ID MyHorse

An Investigation Into Horse Slaughter Auctions

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a hot-off-the-presses report detailing the plummeting numbers of horses subjected to slaughter in Mexico and Canada. The main point of that post was to make the very strong argument that the number of horses experiencing this cruelty is negligible in the scheme of managing the entire domestic equine population. In other words, while any number of horses having to endure this horrendous end-of-life is too many, this practice is not contributing anything positive to the husbandry or management practices of horses in this country. The only “winners” are irresponsible owners looking to shirk their responsibility and make a buck, or industries that see wild horses as competition for resources.

The report detailing the cruelties of horse slaughter that I discussed last week was co-written by Wayne Pacelle, President of Animal Wellness Action, and Sonja Meadows, President and Founder of Animals’ Angels. I had a lengthy and illuminating conversation with Wayne. I will share some of his additional thoughts and then delve once again into the findings in the report. Again, if you didn’t read the entire report last week, I can’t encourage you enough to read it this week. I will summarize here, but the report is well worth reading in its entirety.

Besides reiiterating that there is simply not enough demand for the export of horse meat to continue supporting this practice, Wayne made the point that this needs to be a rescue opportunity, not a focus on homelessness. As I have repeatedly stated, the real issue here is the horse owner who shirks their commitment to be a good steward of their animal. It no longer is about hundreds of thousands of horses being processed into someone’s dinner. What did the investigators find that support the premise that this “industry” is dying?

The breadth and scope of this report

This investigation covered many months and followed horses from the point of origin–auctions that sell to kill buyers–all of the way to the feedlots and slaughterhouses.

In this report, Animal Wellness Action, the Center for a Humane Economy and Animals’ Angels
have assembled witness accounts and team observations at feedlots and inside
slaughterhouses, interviews with industry employees and veterinarians, and transport data
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies and authorities to provide
a window into a little-understood, nontransparent slaughter trafficking of animals for meat
ultimately destined for foreign markets in Europe and Asia.

In that previous post, I made the point that horses are not treated as livestock in this country. While it is true that we slaughter an incredible number of animals in the United States, there are rules, regulations, and oversight on those industries. There are no such regulations on the export of horses to slaughter. The report states:

The raw totals of horses sent to slaughter, combined with our analysis of what’s happening on
the ground, reveal that there are no standards of animal care or oversight on the
slaughterhouse floors among the actors in this business. While there is a debate about the
treatment of cattle, pigs, and other animals, every one of those industries has its own voluntary
animal-care standards, veterinarians, and professional standards. None of that was evident in
completing this investigation. The number of horses in fact makes no meaningful contribution
to global meat production, and at this level of operations, this process of slaughtering horses
can hardly be called an industry of any economic consequence. It maintains no cohesive
programs to provide for a minimum level of animal welfare for the horses diverted into the

The Auctions

The auctions that were directly mentioned in the report were chosen for one or both of two reasons. They either ranked at the top in terms of the volume of horses processed, and/or their level of cruelty was especially noteworthy. Before I list some of the worst auction facilities, let me share my conversation with Temple Grandin.

Dr. Grandin is a world-renowned authority on the humane handling of livestock. Surprisingly, when I asked for some direct comments about her view of the horse slaughter pipeline, she declined to provide a statement. She implied that having a rationale conversation with people about horse slaughter was nearly impossible, and likened it to “walking into a blast furnace”! She said she preferred to direct her energies towards areas where she can do some good. It is hard to argue with her rationale.

She was, however, willing to be quoted on a couple of topics. She stated that the auctions are where the worst abuses occur, or the places with the “biggest problems.” (Although what the report investigators uncovered at the feedlots was quite horrific…) More input from Dr. Grandin to come.

The auctions

The Kalona Auction in Iowa is one of the largest horse slaughter auctions in the country. Apparently, there are few horses this place refuses to take. Emaciated, sick, and severely injured horses are continually abused by excessively forceful and cruel employees. Slaughter-bound horses are pushed into overcrowded pens using hydraulic gates that terrify and injure them.

The New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania primarily brokers former racehorses (both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds) and a large number of discarded Amish and Mennonite buggy or work horses. Most of these beautiful animals who have given their all arrive at this auction lame and emaciated. I mentioned in last week’s post that some racehorse owners are stepping up to provide a better outcome for their retired stock. However, some are not, and investigators documented a subversive approach to off-loading discarded horses.

A lame Standardbred horse was sold to Bruce Rotz in a trailer-to-trailer transaction. Apparently, many deals are brokered behind the auction house buildings. Did that horse make good money for his owner who doesn’t want the public to know how readily he is being discarded? The investigators documented this surreptitious trailer bartering at nearly every auction.

horse slaughter
All photos in this post are used with permission by Wayne Pacelle

The Billings Auction in Montana, like the one in Iowa, ranks as one of the largest auction houses in the country. The report states that, “Every sale, approximately 500 “loose” horses, are sold to kill buyers from Canada, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Montana.” Among the many atrocities documented at this facility, the overcrowding was front and center. Horses were crammed into pens with such density that fighting and injuries were rampant.

The overcrowding didn’t end there… The kill buyers decide how many horses they want to stuff into a transport trailer. Remember Part One of this series when I discussed “Regulations for Slaughter Horse Transport“? Never mind, the regulations don’t actually apply, and no one is paying any attention. The report states that “Animals’ Angels has documented severely overloaded trailers and excessive force being used (slamming gates on the horse, beating, hitting over the head with a stick, poking) to get the animals into the trailer.”

The Knoxville, Tennessee Auction deserves special mention for a couple of reasons. Most of the horses passing through this auction are bound for slaughter in Mexico. These doomed horses are apparently in the worst shape of any of the horses viewed by the investigators. But there is some good news…

The report shared absolute proof that the demand for exported horse meat is in free-fall.

It is important to point out that—while the auction still accepts horses in very poor condition—the numbers of horses going through this sale every month has significantly declined. The sale went from selling 300-500 slaughter horses twice a month to approximately 50 slaughter horses sold per month, which is another indication that the slaughter horse industry is declining.

When investigators visited the sale on Oct. 15, 2022, there were approx. 75 horses consigned to the sale, but more than 40 of them were riding horses and too expensive to be in any danger of being slaughtered for meat. Instead of five or more kill buyers bidding against each other to secure their loads, only one local buyer was present.

Murphy’s Horse Auction in Mira Loma, California operates in an arena where signs are prominently displayed stating that the sale of horses to slaughter is prohibited in California. The report stated, “Those signs didn’t stop California horse traders and suspected kill buyers David and Bubba Misner from attending the auction.” David Chavez, a known kill buyer, has directly acknowledged that he buys horses from Misner and that some of those horses go to slaughter.

Murphy’s Horse Auction, in Buckeye, Arizona is also regularly attended by David Misner. It provides easy access to Mexican slaughter houses. Many of the horses at this auction showed evidence of suffering from Strangles. It was at this auction that a photo was taken of two terrified, emaciated yearlings. Like all of the photos in this report, it broke my heart.

There are hundreds of sales and sale barns across the country. The ones mentioned above are some of the worst facilities, but this abuse occurs across our country. Remember, Dr. Grandin believes that some of the worst atrocities happen here… yet this is the drop-off point for some horse owners who want to claim that this represents a path towards a “safe and humane euthanasia”?

Kill Pens and Connected Online Broker Programs

The report terms the next cog in this wheel of cruelty as Kill Pens and Connected Online Broker Programs. I dedicated an entire post to this part of the process. Most of what the report talks about I have already covered. However, I would like to share a few of their observations.

The online buyers often are thousands of miles away from the location of the animal and are unable to verify the identity of the animal or the required paperwork at the time of purchase. By the time the buyer actually arrives at the kill buyer’s lot, he or she is often given a different horse and/or mismatched Coggins tests and health certificates. It is also common that if the buyer receives the correct animal, its condition has significantly deteriorated since information was first posted online. Buyers who complain are threatened, harassed, and bullied by the kill buyer and the online broker team. While the transaction might qualify as wire fraud, many buyers are too afraid to pursue a case.

Horses with questionable or non-existing health paperwork are transported across state lines, which puts the equine industry at risk. For example, Strangles, a highly contagious disease, is found at most kill buyer lots. However, the spread of more severe contagious diseases such as Equine Infectious Anemia, is also a concern.

I mentioned in my post two weeks ago that Equine Infectious Anemia was spread from a livestock auction in Colorado. This facility was less than 50 miles from our Colorado home! In November of last year, Fabrizius Livestock was fined $210,000 for violating the Animal Health Protection Act and the Commercial Transport of Equines to Slaughter Regulation. I guess once in a while, someone pays attention…

Fabrizius shipped an EIA positive horse across state lines. (Where was the veterinary oversight and the Coggins test??) Fifty horses were in direct contact with the EIA positive horse. As the spiderweb spread, 293 horses in 12 states were potentially exposed. Sixty-seven horses were never found and tested, potentially continuing to spread the virus.

What’s Next?

I have shared some of the atrocities documented at horse slaughter feedlots over the past year. In the next installment, I will share what investigators found just last month. I will also discuss transport abuses and share Dr. Temple Grandin’s perspective on that.

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