Where Do All the Horses Go?: The Life and Death of Those That Run

At the conclusion of rewarding careers, some prized race horses can wind up in the worst imaginable places.

Updated: Aug. 5, 2019 • 12:15 PM ET

Horse meat is consumed by humans in parts of Asia and many other localities around the world.

Not all race horses end their days enjoying large green pastures, whiling away the hours and thinking of glory days gone by. There’s a grim and more destructive side to their lives that is very real when it comes to their survival.

Last month, several credible sources revealed that a half-brother to Australian super horse Winx was sold in South Korea and sent to an abattoir. For those unfamiliar, “abattoir” is a word that is French in origin from abattre, meaning to strike down.

Translation? A slaughterhouse.

Australian runners aren’t the only ones that are susceptible to the “knacker.” North American thoroughbreds and other breeds (wild or domesticated) are in danger as well. They’ve been sold for processing to other countries, and even though horse slaughterhouses have ended their processing stateside, I suspect it still goes on under our noses.

We don’t care to think about this issue from the standpoint of polite conversation, because it’s frankly easier to talk about jockeys, trainer strategy and the tote board. But, if we don’t face this issue head on, we risk the very animals that make this sport possible.

Now, PETA and other animal rights organizations with much more history clamor for an end to the killing of horses for meat. Yet, they’ve had little success in combating this issue.

The problem lies in the fact that the consumption of horse meat, especially in the United States, is tightly linked to the economics of beef. We know that when cattle industry prices become exorbitant, demand accelerates for horse flesh.

Nutritionally, horse meat has just as much protein value as salmon. It’s not bad for you, but it has a long and checkered history. Its consumption is viewed as a last resort and only for the downtrodden.

Once again, the U.S. government lacks the policy-making reach to craft a cohesive approach. Both the Obama and Trump years have been marked by indecision, regardless of party affiliation.

Another issue has surfaced that is also compounding. Since the financial crisis of 2008, Americans’ ability to take care of horses has declined. That makes it difficult to feed and stable charges that cannot run anymore. In the wild, mustangs are even more challenging to control because their population has boomed in preserves.

Today, the Bureau of Land Management under the Trump Administration still doesn’t have a prescribed head. That is significant because this wing of the federal government helps regulate horse sales out of the United States.

Just like any other horse, thoroughbreds can be illegally trafficked and end up in a slaughterhouse in Mexico, Canada or further afield. Sadly, their bodies are carved up and used in the making of pet food that is then imported back into the country.

Of course, there are bulwarks against abuse, neglect and the wanton disrespect for equine athletes that cannot run anymore. Two such organizations, Old Friends and Beyond the Roses, work diligently to preserve and shepherd horses to a better place. But it takes enormous amounts of money, and their ability to reach all those in need has limits.

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Like former NFL football players who suffered massive head injuries and now cannot fend for themselves, horses that cannot run anymore need our protection too. This is an issue that state governments, the Jockey Club and other equine organizations are ill-equipped to handle on a national scale.

As I see it, this is yet another reason why we need leadership across state lines to do more than just lobby Washington. Rather, an independent league for horse racing that governs the sport from womb to tomb makes even more sense.

Have you ever wondered when they cannot race again, where all those horses go? If it’s to Korea, Mexico or some other place where abuse and death rule, doesn’t that speak to the inhumanity of this situation? I cannot think of another issue that should bind us all together with more vigor than the prospect of a horse that is turned into a meal for another animal.

Animal rights are more than just about stopping one practice. You have to replace it with something that is intentional and not create something that is worse than before.

How will the horse racing industry respond? That is a question.

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