by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

The following guest commentary by Alex Brown ( discusses the recent implementation by some racetracks of a zero tolerance policy for horse slaughter and the unintended consequences those programs may have.. — Ray Paulick

 By Alex Brown 

Recently some racetracks in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for horse slaughter. They will no longer tolerate horses from their racetrack going to slaughter. They will penalize the connections of those horses that are discovered in the slaughter pipeline.

On the surface, this policy sounds excellent. It certainly is well meaning. If you combine this new policy with the resources that are now being targeted for rehoming racehorses by racetracks, it's even better. LongRun at Woodbine, the first I believe. Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program. Philadelphia Park's new program, Turning for Home. ReRun and Monmouth, and so forth. All very good. (Note: these racetrack programs are not listed because of their zero-tolerance slaughter policy, but because they have assigned resources to support retiring racehorses).

The reality is, however, unless racetracks have done their research and truly understand the scope of the problem of their horses going to slaughter, and can provide alternatives for those horses, a no-slaughter policy may have unintended consequences. To ensure horses won't go to slaughter, a racetrack needs to provide opportunities to account for all of the horses that are currently being shipped out to slaughter. Those racetracks that are providing alternatives, noted above, are for the most part full. They can only take on additional horses if more adopters and foster homes are found. They simply cannot take on additional horses as demand for their services dictate.

So what happens to the horses at the racetracks with zero-tolerance slaughter policies? Racehorses that were going to public kill auctions?

A policy of zero tolerance for slaughter simply sends some of these horses “underground.” Rather than go to a public auction like New Holland, where they can be seen by private buyers and horse rescues, they go directly to kill buyer feedlots and kill pens. Rescues that once had access to these feedlots and kill pens will no longer be provided access.

Fewer racehorses may enter the slaughter pipeline, but more may ultimately be slaughtered.

Certainly as an industry we are becoming more aware of the problems facing our retiring stars. And kudos for the racetracks who have made these positive steps — especially those tracks that have assigned resources to actively support their retired stars. I just hope that we continue down this path so we are able to safeguard all our stars from slaughter, and not simply divert a number of them underground. Of course, we should also actively support a federal ban on the practice of horse slaughter.

Alex Brown was the web master for, a site that became Barbaro central. following the 2006 Preakness. Alex left Tim (on good terms of course) and the Fair Hill training center to travel North America, from one racetrack to the next. He started at Penn National where he spent three weeks as a freelance exercise rider. He then went to Presque Isle Downs, for five weeks during its inaurgural meet (September). He was a groom, hotwalker and exercise rider. Next stop was Keeneland for its October meet working for Eddie Kenneally. He was a salaried exercise rider. He then moved to Churchill Downs with the same job for a couple of weeks. In November of 2007 he moved to Sam Houston Race Park, as a salaried exercise rider, to work for Steve Asmussen. In April 2008 he moved to Woodbine to continue working for Steve Asmussen. This site will follow Alex's journey, as he also writes a book about Barbaro and Barbaro's legacy.

Alex will continue to provide general racing updates and other updates of interest to Fans of Barbaro with the hope that his site continues to serve as a platform for Fans of Barbaro.

Alex has worked in racing for the last twenty years in North America, at Fair Hill Training Center. He has also worked in racing in the UK, if only more briefly. Alex has an MBA, taught Internet Marketing for ten years, worked in the admissions office at the Wharton School, and has written a couple of whitepapers on transparency and the use of blogs.

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  • Alison

    The ban on slaughter is without question is a necessity. However, it falls short of answering the obvious problem: where now do these horses go? It’s foolishly optimistic to believe that adoptions and rescue facilities will be able to accommodate the annual number of horses bred and their expected lifespan. We need to have an alternative plan. What if there were humane euthanasia centers? Places associated with rescue centers which would provide a kinder end of life and subsequent cremation. There are costs associated with that, but it would provide a much needed solution to slaughter.

    Further, if you are a breeder, please reserve enough money for your horse’s retirement and keep in contact with his or her career to ensure his/her day for retirement does not end up badly. Cradle to grave responsibility.

  • Nice article, Alex, and good to see you’re still on the anti-slaughter campaign. Another part of the solution in the United States should definitely be a mandatory microchipping of all horses, which will make them much easier to track and keep out of the kill chain.

    My friends at the French horse rescue now have bumper stickers, which are appearing ever more frequently here, reading “un cheval, c’est manger pas” or “Horses are not here for eating.”

    Keep up the good work!
    Gina Rarick

  • Ed

    Why is it the racetrack’s responsibility to “provide alternatives” for horses connections would otherwise send to slaughter.

    Suffolk’s policy is no slaughter. So, if an owner decides to races his/her horse there, then it is up to the OWNER to make arrangements for his/her horses when they are no longer able to race.

    If a store has a “no shirt, no shoes, no sale” policy, it is not up to the store to put a shirt on a hobo’s back.

  • “Underground” can be uglier than you might think. A person close to the situation contacted me about off track racehorses being “dropped off” in the middle of the night in a paddock at a beef slaughterhouse in New Jersey on a regular basis where, if no home can be found for the horses or no one comes to rescue them, they are slaughtered as zoo meat (not the healthiest meat for exotic animals either). I contacted the Humane Society of the United States, and they told me that “only a handful of states have banned horse slaughter” and that it is legal to slaughter horses in New Jersey … just not for human consumption. The horses are in deplorable condition when they are abandoned in the night, where they spend their last days in a paddock with cows. At least they get to eat and stand outside in the open air for awhile. One horse was emaciated and injured beyond belief. One wonders how anyone could have kept this horse alive this long and in this condition. What kind of cowardly and callous people are we dealing with? I have the photos and tattoo numbers on two of the horses. But others have come and gone since I heard this story a month or so ago. I’ve brought this matter to a few people now, and the response is silence, as though this situation in the East is status quo. Did everyone but me already know that racehorses are being slaughtered for zoo meat? (See Bravo Packing, Shame on the trainers, owners, and tracks who allow our noble racehorses to suffer terrible injuries and go untreated, starved, and then abandoned to a U.S. slaughterhouse, dumped like so much garbage. Horses are not just shipped across borders but are slaughtered in our own country. Clearly, we need the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to be passed … and soon. ~Connie

  • Al

    I agree with you Alex, under a race track “no slaughter” policy, where do the horses that can no longer race, that are owned by folks with no financial wherewithall to keep them, going to end up? These programs have nice catchy names with all the right intentions, but the reality is that there are not enough facilities out there to take all of these horses that need to be retired and “saved” by placement through these programs. That’s where the investment needs to be in these turn-out facilites that reacclimate the thoroughbred to its original “herd” style of living at nominal annual costs. Trying to fool the public into believing that we have solved the “unwanted” race horse issue with minimally funded disposition organizations is misleading at best.

  • […] bookmarks tagged horses SLAUGHTER GOES UNDERGROUND saved by 2 others     KingNecroPope bookmarked on 07/30/08 | […]

  • Mia

    The question still remains, what do we do with ALL of these unwanted horses? The industry is continuosly overbreeding. The animals race for a few good years, then go out to stud & broodmare barns. Don’t we still need humane slaughter? At least we will know what is becoming of these animals instead of them starving to death in a pen. There are simply too many, and not enough people to adopt them or shelter them at a rescue. I am a volunteer at a horse rescue and I know this for a fact. I understand both sides of this issue, but the alternative is they get sent to Mexico & Canada for inhumane slaughter anyway. Somehow this needs to work out, people forget horses can live up to 30 years. I would rather see humane slaughter than a horse starving in a pen.

  • Kat

    The TB rescue/rehab facilities need to get a better circulation of horses. More OTTBs need to get adopted out into new careers, so that those facilities can take on more, help more OTTBs.
    OTTBs need to be better marketed as sporthorses to attract more buyers from the hunter/jumper world (where warmbloods are taking over the scene), the eventing world (where OTTBs still “rule”, but the warmbloods, or mostly wb-crosses, are making an entrance too) and the dressage world, etc.
    American sporthorses used to be ALL OTTBs. In this years show jumping Olympics, not ONE OTTB is representing the US!
    For the racehorses coming off the track though, to be able to have a successful second career, they need to be SOUND, when they retire. The racing world needs to clean up its act regarding drug policies and even breeding a sturdier horse, which is being discussed now finally…
    Another idea (that somebody suggested) to make the OTTBs more attractive as sporthorses, could be offereing incentives for OTTBs at horse shows. And special classes and championships for OTTBs. There are many good ideas out there, the sport horse world, the racing world and the breeding world need to come together and figure out a plan.

  • Denise

    I think all registries, breeders and owners should be required to set aside a portion of the revenue rec’vd through sales, purses, registration and breeding revenue for humane euthanasia and disposal (whether that be cremation, burial or rendering). And yes folks, that means euthanizing healthy horses if they can’t find a permanent home. We seem to be able to find a way to do it for dogs and cats, at much greater numbers by the way (yes, I know horses are much larger and problematic). Some transition time must be allowed, but without each track or entity noted above providing these facilities and financial support for euthanasia/disposal, the “zero tolerance” horse slaughter policy is doomed to failure. Utilizing state and federal prisons, with funding might help centralize this process.

    Remember, the KBs are always one step ahead of us. And as long as demand for tainted US horse flesh exists…they will always find a way to get those horses. We have to take the kill auctions and KBs out of the equation all together by providing realistic and funded alternatives. Mandatory chipping is also essential, but only if the government mandates that at every step of the horse’s change in status/location it is checked and reported, regardless of disposition. Policy is a start. Practice is the result. Let’s see what the fallout practice is.

  • Having been in the hunter/jumper business for over 48 years I’ve seen the demise of the TB for use as the preferred jumping horse. In the old days if you didn’t show a TB….you didn’t show.

    Then in the early 1980’s warmbloods started to be introduced since they performed well and were easier for the beginning riders. Now its rare when you see a TB in the show ring. I’ve been a show judge for over 40 years and I know what I’m talking about.

    The plight of the ex-racehorse is sad indeed since many supposed rescue groups lie about their 501 (C) 3 status and simply dump the “free” horse to an unknowing 4-H or FFA child. At worst the poor horse ends up at a “secret” killer’s.

    Thoroughbreds are starting to make a comeback in the hunter ring but its a slow process.

  • ldg

    I think some of you have missed the point of the article. There are some rescues and individuals who might like to buy an OTTB or rescue one, but they are not being given the chance to do that. And more importantly, in an attempt to avoid the public spotlight of humiliation, some trainers are bypassing the auction process and selling the horse directly into a kill pen where public access is extremely limited or non existent.

    It does seem that some rescues have a better relationship with some racetracks than others. I would suggest rescues that used to buy from killpens and auction try to work harder with track management to establish a relationship with trainers, to be allowed access to the backside and keep an eye on horses at risk. There are places to raise funds for them when those funds need to be raised.

    As for tracks being responsible that is a public relations issue. Many racing fans don’t like to think that the horse that lost yesterday will be some Europeans dinner next week. Tracks should be willing to work with the public and rescues to find alternatives for the horses that are at the end of their careers. And that alternative should include rescue, re-homing, responsible breeders and humane euthanasia (not slaughter) Otherwise, racing will continue to decline and become a sport with even less meaning to the public than it has now.

  • Jean Lamb,DVM

    Already there is an underground “service” in the Pacific Northwest where, for a client cost of $500.00, your horse is transported across the border to a slaughter facility.

  • jw

    Place the blame for the excess number of racehorses where it really belongs – with the owners who continue to pump out horses year after year in search for “the big winner”. They are the ones who need to be stopped, or, if not stopped, made responsible for the mess the make. For every decent, caring breeder who tries to do the right thing, there are a dozen more who could care less what happens to their horses.

  • Gail Vacca

    Considering that many of the retirement programs and policies were just recently implemented at several of the tracks mentioned, including the zero slaughter tolerance policy in place at Suffolk, I think it is premature to suggest that slaughter has now been driven “underground.” I dont believe that enough evidence is in yet in order for anyone to rush to judgement. At this stage of the game, I think it would be interesting to find out how many horses have been successfully retired through each of these programs since their inception, and who the trainers are that are utilizing the programs. It wont be too difficult to figure out that known offenders havent changed the errors of their ways if they are found to not be utilizing these programs.

    I also believe that in order to determine whether or not their retirement policies are working, the racetracks will have to make certain that they continue to monitor the activities of their trainers and follow up with them when horses are signed out of the racetrack. Many of us involved in racing and equine rescue already know where the underground kill pens and collecting stations are located, and we will continue to help the tracks by providing them with the intelligence they need in order to catch those who venture to skirt the rules. In fact, many of the recent policies that have been put in place at some tracks along with several more programs that are in the works with other tracks, came about through the sharing of such intelligence that gave the tracks the information that they needed in order to better understand the scope of the issue and just exactly who and what they are dealing with.

    The tracks will continue to rely on this information from those of us out in the field in order to better enforce their policies. To that end, I would urge anyone — trainers, owners, rescues, etc. who has knowledge of individuals who are not utilizing retirement programs and who are still facilitating the shipment of their horses to slaughter, to please contact the appropriate track to share your information with them. I can tell you firsthand that all of the tracks that we have worked with (save Mountaineer) are deeply grateful for the information we have provided them, and that they are committed to working to implement change.

    I agree with Alex, that much remains to be done in order to fully fund, implement, and expand upon retirement programs, however, I am greatly encouraged by the steps that many tracks have taken over the course of the past few months. After decades of denial the industry finally has eyes wide open and is working to implement change. Even if horse slaughter were to be banned tomorrow (which I hope and pray that it will be), the safe and proper retirement of racehorses will still be an issue that we will always need to address, and one that I think that we can all agree upon that is as vital to the health and welfare of the industry as it is to the horses themselves.

    I also agree with the excellent posts made by Kat and Idg. We need to do more to protect our horses from injury and the unethical practices of trainers and veterinarians who routinely inject joints just to eek “one more” race out of them. If horses are serviceably sound when retired, they are far more easy to rehab and rehome. Severly injured horses should either be rehabilitated at the expense of their owners, or humanely euthanized if the owner is unwilling or unable to provide them with the care that they need. And as Idg mentioned, rescues need to work with the tracks to transition the horses straight from the racetracks and into their programs. I would encourage all rescues who are willing to help to contact their local tracks to offer your assistance.

    Gail Vacca

  • anne russek

    It is not too often that a blog offers back to back conflicting opinions . Gail and Alex have stated theirposition, and it does appear that Gail has presented a stronger argument. How could Alex posssibly know that all thoroughbreds have now gone underground. I recently read on the Alex Brown Forum a post by one of the rescue groups Alex refers to in his opinion piece who said that the reason the number of horses was down at New Holland was because the Canadian slaughterhouse Bouvry was closed for one week.
    Alex also states that the zero tolerance policy means that the rescues can no longer find the horses at the auctions. Why would these rescues wait for the auction? As Gail suggested, now is the time to let the racetracks know what services your rescue can offer the trainers at the tracks. Not to mention, bidding at the auctions is not as easy as Alex would make it seem. You have no information about the horses, many have been given obscene amounts of bute to mask severe unsoundness issues, plus the horses have been exposed to strangles and other contagious diseases. To accuse the racteracks of making matters worse is conjecture.
    I have been to the Sugarcreek Auction in Ohio. It is virtually impossible to bid against the kill buyers. The horses spend less than one minute in the auction ring, the atmosphere is chaotic and abusive. No horseman would or should ever want their horse to experience Sugarcreek.
    On a final note, I called a known dealer today who has been mentioned many times on the Ale xBrown forum as being a key player in shipping horses from Charlestown to New Holland and Don Nickersons feedlot in New York.. He told me that he was adhering to the Charlestown ruling and had not sent any thoroughbreds to Nickersons. He said he would like to talk to those people who are accusing him of “undergrounding” racehorses.
    We all agree that more can be done, and that money needs to come from the tracks to assist the various rescue efforts. IIt is time for everyone in racing to work together to end the slaughter of all horses.

  • Thank you this article, and for having the courage to write it. We have to be realistic about this issue. I wondered how in the world race tracks would even keep track of such a thing, especially with the slaughter business being so disreputable. Contacts drawn up in advance to be sure the horse does not go to slaughter are usually ignored.

    We certainly need to get the anti slaughter legislation passed.

    We also need to go after the breeders, and not JUST thoroughbred, but ALL registries.

    That is where the problem starts. Spewing out thousands and thousands of foals every year, not knowing if these horses will have homes, is truly irresponsible.

  • Mary Z

    Curb the over breeding! Don’t let stallions start their breeding careers until they’ve been proven they are solid, strong, fast and durable. Say, maybe 5yrs old? Mares too for that matter. Then severly limit the # of mares covered per year.

    Microchipping foals is a must now in our techno world. Don’t tell me the Jockey Club is that far behind the times. Then more jobs could be provided for scanners at all necessary areas.

    Shut down the problem at the source! How these rescue operations do what they do is beyond me. How they raise the funds and do the daily chores is beyond me. Many more rescue operations could survive if there were constant funding programs with supervision–more job creating ideas.

    With this continued “awareness” of slaughter that articles such as these are providing, a shift in the process will occur eventually. Hopefully, each foal will be treated throughout its life with respect and dignity. Not just a by product when “we’re done with you.”

    The general public doesn’t know all this is going on. If one doesn’t read horse blogs everyday, how are they supposed to know? How come none of the NTRA new safety policies never use the word “slaughter” in their discussions.?

    Set up a crematorium/euthanization program where these horses may be put down with kindness and compassion.

    Just my two cents.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Diana

    Trainers have been going “underground” to avoid detection for a long time now – sad but true. If the trend toward zero tolerance toward sending horses to slaughter continues, and it should, then the industry as a whole needs to step up to the plate for the horses it breeds and build in the safety net for the horses it breeds via a multifaceted funding plan. Until then, making excuses for the owners and trainers who dump their horses at auctions or with kill buyers, is ridiculous We all know that the last owners of these horses are the ones least likely to provide them with the protection and the retirement they deserve and desperately need – or even a dignified and peaceful euthanasia. And saying that the kill buyers and dealers are honest, decent business men, middlemen cleaning up the mess that the industry makes, as a good friend of Alex’s who frequents one of the auctions, runs a rescue, and has a business relationship with one of the trainers/dealers from a low level east coast track giving her an inside line on the “good” horses has said (I am still digesting that statement coming from a rescue) only validates these bottom feeders and their often deceptive methods of acquiring horses.

    We all know that the people who SHOULD take responsibility for these horses are their owners. That’s not likely to happen. We need to make it easy for them to do the right thing. But criticizing the efforts of those making steps in a positive direction without providing positive solutions, especially on the eve of important legislation being introduced, is an unfortunate move.

    Those of us dedicated to helping at risk Thoroughbreds at the end of their racing and breeding careers hate the idea of even one going to slaughter whether they go through an auction ring or under the radar screen. But the zero tolerance policy is a big step in the right direction and I applaud Sufflok for being bold enough to take that first step. The infrastructure will be there to keep the horses safe. If we all stay on top of the industry I think we can strongly encourage them to do the right thing for the horses they breed. If we continue to push the powers that be in DC to pass the slaughter ban, we won’t have to debate this any longer.

  • It is heartbreaking that any animal slips through the cracks. But if we back down now, the millions who have already been slaughtered will have perished for nothing.
    Slaughter of horses will never end if it waits for precautions and preparations to be in place- the time is now.
    As long as anyone can earn a buck doing it, and it’s legal, it will continue.
    I agree, it’s the responsibility of breeders and owners to see to the well-being of their horses.

  • Judy

    I don’t doubt for a minute what Anne Russek says about not being able to bid against the killerbuyers at Sugarcreek, but what I don’t understand is how these dumps are able to get an auction permit. If the public can’t bid, then this is a private sale, not an auction. I also don’t understand how these hellholes can get liablity insurance, because witnesses at some of these low-end auctions say that the atmosphere is so hellish that you’re literally risking life and limb while trying to look at a horse. It will be a cold day in hell before I’d turn any animal of mine over to one of those meatgrinder auctions.

  • Lilly

    While it is not the race tracks who are responsible for the horses on the backside, some of them are trying very hard to help set up options for the horses to find new homes.

    In the meantime, owners and trainers are ultimately in charge of what happens to these horses when they are no longer able to perform.

    Suggesting that a no-slaughter policy is failing the horses, is absurd.

    If the rescues that are mentioned by Alex Brown would work with the owners and trainers of the horses, rather than the kill buyers and feedlots, these horses would have a much better chance of never ending up in the pipeline.


  • We are already seeing firsthand the consequences of the zero-slaughter policy at tracks- Shippers that previously would take TBs to auction and would often approach horse rescues about horses they had now no longer will do that, because the owners/trainers who sold the horse to the shippers are afraid of repercussions. We saw this starting at Suffolk last year when they initially banned the main shipper from entering the grounds, and we see it now with the MidAtlantic shippers. These shippers are still getting horses, though, but delivering them directly to killbuyers, and killbuyers are refusing to sell TBs off their lots. While the zero-slaughter policy is a step in the right direction, there has to be some sort of support or viable alternative offered- both the racetracks AND the owners and trainers must work together towards a real solution. Add the breeders and heck, the entire racing industry to that mix and maybe, just maybe, we can eventually ensure a future for all TBs, whether it is a second career, a pasture home for life, or humane euthanasia……..

  • We are already seeing firsthand the consequences of the zero-slaughter policy at tracks- Shippers that previously would take TBs to auction and would often approach horse rescues about horses they had now no longer will do that, because the owners/trainers who sold the horse to the shippers are afraid of repercussions. We saw this starting at Suffolk last year when they initially banned the main shipper from entering the grounds, and we see it now with the MidAtlantic shippers. These shippers are still getting horses, though, but delivering them directly to killbuyers, who are then refusing to sell TBs off their lots. While the zero-slaughter policy is a step in the right direction, there has to be some sort of support or viable alternative offered- both the racetracks AND the owners and trainers must work together towards a real solution. Add the breeders and heck, the entire racing industry to that mix and maybe, just maybe, we can eventually ensure a future for all TBs, whether it is a second career, a pasture home for life, or humane euthanasia……..

  • All breeders and owners should be required to pay a fee towards each horse’s retirement.

    The zero tolerance at racetracks is a wonderful thing and I hope that more tracks will adopt this policy.

    HR 6598 will end the nightmare that is horse slaughter, for all horses.

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