CBS Radio News recently broadcast the results of its eight-month long investigation of some 150,000 American-based horses transported for slaughter each year in Canadian and Mexican processing plants.

Reporter August Skamenca began by saying, “From the rugged wilds of the West to the purses of the Kentucky Derby, the American experience is woven with that of the horse. But efforts to resume its slaughter in the U. S. and an already booming business of exporting it to its death are infuriating some big names of modern American history.”

One of those names is famed country music singer Willie Nelson.

The CBS expose is less than 10 minutes long but is replete with graphic material that is difficult to hear, including a slaughter advocate who spews hatred for those opposed to the practice and then fatally shoots a Quarter Horse to accentuate his callous contempt.

Skamenca went undercover at the New Holland, Pa. sale, notorious as a site for “killer buyers.” He portrays the pathos of a gaunt Thoroughbred that was auctioned for $160; and of how a long line of tractor-trailers departed the sale with doomed horses. Skamenca reads from the warning on “bute” packaging: “Not intended for use in horses intended for food.” Yet, he says, “toxic meat” is permissible for exports.

Willie Nelson detests this “shadowy” trade. In the past decade, the Willie Nelson & Family Habitat for Horses has rescued approximately 75 equine cast-offs. Many still reside on the Nelson ranch in, appropriately, Luck, Texas, and “Willie Signature Horses” are available for adoption.

While 75 rescues is a small quantity compared to the annual carnage, each horse saved by Nelson, and many others with much less name recognition, becomes a living testimony to what can be accomplished if enough people become seriously involved, on a scale they can afford.

Nelson will hold his annual Farm Aid concert in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. September 21. Meanwhile, the legal and legislative battles over horse slaughter and facilities that want to return the practice to the United States continue.

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.


  1. Tried to get a ticket and room in Saratoga for Farm Aid…and couldn’t. Just like during the races. Willie is an 80-plus year old jewel that folks still like to hear.