Friday 15 December 2017

Lay of the Land: We must put a bridle on this cruel slaughter

Fiona O'Connell

I'VE become quite the expert on equine rear ends since moving to the country, as I'm often stuck behind cars pulling horse trailers. But a savage black humour scenario now exists in Ireland, where one man's meat is another man's pony.

The warning bells sounded last summer, when an SUV driver with a loaded horse trailer stopped to ask for directions to the local abattoir.

I feel sorry for the animals that I glimpse through the slats of slaughterhouse vehicles passing through town. But at least you could argue that they've been reared for that sorry end. That's not the case with the horses that I now see similarly confined, all too frequently.

One such transport was stuck in traffic last week, giving me ample time to glimpse the horses inside. They sounded distressed as they stamped their hooves. To no avail.

Because no one cares for them now. They've swapped an open-backed trailer that calms horsey nerves for a rough ride in a closed-roof truck. These one-time pets and racehorses have been rebranded as 'livestock'.

So, no more hay. No blanket when it's cold. No sugar lump. No child mastering the rising trot. The betrayal is complete.

Horses have become one of the major casualties of the recession. Owning one was a status symbol during the Celtic Tiger. Syndicates sprang up, as everyone wanted a share in a racehorse. Maybe it's easier to deny responsibility when you're part of a group. You owned only part of the horse, so you're not liable for the entire animal.

Horses are still being carved up – but now it's literal. The number slaughtered has quadrupled over the past two years. More than 12,000 horses were put down in abattoirs supervised by the Department of Agriculture last year. These figures don't include smaller abattoirs.

Minister Coveney is unable to confirm if any of the horses were registered as thoroughbreds. But a recent report by the Irish Equine Centre reveals that many have "no alternative to slaughter" when owners stop paying for their keep.

Condemned horses include old mares, but also young fillies. Anything not producing top-class progeny is sent to slaughter, including racehorses that just aren't fast enough.

The top price is €400 for "big, fleshy brood mares". Lower priced horses go into pet food, while 'top' horses are slaughtered for human consumption abroad.

Why must animals always pay the price for human greed and lack of foresight in this country? Forget horse whisperers – the minister needs to shout in the ears of those who breed and buy these horses, holding them accountable and demanding they find a compassionate alternative.

Because Ireland is no place for the subject of that enduring folk-rock hit, A Horse With No Name.

Sunday Independent

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