By Jeff Klinzman
I spent some quality time with my buddy, Caesar, today. When I went out to the paddock, halter and lead rope over my right shoulder, not a single gelding was in sight. As I walked along the eastern fence line toward the upper paddock, I heard snapping twigs and saw motion off to my left. Sure enough, there were the boys, Caesar third from the front, cantering out of the timber into the open space of the lower paddock.
Caesar stood still as I approached him and put the halter over his nose. His soft muzzle nudged my right hand as we walked toward the paddock gate. After I groomed him, we headed out to some shade, where he could graze, and I could watch.
A few weeks ago, I was concerned when another hoofed buddy, Cody, out at Miracles in Motion in Swisher, was in his stall. Our property manager told me he had thrush and possibly ringbone, and does not tolerate heat well. At 32 years old, oldest horse on the farm, Cody has led a long, varied life.
Horses calm me. Unlike many riders, I don’t need to see a horse as being “smart” to deserve my respect and affection. You have to appreciate a horse for what it is, a herd animal with keen senses, lightning reflexes and very basic wiring.
Caesar’s ground manners have gotten much better since I’ve known him. A couple of good thwacks on the neck have convinced him he cannot, as he is used to with other horses, take a nip at me. A gentler tap from me reminds him the rules are different for humans than they are for horses.
Cody quickly became my favorite when he started at Miracles several years ago. Us old guys have to stick together. Cody is a low-intensity horse who, at his age, doesn’t see any need for fast movement.
We may be retiring Cody, since ringbone is a degenerative disease that limits what a horse can do. Caesar has become a stalwart school horse out at Wyndtree Farm, and when I was struggling in my riding after a bad accident, he taught me to have courage in myself and confidence in my mount. I don’t need for Caesar or Cody to respond to me as if they were overgrown dogs. Their responses as horses are good enough, and let me have a different relationship with a non-human animal.
I also know Caesar and Cody live on farms that have never sold a horse for slaughter. I still miss Teddy, a 15-hand paint who taught me how to jump at Wyndtree. It was hard when I heard he had been euthanized because he was developing intestinal blockages that would have killed him slowly, agonizingly. I gave a generous donation to help pay for the stone marker on the lawn at Wyndtree.
Euthanizing a horse, then disposing of its carcass, is uncertain and expensive. The most experienced vet doesn’t always administer enough lethal injection to kill a horse the first time. Count on spending around $1,000 to humanely kill an old or sick horse.
Unfortunately, when Congress in 2007 chose to not fund inspectors for equine slaughter plants, it made the situation worse for many horses. Slaughter is only done in Mexico or Canada in North America, requiring that horses destined for slaughter be shipped long distances, illegally, to be slaughtered across the borders.
I know I am not alone among equestrians who defend the need for horse slaughter in the United States. Like it or not, there is strong anecdotal evidence that many horses, held by people who can’t afford to care for, much less humanely kill them, are abandoned to die lingering deaths of starvation and neglect. I understand that not all equestrians view the animals the way I do; horse slaughter must be available as a choice for disposing of unwanted animals.
A HUMANE END
I reject the sentimental anthropomorphism of organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, and people for whom horses are a visual concept, best appreciated as they drive through the countryside. I dearly love horses, and my life would be poorer without the horses I’ve worked with and ridden over the years.
But horses are expensive animals to keep and are dependent on their human keepers. We cannot save every horse that needs saving; we owe them a more humane end than a long truck ride across a border to an unregulated slaughter plant, or a protracted, miserable death.
I do not have to “like” horse slaughter to support it as a necessity.
l Jeff Klinzman of Coralville teaches at Kirkwood Community College. He has years of riding hunter saddle at Wyndtree Farm in Swisher, is a horse committee volunteer at Miracles in Motion in Swisher and is a graduate of the Iowa State extension Master in Equine Management program. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org