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Time is running out to protect our equine athletes

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In a few short weeks, Triple Crown season’s starting gates will spring open, and the country will once again turn its focus to the world of horse racing. This spring tradition highlights horses with incredible athletic abilities and many Americans will be watching and hoping for a safe and thrilling outcome. Equally unifying is the sentiment from the public that these incredible equine athletes be protected both on and off the track. That’s why we are jointly calling on Congress to pass the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act to finally put an end to the slaughter of American equines. 

Horse slaughter is a cruel and unnecessary practice where any horse in this country can be purchased by a kill buyer, individuals who contract with the slaughter industry, then shipped to foreign slaughterhouses. As flight animals, horses can be fractious when stressed and routinely experience fear, pain, and terrible injuries in the transport to and during slaughter. 

Despite congressional efforts that shuttered horse slaughterhouses on U.S. soil in 2007, tens of thousands of American horses continue to be shipped to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses that supply other countries with horsemeat. The slaughter pipeline is undeniably cruel – 2021 research published in Meat Science found that 79 percent of slaughtered horses had excessive injuries during transport, and the USDA’s own inspection documents revealed similar gruesome injuries, including broken limbs, protruding eyeballs, and gaping wounds, when horse slaughter plants operated in the U.S. decades ago. 

Thankfully, the equine industry and welfare groups have been doing the groundwork to rehome horses in need. A 2017 peer-reviewed study revealed that 2.3 million adults in the U.S. have a strong interest and the resources to adopt a horse. With just under 23,000 horses exported to slaughter in 2021, it’s clear that coordinated and vigorous marketing, combined with adoption and safety net support, would provide more than enough options for every horse in that pipeline.  

Allowing horse slaughter to continue inflicts both psychological and financial damage on horse owners and businesses. Kill-buyers actively bid against private buyers and rescue or adoption organizations at auctions, draining critical resources needed to save more lives. Some kill buyers posing as reputable homes have convinced owners to surrender their beloved horses, who then go directly to slaughter. Some horses are even stolen from their pastures or barns and funneled into the slaughter pipeline. These deadly manipulations are difficult to prevent without a ban on horse slaughter. 

Tragically, many owners who find themselves unable to care for their horses are afraid to rehome them because of the threat of slaughter, choosing instead to hold onto their horse for too long, often to the detriment of the animal. Nearly 75 percent of owners who surrender horses to the ASPCA expressed this fear. We see these harsh realities through our work with rehoming groups across the country and at our own support center in Oklahoma, where we offer veterinary services, rehoming and, if necessary, humane euthanasia. 

In an era when bipartisan political agreement is rare, the issue of animal protection is an exception. In fact, a recent Lake Research poll revealed that a whopping 83 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter, with opposition extending across political party, race, gender and regardless of whether the respondent lived in a rural or urban setting. Furthermore, the SAFE Act, which would protect American horses from slaughter, is supported by nearly half of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

With limited time remaining in the 117th Congress, federal lawmakers have a shrinking window to protect our equine athletes, work partners, and trusted friends. We urge Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) to each do their part to pass the SAFE Act (H.R. 3355/S. 2732) now to ensure that equine industries, owners, and the horses themselves are protected from this unnecessary cruelty. 

Jim Gagliano is president and CEO for The Jockey Club and Nancy Perry is senior vice president of government relations for the ASPCA. 

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