Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

New York Subway Art

New York Subway Art

  • I’m usually sceptical about “horses stolen for meat” stories (unless they come from Florida), but this one rings true. A Romanian has been arrested in connection with the theft of several draft horses in eastern France, allegedly for the slaughter trade. Some of the horses were already being raised for meat. (The Horse)
  • The English police horse who was punched by a drunk football fan has received boxes of polo mints from fans of the opposing team. (Daily Mail)
  • A British university claims that the Carneddau ponies that died of starvation and exposure in Wales earlier this year are part of a genetically distinct breed that shares a common, but centuries-removed ancestor with Welsh Mountain ponies. (BBC)
  • Ipswich Transport Museum is restoring a horsedrawn tram. The lightweight draft horses that drew these vehicles were dubbed “trammers” and in the nineteenth century typically only lasted a year between the shafts because of the effort of drawing the tram through often clogged tracks. (BBC)
  • “Thank God for the horses. Thank God for the bloody horses,” – a trooper at the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. (ABC)
  • Wild horse and burro sanctuaries in California, and how to visit them. (SFGate blogs)
  • Awards for teenage boys who saved a trapped Shetland pony from drowning. (HorseTalk)
  • I can’t keep up. Now the NYT is saying there will be federal approval for a horse slaughter house in New Mexico.. (NYT)
  • A horse had to be euthanised in Belfast after hitting a car. The case raises ongoing concerns about horses that are kept untethered (or tethered, come to that) on housing estates in the city. (Belfast Telegraph)
  • Interesting, given the cheap meat scandal: the value of horse meat exported from the UK has more than doubled in five years. (This Is Wiltshire)
  • Horse racing begins again in Libya. (Al Arabiya)
  • Seventh century horse armour/tack unearthed in Japan. (Asahi Shimbun)

Looking For The Big Questions

Screen grab from NBC's coverage (linked below)

Screen grab from NBC’s coverage (linked below)

The US horsemeat and slaughter story is one I’m writing about in book two, and it remains stranger even than the recent European scandal. The latest twist involves YouTube. An employee (since sacked) at a New Mexico slaughterhouse that has been trying for over a year to get permission to process horses, video’d himself shooting a horse. He adds an “eff you” to the animal rights activists whom he imagined would watch (and they have now watched it – the video has gone viral). One shot and the horse dies. It’s a humane and legal way to euthanise a horse, but an animal cruelty investigation has been launched. The horse is not killed in a crowded, noisy, bloody abattoir, but simply in a deserted country road, and is patted by the shooter before going down.

How do we dispassionately sort through the meaning of this video? Is this horse’s killing any different to the killing of pets in animal shelters or in homes where they are loved? The human habit of owning pets leads to a tremendous number of animal deaths. Is the horse livestock, and therefore as fair game as a cow? If the man bought the horse, can he not do what he likes with it as long as he’s not cruel? I’ve read many accounts by horse owners who say that a gun or bolt gun is swifter and more accurate than the drugs often used for euthanasia, which don’t always lead to a straightforward death – there is room for miscalculation. An experienced and humane knackerman delivers an instantaneous death.

But his anger is distasteful (to put it mildly), and the larger issues behind the horse meat business are problematic (again, to put it mildly). Because of the possible drug history of the animals, and the lack of accurate documentation, it’s not exactly a problem-free way to deal with former riding horses. Besides which, you can only legally slaughter reasonably healthy animals, which might explain the ragged herds of feral horses appearing near the Mexican border in the US (ie they’ve been rejected by the slaughter system). And the European scandal led to hints that those shaggy herds of “fly grazing” cobs in Britain were, in fact, secretly being raised for meat – enabling the owners to avoid the welfare and transportation regulations required for other meat animals. Many US activists point out that a legal horse slaughter trade allows big, commercial breeders to churn out animals without concern as to quality either of the horse or of life – the abattoirs will clean up their mistakes, and save them from the cost of caring for a horse for its entire lifetime.

I’m not a vegan and that implicates me in the use and killing of animals, whether for meat, dairy produce or for leather and other off-products. I don’t want to eat or wear horses, but apparently other farm animals are fair game to my contrary, picky morals. Our industrialised food system isn’t good for man, environment nor beast. A complete and consistent transformation of modern agriculture to a more humane, sustainable cycle would require a colossal revolution. Is that ever likely to happen?