by Hope Holland
February 2011

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a lobbying organization, has become quite active recently on equine- and canine-related issues. HSUS representatives have been attending the Maryland Horse Council’s Unwanted Horse meetings. The National Steeplechase Association (NSA), based in Fair Hill, Maryland and the umbrella organization for all sanctioned or recognized formal steeplechase meets, has received a letter from HSUS, offering to help NSA improve jump racing, ostensibly as they have “helped” the sport of eventing.

Meanwhile, The Las Vegas Review-Journal published an op-ed piece by Keith Dane (a Maryland resident and the director of equine protection for HSUS) on January 9, 2011 (visit for a link), in which Dane called for the entire equestrian community to adopt HSUS’s five-point “Horse Welfare Platform.”

Occasional Equiery contributor, longtime breeder and all around horsewoman Hope Holland took offense (as have many other horse owners) at the tone and insinuations within HSUS’s five-point plan. Holland has this to say about HSUS’s proposal.

I have taken the liberty of answering the main points stated in Keith Dane’s op-ed piece of Jan. 9, 2011 as it appeared in The Las Vegas Review-Journal. The italics are directly excerpted from Dane’s piece.

Horse lovers, the entire horse industry, federal agencies and Congress should get behind a five-point plan to promote basic standards of humane care and fair treatment for horses. This much-needed Horse Welfare Platform includes the following elements:
1. Owners must take responsibility for their horses by providing them with basic care. That includes adequate feed, veterinary care, socialization and affection and sufficient space to engage in natural behaviors.

This implies that all horse owners are in the business of keeping horses as a lifetime commitment. That is not the truth. The horse is, for many people, as much a disposable implement of sport as skiing equipment, a boat or a sports bike. Also, many horse owners do not keep their horses at home and have neither the time nor the space to care for their own horse.

2. The horse industry, including breeders and breed groups, must institute policies and practices that encourage more selective practices to see that supply doesn’t far outstrip demand. The current situation has reduced the value of horses and created too many for too few homes and sanctuaries.
The ‘current situation’ was engendered not by breeders but by acts of Congress that took away a viable control device without any thought to implementing a safety net for those horses that would have no place to go otherwise. Reputable breeders have long practiced selective breeding to the utmost of their abilities as creating horses with no viable future would be counterproductive to both the industry that they participate in and to the consumers that they court.

3. The horse industry must actively participate in the rescue and retraining of American horses, providing additional resources to reputable rescue organizations, and developing programs to provide new avenues and options for horses.
The horse industry has long practiced rescue and retraining of horses of whatever nationality and descent. Rescue organizations need to depend on the public and on those businesses that serve the horse industry for their resources and this is exactly what they usually do. The horse industry has always managed to provide for ‘new avenues and options’ for those horses who have come upon hard times or who needed retraining.

4. Horses that are old, sick or debilitated must be guaranteed a dignified and painless death by euthanasia, preferably performed by a trained veterinarian. Cramming horses into cattle trucks and shipping them to slaughter is not an acceptable form of euthanasia.
Very few of the members of the horse industry have ever ‘crammed a horse into a cattle truck.’ It is not what we do. Members of this industry regularly give retirements and dignified deaths to horses we valued in life and have also taken in horses who were not valued by others and dealt with them humanely because we are just that sort of people.

5. Wild horses must be managed humanely as an indispensable part of the wild American landscape, and where necessary and appropriate, government agencies must use humane herd management practices, including fertility control. It’s inhumane and stressful to horses and financially unsustainable for the federal government to keep rounding up horses and paying to feed them in long-term holding facilities.
I wonder just who is supposed to wind up paying for this statement as it is not suggested to whom the bill should be submitted. I would venture to remind the authors of this statement that the Federal government is subsisting on the tax dollars of the people of the United States, inclusive of those aforementioned members of the horse industry.

Each year, many horses are prevented from going to new homes because slaughter industry representatives, known as kill buyers, outbid responsible horse owners and rescue groups at auctions.
This is a specious statement. The “killers” buy horses at a certain price per pound. Period. They will not and do not purchase horses that bring a higher price. It is not sound business practice for them to purchase a horse above the current meat price nor can they do this for malicious reasons without endangering their business any more than any other business person could do in any other supply and demand industry. Those persons who wish to purchase a horse at auction to save it from the killers need to understand what the price per pound is and they need to be prepared to pay a higher amount for the horse than that price if they wish to own it. This is the business of an auction and the reality of it.

The answer to the challenges facing the equine industry is not to subject horses to the horrors of slaughter. Instead, the industry must recognize how irresponsible breeding and a throwaway mentality toward horses has conspired with a tough economic climate to create a challenging circumstance for proper care of the nation’s horse population. 
No. The horse industry is not guilty of irresponsible breeding nor is it guilty of a throwaway mentality toward horses. Persons who purchase horses without clearly thinking of the circumstances of the animals they purchase may have some responsibility in this but those most responsible are the members of organizations that persuaded the Congressional members of the United States government to do away with a viable option (one that was, admittedly, not a good option) before they considered the inevitable repercussions of their actions. Those organizations and that Congress in combination with tough economic times have created the perfect storm in which to irreparably damage a good and viable industry and ruin the lives of countless thousands of horses.
Death is not the worst thing that can befall a horse. Lives that carry on and on while that animal slowly starves to death in a field are much, much worse. I will not even fault many of the owners. If a man can’t feed his children he will darn sure not feed his horses.
Thanks to sweeping Congressional laws engendered by organizations with the rabid light of total reform in their eyes and no thought to establishing a safety net for the animals that they wanted to ‘save’ horses have been caught in a maelstrom of suffering the likes of which has not been seen in the last 50 years. It is time for the Congress to revisit their actions and it is time for those organizations to take the responsibility for the disaster they have brought to exist.