(This is one of the best articles I’ve read in ages on horse slaughter. What is reprinted here is a teaser. Click on the link at the bottom to read the rest of the article and to comment.)
Last week a video appeared on YouTube showing a man cursing animal rights activists, then leading a friendly, fit-looking horse out of a pen, and shooting it dead with a single pistol shot between its eyes. (The horse was so tame it quietly stepped toward the pistol, and dipped its head to receive a scratch, in the moment before the shot.)
Tim Sappington is employed by a meatpacking companythat has proposed to start slaughtering horses in New Mexico, bringing the practice back to American soil. The video inflamed opponents to the slaughterhouse. Rick De Los Santos, owner of Valley Meat Company, said he received so many threatening phone calls that he hired a security company to protect himself and his business.
In New Mexico, no law prevents a man from killing his own horse if the act is carried out humanely. Local officials declared that Sappington did kill humanely. However it’s hard to imagine that anyone who saw the video, felt anything but anger at the man and sorrow for the horse. In 21st-century America, at least, killing a horse for meat, or to prove it can be done “humanely,” breaks a compact that has grown stronger even as the horse has disappeared from most of our lives.
Check the news on any given day there’s a good chance you’ll see something about a horse. Last summer it was Ann Romney’s dressage champion Rafalca, which Steven Colbert playfully mocked for its performance in Olympic “horse prancing.” After Rafalca came a runaway carriage horse in Manhattan. More recently a horsemeat scandal swallowed-up the Swedish meatball business at all the in-store eateries operated by IKEA.
Beyond the news, horses show up regularly in our art. After a solid Broadway run and a Tony award for best play, War Horse is selling-out a national tour. The portrait show dubbed “most beautiful” of the season by The New York Times is Charlotte Dumas’s exhibit of photos Army horses at Arlington National Cemetery. In March artist Nick Cave thrilled commuters with performances of dancers on horse costumes at Grand Central Station.
Cave and Dumas are direct descendants of Paleolithic artists who painted images of dashing horses inside caves in France and scraped the image of one out of topsoil in Oxfordshire. Ancients considered the horse an important subject because it was so much a part of daily life. No animal has served us more thoroughly — as athlete, transport, tool, and warrior – or more reliably. All this service was rendered thanks to human intervention. We made the horse a partner above all others in the animal world. We also made it dependent on us for its well-being.
The industrial revolution began, for most of us, the end of contact with horses. But distant as we may be from everyday interaction with them, the horse still evokes deep emotions that are more wide-ranging and visceral than what we feel in response to any other animal. Dogs may move us to fear, affection, or admiration. In rare moments certain breeds will even act heroically on our behalf. But we do not need a special moment to be moved by the horse. Even people who fear them marvel at the sight of such a large and powerful creature acting in such close relationship with relatively puny human beings.