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When it was learned that 1977 Horse of the Year Exceller was slaughtered in Sweden for human consumption in 1997, the outrage expressed by the racing community was to be expected, and it even spawned a new charity, The Exceller Fund. Then in 2003 when Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Ferdinand was slaughtered in Japan, the issue quickly made its way into the mainstream media, as political activism to save unwanted horses and stop the slaughter hit a fever pitch. In his latest book, After the Finish Line, racing writer Bill Heller exposes the harsh reality of horse slaughter, focusing on racehorses in particular, and the horse slaughter industry in America.
To most North Americans, the horse is a creature to be admired and respected. We use them in many practical applications and train them for our entertainment, at racetracks, rodeos, show jumping, dressage rings, and countryside riding trails. We do not consider them as part of our "food chain". However, elsewhere in the world this is simply not the case, as horsemeat is a delicacy in France, Japan, and many other countries. Although Exceller and Ferdinand were slaughtered overseas in the countries which consume meat, many horses are killed on American soil. Three foreign-owned slaughterhouses, one in Illinois and two in Texas, kill hundreds of horses per day, transported under inhumane conditions, crammed into trucks designed for cattle. Clearly it is a profitable business for the slaughterhouses, who can buy the horses at rock-bottom prices at auctions or privately from owners, and resell the meat to Europeans at a substantial markup. Horse slaughter has been illegal in Texas for years but authorities have simply turned a blind eye to the atrocities occurring right under their noses.
A number of politicians introduced the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to stop the slaughter of horses on American soil which has bipartisan support and should have passed easily. However, the Act is being stalled in the legislature thanks to some very unlikely groups who are of the opinion that horse slaughter for food is humane, including the American Horse Council, the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Association of Equine Professionals (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Heller explains the gruesome details of what really happens in the slaughterhouses, a completely different process from the euthanasia one might witness on the racetrack. It is difficult to understand how anybody, especially equine veterinarians, could condone the use of the captive bolt, often at the hands of unskilled employees, as "euthanasia".
Heller spends a few chapters to promote the people and organizations whose mission it is to save unwanted horses from the slaughterhouse. Dozens of these operate across North America find other uses for these majestic animals, including show jumping, pleasure riding, rehabilitation of prisoners, or finding adoptive homes. When the Act finally passes, as Heller and this reviewer hope it does, these organizations will be needed more than ever, as the hundreds of horses that would have gone to slaughter will suddenly need new uses.
Every fan of the horse should read this book to fully understand the seriousness of this issue. Heller's graphic descriptions will both shock and anger the reader, hopefully encouraging more people to join in the fight against this most heinous treatment of these animals.
After the Finish Line has a list price of $16.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $11.53.
Other books by Bill Heller:
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