Saving Equines from Slaughter

The Sanctuary rehomes equines destined for slaughter but there is, unfortunately, a never-ending supply. Almost all of them have been rescued as they are about to leave for abattoirs in Italy, a 3-4 day grueling journey without food or water, and being packed in too tight means they are immensely stressed and likely to injure themselves and each other. All sorts are sent from young and old to pregnant mares, the Sanctuary appeals for funds and homes for these equines that don’t deserve this fate but unfortunately have to buy them off the abattoir dealer to save them which is anything from €100 to  €1000. We ask for donations and/or homes as the Sanctuary does not have the funds to buy such a large amount of equines each month nor the space on the 10-acre site to hold any more than the 50 residents it has already.  The abattoir dealer who sends the Sanctuary details of equines to rescue may ask a higher price for more valuable horses and this is unfortunately not something we are able to control. Although it is frustrating to have to buy horses to rescue them we still feel that it’s better that the abattoir dealers have the incentive not to send some equines to slaughter and sell to rehome instead as it gives us a chance to give them a second chance at life.

There are a few reasons why equines end up being sold to the abattoir dealer, below is the list of more common scenarios of the equines we get through.  

  • The majority of horses that go for meat are young racers that are just too slow though we aren’t often offered the chance to rehome them much as the raceyard owners have strict policies that they are not rehomed so that the name of the yard that sent them to slaughter be publicized. 20 2-3-year-old Trotters go each week to Italy just from the meatman local to us.
  • The next most common are Trotter broodmares who have foal after foal every year until they are too old to do so or stop producing them reliably, normally around 20. They normally come to us skinny, with rain scald from living with no shelter and headshy from rough handling but they are also often such sweet natured mares. Some of the younger ones have gone on to be ridden again but most need a companion home.  
  • Ex- riding school horse come through semi-regularly as once they reach a certain age they become less mobile and require more feed and care so are no longer as profitable. So after years of service of people banging on their backs and pulling at their mouths, they get a three-day journey in a lorry packed with horses, being trodden on and kicked with no food or water before they die just so the owners get a little more money from them before they go.
  • Others are products of unfortunate situations, such as because their owner has died and their family don’t want to keep them or pay for them to be put down and don’t have time to try and sell them – the meatman offers an attractive deal of cash in hand and picking them up quickly so the problem is dealt with neatly and with some profit. If you compare that with putting a  horse down which can be around 200-600 euros for the vet and bodyman to take away the corpse this is a no-brainer to some. A lot also may not realise that most aren’t taken down the road and killed, perhaps some would change their mind if they followed them to Italy.  It is the same situation with people who need to move and can no longer afford to keep their equines. We are contacted a few times a year by people who have to move back to the UK and can’t take their horses so are desperately trying to rehome them, often these cases can be picked up by dealers promising a good home but you actually don’t know where they will end up though is the case in the UK too.  
  • Some horses we get through are specifically bred for meat like the Cob Normandes or Bretons but just because they were bred for something doesn’t mean that’s all their life should be, we would rescue all farm animals if we could!
  • Donkeys are also a large part of the trade, although they are mostly used as pets here now rather than ridden or driving animals. There was a large surge of popularity for them around 10 years ago to have one as a pet in the garden but this in itself was a problem as Donkeys and all equines are herd animals and should never be kept alone. Quite often they were also left with inadequate care and would suffer greatly. That trend is now fading though you still see a lot of Donkeys here in Normandy, there are many that go for meat once they lose their novelty.

It is a misconception that all equines that go for meat are ‘useless’ we re-home around a hundred horses each year and around 20-30 of them are deemed ‘useful’ i.e ridable but there is more to them than riding, equines are absolutely amazing creatures, they can be so gentle and so funny and form such complex and deep bonds, we should all be able to love them for how amazing they are not just what we can make them do.

The Sanctuary has dealt with the local abattoir dealer for some time now and although we don’t support his job we trust him to send the ‘advertised’ equine although he only has the information the owners give him which can be uncertain but he does not send a different horse than described which some unscrupulous dealers do. The dealer now drops off the equines at the Sanctuary so they can be properly advertised by us and their temperament be described accurately although we don’t have the time or facilities to see if they can be ridden except for a quick sit on for some. The meatman gives us a few weeks now for us to find the funds and/or a home but if he isn’t paid he will take the equine back and he will send to the abattoir instead because that is his business.

Some owners selling to the abattoir specify that they do not want their equine re-sold, these are often people who would not appreciate their details being on the passport that goes with the equine being seen by others in connection with abattoir dealings, these are often racing yards, riding schools or showjumping yards. In these cases we must not put up publicly the pictures of the equines showing their distinguishable features or the abattoir dealer will get in trouble if by some chance they are seen (Which has happened a few times now). We do send them privately to people who ask so we can limit the likelihood of the previous owners seeing but we appreciate people wish to see the equine they would like to save. Anyone is also welcome to visit them at the Sanctuary.