Earnestly Seeking Galileo is a 2,000-pound horse that lives with us on Locket’s Meadow Farm. On Monday evenings Ernie carefully carries Steven, a special needs adult, who has been riding him for almost five years. Steven is autistic, but he rides independently while we blast rock and roll and sing at the tops of our lungs. We have a dozen other riders like Steven in our Star Rider’s group, and we all agree that Monday is the best night of our week (despite my abysmal singing voice.)
Nine years ago, Ernie was an 8-month old colt slated to ship to an American slaughterhouse where he would have been killed and processed into meat for human consumption in the Asian and European market. Instead, I bought him by the pound (despite the arbitrary ban my husband, David, had put on getting any more horses – silly man) and booked a trailer to bring him home.
I buy all my horses by the pound. They come from slaughter yards and kill pens and PMU ranches. They arrive thin, scarred, scared and traumatized. We shower them with love and kindness, cure their infections, rehabilitate and train them for a new job. Some are too tired and broken to ride, but we’re fine with that – we coddle them and let them live as long as they like. They are our friends and companions and we love each and every one.
I am against the slaughter of horses, and alongside thousands of others worked for years to ban it in our country. We won that battle, and in 2008, President Barack Obama pledged to keep the ban on horse slaughter permanent. On November 18, Obama lost my last remaining sliver of respect for him when he signed a bill that allows the return of horse slaughter plants to the United States. I am still shell-shocked.
The arguments for and against slaughtering horses are intense and impassioned; for those arguing for it, it’s all about the money. In fact, one of the greatest proponents of horse slaughter is the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA.) Quarter horses are bred at a rate of about 140,000 a year. There is no market for 140,000 horses total, never mind quarter horses. Why so many? Because out of every 200 or so foals born, a breeder might get one that will be worth a quarter million dollars. What happens to the rest? Off to auction by the thousands where they are bought in bulk lots by “killer buyers” and shipped to slaughterhouses. Not only is it a cheap way to dispose of “inferior” animals, it’s profitable.
How does AQHA phrase their position? They like to say it keeps the country from becoming overpopulated with horses. Hello??? Hellooooo? Encouraging overbreeding causes overpopulation! DUH! When numbers of unwanted dogs and cats reached crisis proportions, they didn’t build more gas chambers to euthanize them. Instead, hundreds of organizations sprang up to encourage spaying and neutering and educate people about the horrors of overpopulating the country with house pets. Why aren’t horses afforded the same courtesy? Because there is no money in killing dogs and cats, but as long as Belgians will pay $20 for a pound of horsemeat, well, need I say more?
Thousands of horse lovers worked tirelessly to make this slaughter end, at least in this country where we don’t eat horses and view them as companion animals. We won the battle, but apparently we grew complacent, dropped our guard, believed our president was telling the truth, and lost the war. Now it’s time to recommit to the fight – once more into the breech, I cry!
If I had a million acres and a billion dollars I would rescue every one of them, but that doesn’t solve the problem (and since three rich men from Greenwich won the last big Lotto pot I need another plan . . . sigh . . . ) My animals keep me close to the farm, so there is no going to Washington to lobby for change. But what I can do is help dispute the claim that horses in feedlots and auction yards are junk horses with no future. It’s a lie manufactured to cover up the fact that the very people who profess to love horses are often most responsible for their deaths, because the fact is, they only love “perfect” horses that can fetch a huge price tag or win a small fortune on the race track. The rest are little more than by products of the industry and therefore, dead meat.
You might ask, and many do, why am I so fanatical about horses? What about all the other animals that go to slaughter? Before you start shouting “hypocrite,” our farm is not exclusive to horse rescue. We save all kinds of farm animals including pigs, cows, sheep, goats . . . we don’t discriminate, and we love them all. I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years and avoid animal products to the best of my ability. However, my mother always said my first word was “horsy” and I imagine it will be my last, as well. My horses go above and beyond the call of duty for me whenever I ask, and to my dying day I will do the same for them.
For David and me, our lives are our animals. We are awake long before the sun rises and head outside to feed and water. We clean their stalls, blanket them, give them injections when they are sick, train them and coddle them. When they are too old and frail to survive a long winter, we hold them and tell them how much we love them while they are peacefully put to sleep, and then we help lower them into their graves. They make us laugh until we cry, and cry until we laugh. We are not armchair warriors; we are in the trenches fighting this battle every day, one horse at a time, and will never quit.
Our lives are simple. We take no vacations, buy no luxury items and wear our clothes until they are tattered. For us there is no money in horses, but there is lots and lots of love. Each morning we watch the sun rise over Locket’s Meadow and marvel at how lucky we are, and at night we gaze at our horses bathed in moonlight and smile. No one is more blessed than we are. No one.
So in response to this new development in the slaughter industry I have decided that I must tell the stories of our very special horses that would have been served up on a dinner plate many years ago if we hadn’t intervened. It’s time for everyone, including President Obama, to learn that these animals have a face and a story, and any one of the thousands being slaughtered every week could have been spared and become the very special horse that carries Steven on Monday nights . . . if only more people had known the truth.
Next week: The story of Captain, the "bad" colt that many said deserved to die, but survived to change the lives of lonely, struggling children.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband David Melina own Locket’s Meadow farm in Bethany, CT, where they have rescued hundreds of horses from slaughter. Kathleen is the author of two children’s books about the rescues on their farm; “The Long Road Home” tells the story of Earnestly Seeking Galileo and “Captain of the Dance” is about the very special and gifted Captain.