Based on a survey, the American Horse Council estimated in 2005 that there were 9,222,847 horses in the United States.  Of these, the Council found that racehorses of all breeds (Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses) numbered 844,531, or 9.2% of all horses.   Certainly, these approximations have changed in the past decade, but are still likely in the ballpark today and demonstrate the extent of horse ownership in America.

The U. S. Humane Society projects that some 160,000 horses from the United States are slaughtered annually.  Perhaps 14,720 of them (160,000 x .092) are racehorses.

The large numbers demonstrate the magnitude of the task faced by rescue organizations of all breeds of horse:  160,000 horses going to slaughter every 365 days is overwhelming.

And the situation just got more complicated.

In late 2014, the European Union suspended horse meat processed in Mexico, and 87% of the horses slaughtered in Mexican plants come from the United States.  The European Union’s Food and Veterinary Office stated:   “American horses are raised for use in show, sport, work, and recreation, and are regularly administered drugs and other substances over the course of their lives that are potentially toxic to humans.”  Moreover, the Food and Veterinary Office objected to the sordid condition of many horses arriving in Mexico.

The ban by the European Union will likely have two consequences, both negative.  First, some of the meat rejected by the European Union will be diverted to countries in which there are not high standards on meat quality.  Second, horse owners who directly or indirectly want to sell horses that end up in Mexican slaughterhouses will find that course of action is less viable.  As a result, they will simply abandon or neglect their horses, or euthanize them.

The view here is that euthanasia is the least bad choice when the owner won’t or can’t afford to provide for his or her horse’s retirement–or cannot locate a caring home for the animal.  However, a plethora of horse owners (160,000 horses per year in the USA to slaughter) obviously won’t pay for the euthanasia and, instead, they seek the last dollar they can get from “disposing of” horses, no questions asked.  To these people, their friendship with Flicka evidently ends when a horse becomes infirm or a nuisance.

All my life, I’ve heard people say “If people cared enough about their pets to have them spayed or neutered, we would not have so many unwanted animals.”  That’s true, but enough people don’t care or the animal shelters would not be so overcrowded.  Same with providing for horses that owners no longer want.

Recognizing the sad reality that only a small fraction of the nearly 15,000 U. S. racehorses sold off for slaughter every year can reasonably be saved by rescue organizations, an industry euthanasia initiative supported and funded by people who own racehorses (or make their living from them) is worthy of consideration.  It is not the ideal option, but it beats the indignities and atrocities of slaughter.

(A future post will sketch how a euthanasia initiative might work and be financed.)

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business


  1. We have a phenomena where I live of preteen girls who talk their parents into buying them a horse (always buying) and then lose interest about the time they get their drivers license. Check the classified and you can often find these horses for free, but the next group of young ladies and their parents always insist on buying a horse.