A SHAMEFUL legacy of Celtic Tiger excess is laid bare this weekend as new documents reveal almost 25,000 horses, many of them racing thoroughbreds, sport horses and boom-time playthings, were legally slaughtered for human consumption in 2012.
The massive cull of healthy but unwanted animals in a country that prides itself on its unique bond with the horse, spiked two years ago.
But the numbers of horses legally slaughtered and sent abroad for human consumption had risen inexorably each year since the economy crashed.
Documents prepared by Mr Tom Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and seen by the Sunday Independent, reveal that in 2007 just 1,506 horses were killed for their meat.
That number rose to 2,002 in 2008, then rose again to 4,247 in 2009. It more than doubled in 2010 when 9,790 horses were killed for the export food market.
It shot up again to 17,560 in 2011 and finally reached its zenith, 24,362, in 2012.
Legal horse meat is exported to countries like Italy, Germany and parts of Asia.
In 2013, as the illicit horse meat crisis erupted, the number of horses legally slaughtered for meat fell sharply to 10,711.
But the department says a sharp drop in the number of foals being born in the preceding years because of tighter regulations also played a role in reducing supply.
"The over-supply of horses has significantly eased in 2014 following a proactive approach adopted in identifying and removing risk horses, as well as a significant reduction in the number of foals being born," Mr Moran told the PAC in his letter.
The documents also reveal that in 2008, 26,808 horses of all types were registered as being born that year, but that figure had dropped to 16,870 in 2013.
Ireland's €1bn a year bloodstock trade suffered badly when the boom ended. Ireland was the most "horse dense" country in Europe. In 2007 Ireland produced nearly 13,000 thoroughbred foals - more than the combined total of France and the UK that year. It seemed almost every developer had his own racing colours and training yards were full.
The new documents released show the Department rejected a proposal from Horse Care Ireland (HCI) which would have seen horse owners paid €130 to surrender unwanted animals. HCI estimated that it would cost a further €170 to dispose of each unwanted animal. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney considered a cull but feared potential negative consequences to Ireland's global image as a horse-producing nation.