British author and ex-cavalryman J.N.P. Watson once said, “The horse is so lacking in malice and yet so dutiful and grave that when he suffers, it makes man so ashamed for the human race.”
Our horses have been willing warriors in many wars started by men. In the first world war, about 1.5 million horses were used as cavalry, and an estimated 500,000 died.
With few exceptions, horses sent to war in Europe did not come home. Some died in transit, many died from pneumonia from lack of shelter in England, and countless more died on the battlefield.
At the end of the war, those horses who survived were sold to butchers in countries desperate for food. Even in death, the horses served men.
Unfortunately, even today, horse slaughter — a cruel parade of death — continues. Canada and Mexico are the only North American countries that practice horse slaughter openly.
President Barack Obama recently signed a bill that will revive the U.S. horse slaughter industry, exporting horses north and south of our borders. Not only are horses being slaughtered in grotesque, inhumane ways, but the racing industry in our country has remained silent about slaughtered thoroughbreds.
In addition to horse slaughter and abuses by the racing industry, the Tennessee walking horse, sweet, gentle animals originally bred in the Southern United States to carry owners of plantations around their land but now trained to win championships that feature their high-stepping gait, are suffering in yet another war.
I was horrified while watching the abuse of these wonderful horses on “Nightline” on May 16, which included cattle prods, burning horses with cigarettes and applying chemicals to their pasterns and putting chains around their hoofs. What hurt my heart the most was a video showing Jackie McConnell and his helpers striking a horse around the face and head until he went down.
I cannot help but wonder if that was what happened to Ventura before he came to the Habitat for Horses in August 2011, bone thin. He bears his scars from a war that he did not enlist for — a crushed muzzle inflicted by man. He does not complain but nickers softly when I approach him. Ventura is one of the lucky ones.
He graduated from rehab at the Habitat for Horses and has made a new friend — Mary Jane. Unlike Ventura, Mary Jane bears no visible scars. You can see the trust in her eyes. I shudder to think what might have happened to Ventura, Mary Jane and the rest of the horses at the habitat had they ended up on a truck bound for slaughter.
There are 150 horses who have been buried by the Habitat for Horses — casualties of their own wars. These horses were not willing warriors like those who have died throughout history.
Like Ventura and many others, they came in with many scars, but they were all loved and cherished by Jerry Finch, the man who has worked tirelessly for more than 15 years in his rescue mission. Heartbreak has been his constant companion. He not only works to rescue horses, but also to end horse slaughter in this country.
When I see Ventura and Mary Jane waiting patiently at the gate, I see their eyes pleading — “please tell them about us, please help us to help them — please help us to end the suffering.”
Debbie Stoutamire lives in Galveston.
Note from Jerry – Debbie is a long time and treasured volunteer at the ranch. The simple fact is that we would not be able to do what we do without people like her, nor without those who donate to help the horses we bring through the gates.