurd as saying a horse is a boat, which was precisely the comparison the letter writer made.

This is not to say that the industry is without commendable effort. Dedicated fans of Thoroughbred racing have successfully trained thousands of former race horses for second careers as sport horses, trail mounts and companion animals. These programs serve as models that others should emulate.

We put our money where our mouth is, by the way, and serve as the nation’s largest direct care provider for at-risk horses, offering a lifetime of sanctuary to more than 800 such animals. We know our many horse-owning members are proud of this commitment. More, The HSUS will open its own model program later this year, the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center, at its Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.

But the animal protection community cannot be expected to do it all. The industry must join with us, and step up to be part of the solution.

We encourage fellow horse lovers to read our five-point plan. It’s a simple, common-sense set of standards. What, for instance, should be the fate of old, sick or debilitated horses? Simple: humane euthanasia.

We also seek that wild horses not be treated abusively. These animals symbolize the veritable bedrock of America’s Old West culture. And right now, they suffer by the countless thousands in mismanaged federal roundups. And taxpayers are handed an excessive bill to keep these animals on private ranges. A far better future for our wild horses and for overburdened taxpayers awaits us; the overdue implementation of humane contraception as a primary herd management tool.

As a lifelong horse owner, exhibitor and horse show judge, I have come to know a great many caring, responsible individuals in this industry. I believe that the vast majority of my fellow horsemen and women here in Maryland and around the country care deeply about the welfare of horses and share our views on horse protection. Together, we can sit tall in the saddle for having safeguarded the most vulnerable of America’s horses. That would be good for horses, for the equine industry and for our larger society.

Publisher’s Note: Mr. Dane has taken many of the statements in Ms. Holland’s op/ed out of context and has used them in an inflamatory manner. We don’t know if this was taken out of context intentionally or inadvertently, but Ms. Holland never stated that she personally believed horses were “as disposable as an old pair of skis,” as Mr. Dane asserts. The direct quote from her op/ed is: “ The horse is, for many people, as much a disposable implement of sport as skiing equipment…” Furthermore, although Mr. Dane does not assert that Ms. Holland advocated allowing horses to endure long distance and inhumane journeys to slaughter in Mexico or California, he certainly implied that she advocated for that. We urge readers to read Ms. Holland’s editorial for themselves. To find it, visit equiery.com, select “Archives.” Under archives, select “Opinions” and then scroll down to “Is HSUS blaming us?” (Opinion pieces are appear in chronological order to their date of publication.)

Is HSUS Blaming Us? By Hope Holland (February 2011)