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Commentary: Cruel retirement for racehorses
November 9, 2005

For many racehorses, life after the track is spent lazing in a pasture and producing the next generation of thoroughbreds, but as commentator Frank Deford explains, that's not always the case

FRANK DEFORD:

Some time ago, I had a thoroughbred colt named after me. Frank Deford was a nice little horse but I'm afraid not very fast, and eventually, my equine namesake was retired from competition. I assumed that he lived out his life gambling in green pastures, maybe being somebody's weekend hunter. Only recently did I learn that instead that there is a very good chance that Frank Deford ended up as somebody's lunch in Europe. There are now, you see, three horse slaughterhouses in the United States--two in Texas, one in Illinois. All three owned by foreign investors. Every year, more American horses are killed and chopped up for export cuisine, 65,000 last year. Thoroughbreds, standardbreds, quarter horses--for animals who've used up their ability to be competitive on the track, to amuse us betters, who are geldings or simply not good enough to breed, off they go to the abattoirs in Texas and Illinois.

They're killed in the same way that cattle are, with a stun gun. But unlike cattle, horses have long necks and are fractious. Too often, the guns miss their target and the poor horses die an agonizing, horrible death. We used to joke about old nags going to the glue factory. Well, at least it was our glue they made. It has never been the custom in this country for humans to dine on horse meat. Indeed, we no longer even put horse meat in pet food. No, it's not our business to tell other people what to eat, but that doesn't mean we have to supply meals for foreigners. In some parts of the world, they eat dogs and cats. Would we permit slaughterhouses for our Fidos and Tabbys so that their meat could be exported to far-away dinner tables? Well, that's what we're doing with our horses.

Despite a growing public revulsion and overwhelming bipartisan political support, a few members of Congress--notably Texas Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla--have managed to stall federal legislation to outlaw horse slaughter. Last month, finally, Bonilla was thwarted and a temporary measure was amended to an agriculture bill to end horse carnage. It won't be implemented for a hundred and twenty days and it will only be in effect for a year, but a permanent horse slaughter prevention act has already been introduced in the Senate by Republican John Ensign of Nevada and a companion bill in the House by Democrat John Sweeney of New York. Hopefully, joint legislation will be passed soon, and the slaughterhouses in Texas and Illinois will be shuttered forever.

Perhaps now the thoroughbred industry will admit that it has some blood on its hands, too. Too many horses race when they're hurting, too often able to get to the starting gate only because of drugs. No wonder so many of our horses break down so young. And even though there are many organizations that adopt and tend to retired racehorses, we need to invest in more care for these animals that we breed so they might entertain us. But first, end the slaughter.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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