The Slaughter Process: Walking the Halls of Horror

Industrialized horse killing is far from being the idealized, “aseptic”, “happy” process depicted by horse slaughter lobbyists and related proponents with such mind-insulting terms such as “horse harvesting”, employed to manipulate the minds of the weakest and remove from it its negative aspects, so as to make it sound like happy trails for the unsuspecting victims of this industry-driven monster. The choice of such weasel words is not by chance.

Make no mistake, industrialized horse slaughtering, the very same one embarrassingly defended by groups such as AQHA, AAEP-AVMA, NCBA or characters like Sue Wallis, Conrad Burns or Charles Stenholm to name a few, is the most egregious cruelty act possibly perpetrated against an equine. It is a bloody, incredibly painful and lasting process starting with the betrayal of our equine friends at the hands of the killer buyers in auctions throughout the country and ends with a terror trip inside the guts of a killing machine in some foreign land.

Sugar Creek Auction

Sugar Creek auction barn, Ohio. Run by well-known killer buyer Leroy Baker and with a world-record in USDA and anticruelty laws violations, Sugar Creek is probably the worst livestock auction in the country as far as animal handling and cruelty is regarded

The journey trough the halls of horror usually commences with horses being brought to local sale auctions, where unsuspecting owners go thinking their animals will go to “good families”, ranches, farms and such. Other times, the animals are obtained by individuals under false pretenses, fraud or simply stolen from barns with the intent to dump them in these local sales for fast cash. In other cases, alarmingly not so uncommon, these are “federally protected” wild horses removed from their ranges and either adopted under false pretenses to later sell them at auction or simply taken from government-run “holding facilities”, sometimes by their own employees. In any case, horses always end up in these auction rings, frequented or even run by the aforementioned “killer buyers”, acting thus as stock collecting points for the plants.

Sugar Creek horse slaughter pens

Pens at Sugar Creek auction barn, Ohio. Note the overcrowding and the apparent good condition of the horses pictured. Where are the supposed unwanted, skinny, old nags mentioned by the pro-slaughter “horse industry experts” of AQHA and AVMA?

In such places, horses are left in overcrowded, filthy pens set in an unfamiliar place and with unfamiliar, often aggressive horses, in a noisy environment without food and water, causing the animals to become frightened, fight each other and get injured. Here, horses are brutally beat, kicked and poked in the head or the eyes by uncaring workers in charge of moving them from the pens to the ring and back to the trucks, showing a total disregard for laws and the pain inflicted on these animals.

Usually the animals are left untended, without any food or water and sometimes even left in the trucks overnight before they are taken to the plants or to slaughter feedlots, regardless of the weather conditions. Pregnant mares are not segregated and give birth in the pens, the foal being trampled to death. Sick, skinny horses not worth to the killers are simply discarded and left to die. This sad scene repeats throughout the country, fueled by the horse slaughter industry.

Godbout Shipping loading horses purchased at auction. Note how he beats the horse.

Killer buyer from Godbout Shipping loading horses purchased at auction. Note how he beats the animals with the chute’s door.

Although you can find auction sales throughout the country, the most important killer auctions are Sugar Creek Livestock Auction in Ohio, New Holland Sales Stables in Pennsylvania, Billings Livestock Auction in Montana, Shipshewana Horse & Tack Auction in Indiana, Southwest Livestock Auction in Los Lunas, New Mexico and Stephenville, in Texas.

A detailed study of the heinous atrocities going on in one of such auctions can be found at Animals Angels website.

From this point, horses are taken from auction to auction until the killers fill their quotas and then to the slaughter plants or to a livestock feedlot intended to serve as assembly point and “stock deposit” prior to their exportation to Canada and Mexico. There are two main such feedlots in the US: the Frontier Feedlot & Game Meat Co. (a front company belonging to the Beltex ‚Äî Multimeats, NV group), in Morton, Texas, supplying with fresh horses the Beltex plants in Mexico, and the Bar-S feedlot in Shelby, Montana, operated by Bouvry Export Calgary, Ltd, one of the Canadian horse slaughter plants.

Frontier Feedlot in Morton, Texas.

Frontier Feedlot in Morton, Texas.

With an inadequate food and water supply, horses are kept languishing in these feedlots with no shelter at all, exposed to extreme weather conditions, from snowstorms to burning Texas summer sun, until they are shipped across the border to be killed hundreds of miles away.

The final ride to the plants is not any better. Horses are shipped hundreds of miles from the auctions or feedlots to the slaughter plants in trailers not designed for horses but to haul beef cattle, usually for days, without any food, water or rest whatsoever. The low ceiling of these trailers prevents them from traveling upright, which together with the overcrowding (a typical killer buyer load averages 30-40 animals) and the fact uncaring killer buyers never segregate studs from other horses, results in severe kick, bite, head and neck injuries. In some instances, horses are transported in open trailers providing no shelter at all from extreme weather.

View of the interior of a double deck cattle trailer full of horses used by Godbout Shipping.

View of the interior of a double deck cattle trailer full of horses used by Godbout Shipping.

Some horses arrive so badly injured that cannot move and are dragged out of the trailer; others are already dead or almost dead and are lift-forked out of the killing floor.

Horses are very sensitive animals, with an acute hearing and smell. Such travel conditions create a state of permanent agitation and terror which is further amplified by the smell of blood and the screams of other horses by the time they reach the slaughter plant.

Injured Horses rescued from trailer on route to Beltex

Injured horse rescued from trailer on route to Beltex.

To learn more about the transportation of horses for slaughter watch the slideshow, courtesy of Animals’ Angels. (120 MB, right click to download) or browse the numerous transport regulations violation records obtained from USDA.

Slaughter proponents argue that horse slaughter is necessary for owners to dispose off old, sick and skinny animals, yet evidence taken at the very same plants and data from the United States Department of Agriculture reveals that 92% of the horses slaughtered are young (under 8 years of age) and 96% are in good or excellent condition. Horse slaughter only brings unnecessary destruction of healthy, young horses.

At the plants, horses experience again extremely rough handling by plant employees. Scared by the sense of imminent death, they are prodded and beaten while they are moved to holding pens and to the kill chute.

Kill chute at Natural Valley Meats horse slaughter plant in Saskatchewan, Canada

Kill chute at Natural Valley Meats horse slaughter plant in Saskatchewan, Canada

Now comes the stunning, bleeding and cutting of the horse carcasses; this is where their ordeal ends.

Contrary to claims from slaughter supporters and industry’s lobbyists, the killing process is far from being anything resembling a humane, painless or merely “quick” death.

In first place horses are supposed to be “rendered unconscious” before the actual killing commences; however, this is not usually the case. The stunning is achieved by different mechanisms but equally ineffective and cruel in any way.

In the United States horses were stunned by means of a blow in the head inflicted with a captive bolt gun; a device powered by compressed air that drives at high speed a steel bolt to the target, theoretically causing brain damage resulting in loss of consciousness. It does not kill, actual death is caused by exsanguination (loss of blood) caused by throat slitting.

The Process of Slaughtering Horse Meat.

The process of slaughtering horses for meat. From left to right: Stunning attempt with captive bolt gun (note the absence of any restraining method to ensure the proper placing of the shot in the forehead). After receiving several blows, the immobilized but alive animal falls through a chute where an operator hoists it from a rear leg by means of a chain. Bleeding out; right after being hoisted an operator slits its throat to actually kill the animal by exsanguination while another one holds its head in place to prevent it from moving its neck. Footage courtesy of the Humane Farming Association.

However, such stunning method is difficult to apply to a terrified horse that dodges objects approaching its head and not only requires a very skilled worker (which is rarely the case) but also a series of auxiliary measures to be administered correctly. The gun and the air hose needs to be carefully maintained periodically to make sure the bolt is properly powered and, most importantly, the horse’s head needs to be properly restrained to prevent the bolt from missing. Photo and video evidence shows that horses are not restrained at all in the kill chute (to speed up the slaughtering line) and equipment is not properly maintained, causing the bolt to either miss or strike the head with too lower force than required to render the animal properly unconscious. This explains the numerous accounts of heinous and blatant cruelty reflected in undercover investigations and official USDA’s FSIS veterinary inspection reports at the Beltex and Cavel’s plants obtained through FOIA:

  • horses enduring multiple painful blows in the head, eyes and neck until they are reduced,
  • animals recovering consciousness during throat slitting and, sometimes, further stages of the killing process due to the speed of the line (in their best days Cavel could kill up to 700 horses per day).

In fact, a great number of these animals were fully conscious while their throats were slit.

The Horse Slaughter Process Continues

The process continues inside the factory of horrors. Left, the bleeding process continues until as much blood as possible is removed from the horse, causing it to die. At the same time, an operator starts cutting up the skin. Then all internal organs are removed and thrown away as offal. Right, the dismembering and skinning process ensues, with the cutting of the head and limbs and the removal of the pelt. Then the resulting carcass is dressed of unusable parts, cut up and stored in chiller rooms ready to be packed up and shipped. Footage courtesy of the Humane Farming Association.

In Canada, the process is exactly the same but sometimes, instead of a captive bolt gun, a .22 carbine is used to render the horses unconscious, which equally poor results: In first place, these guns are chambered for a .22 LR round, which is way too weak to cause enough brain damage inducing permanent unconsciousness, hence ensuring a quick, humane death, given that horses have thicker skin and skulls than the small, possum size animals that round is intended for. In second place, it is very difficult to properly hit the forehead of a scared, long necked animal which is not restrained at all and moves its head constantly. If we add to the mix uncaring and unskilled workers, we get the obvious result: horses that have to be shot multiple times until they are reduced, bullets missing and hitting them anywhere but the forehead and, of course, animals fully conscious during the rest of the slaughter process.

Mexico is not any better. Horses there are not rendered unconscious during the killing process but merely immobilized by stabbing them with a sort of dagger called puntilla in the back of the neck to break the spinal cord. This neither kills them nor render them unconscious but merely incapacitates them (like if they were tetraplegic) before they are hoisted, their throats slit and dismembered. During all such process horses are fully aware of the situation, causing a slow, painful and horrid death. Such slaughtering procedure, applied merely to simply operations, seems to be the cause behind the reported strong, special taste so much liked in Belgium, apparently due to the release of adrenalin as a consequence of the stress induced in the animals.

Horses being killed in Mexican slaughterhouse by puntilla method

Horses being killed in Mexican slaughterhouse by the “puntilla” method. Source: HSUS.

After that they are dismembered, internal organs removed, cut, packed and flown in chilled containers for consumption in upscale European restaurants, where the elite of society can please themselves with the genuine taste of authentic wild horse, as sold by the plants to retailers. “Killed on Friday, processed Monday, Thursday we load the truck and then it’s flown to Europe. Monday it’s sold in Belgium, Tuesday eaten, Wednesday it’s back in the soil”, to quote Pascal Derde, manager of the former Cavel West plant in Redmond, Oregon.

Horse meat being sold at a French butcher shop

End of the road, horse. Left, horse meat being sold top dollar at a French butcher’s shop; note the notably high prices of up to 114 Francs back in the 90’s (about $25 not accounting inflation). Right, the archetype of horse meat: European feasting at a fashion restaurant. For many American horses, the road ends in the lower intestinal tracts of European bourgeoisies

Perhaps the few pictures shown above are not all that impressive but a video about how good horse slaughter was in the United States and few others about how great it is now in Canada

and Mexico

may change your mind…

  • I KNOW It’s true because I’ve seen it in Texas. I wish I could forget.

    December 23, 2012
  • Bonnie healey

    My husband and I have several horses in Ontario Canada , and I find myself trying to understand how this cruelty to horses can seen to go on with no intervention by higher powers than us regular day people. Could it be that they care no more about the horses cruel end . Have they never watched a video on u tube or the news to see what really happens to these poor animals. Have they ever had to stop to wipe the tears away and shut off their tv or computers because the tears have blurred the picture. I guess not. The people to blame are back yard breeders who never learn, and who don’t care where the aged brood mare goes or the not so perfect foal. Well I know where one went, she came to me with her perfect to me foal, and when asked on numerous occasions when I wanted my breed back which was covered in sale cost , I have told her at least 6 times she will never have another baby. She will now get to be a horse. She will live out her life with us and if for some horrible reason that my husband and I cannot care for our 7 horses down the road, they are to all be euthanized by our vet and buried on our farm. I may have to shed lots of tears for the ones I can’t save and tell them I’m sorry for what we as people we are doing to them, I will keep the promise I made to each of mine they will not go to hell in feedlot and slaughterhouse before they go to heaven as an angel. God bless each and everyone of them. I will go now as the tears have blurred my vision yet again!!

    January 24, 2013
  • Deborah Beare

    I sometimes feel like I alone am being horrified and disgusted with human beings who can do this kind of thing to another emotional and intelligent animal. To do it to any animal is bad enough, but to one as sensitive as a horse – to cause this degree of suffering to me is similar to the mindset of the holocaust. I share videos, sign petitions, do what I can to spread awareness and donate to horse rescue when I can…it eats away at my soul that I cannot do more. God have mercy on these poor animals for humans mostly do not.

    March 8, 2013