On Sunday afternoon at Woodbine, Triple Dead Heat was fortunate to sit track side with Alex Brown to discuss the current state of the anti-horse slaughter campaign.
For many of you Alex Brown needs no introduction, but for those not in the know, Brown is an exercise rider for Steve Asmussen at Woodbine and is responsible for saving more than 2500 horses and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the fight against horse slaughter.
TDH: What does Canada need to do to regulate, or stop, horse slaughter?
AB: I don't know how you can regulate it effectively. I think certainly on the breeding end we need more responsible breeding. We need breeders, who once they've sold their horses, to track them. There are ways to track thoroughbreds to make sure they don't end up in a bad spot.
I also think there should be a bit of a tax on breeding that can go into a fund to support horses in retirement - and that serves as disincentive to reckless breeding as well - as well as to raise the money to support Long Run and other retirement programs.
TDH: I've heard of the retirement programs at Long Run and the Stronach Stables owned Adena Springs…can you tell us about some others?
AB: Long Run is pretty cool as they are a Woodbine based program and help retire and adopt out horses that have run at Woodbine and at Fort Erie. Adena Springs deals only with Stronach 's own horses, but it's a good model. If owners had their own rehab program then that would eliminate a lot of problems. What Stronach is doing with that program is a good example for other owners, but it's not like he takes in any kind of horse like the Long Run does.
Phase 2 Thoroughbreds, based in Fort Erie, they try to serve more as a bloodstock agent for horses that run out of Fort Erie and can serve as a good way to get horses out of a bad spot.
A lot of individuals are also trying to retire horses and re-train them on their own to re-sell the horse. That work is also very important.
TDH: What comment do you have on the Suffolk Downs ban on horsemen who sell horses to slaughter.
AB: There are a number of racetracks that have an anti-slaughter policy now. I certainly think it sends a strong signal that the industry does care, or at least parts of the industry. The problem with those policies however is how do you track the horses coming off the track and going to slaughter?
In effect, if Woodbine had that policy and I went to Olex (a horse auction in Kitchener, Ontario) on a Tuesday and saw a racehorse there, that would create tremendous problems for the horsemen who sent that horse to auction. Because of that, a horseman that wants to send a horse to kill will no longer send it to auction. The horse will instead go directly to a feed lot or kill pen. The unintended consequence of this kind of policy is that some of these horses go underground and the advantage of a kill auction is that people can find these horses and rescue them. If you get a situation where they're now avoiding kill auctions, we don't have a shot at getting them.
From a marketing standpoint, what Suffolk Downs has done is terrific - from a practical standpoint, I'm not absolutely sold on how it works yet and I know of examples in the north east of the U.S where these horses are going into feed lots rather than direct to kill auction. It's very difficult as i think the policies are put in place for the right reasons and I do appreciate that for sure.
TDH: What can Woodbine do to help the cause?
AB: Woodbine leads the way in terms of its affiliation with the Long Run, essentially as far as i can figure out, Woodbine is the first racetrack to formally sponsor an adoption program. Can it do more? Absolutely, any racetrack can do more. And there are probably lots of ways to make that happen, and especially a racetrack funded with lots of casino money. Having said that, I think Woodbine leads the way. The other thing is that horsemen here really do care.
All the horsemen I talk to are very anti horse slaughter. No doubt in my mind. I think giving them a better way to get their message out is a good thing. People look at us in horse racing from the outside and think well, we are not good people, that we are anti-horse and we use and abuse. The reality is that these horsemen care, and when they heard I'd be going to a kill auction and see a race horse, they say, that's not the way it should be . They shouldn't be going to slaughter and each horseman i come across here says the same thing.
TDH: What are some of the challenges the campaign faces?
AB: We're up against considerable challenges to make a difference. The pro slaughter lobbies are very powerful and have lots of money and any time you want to affect change, it's a lot more expensive than maintaining the status quo.
What we're trying to do by ending horse slaughter has never been done anywhere. As wrong as horse slaughter is, it's pretty much legal everywhere.
TDH: Can you give us a brief recap of the situation?
AB: There were three U.S slaughterhouses in 2006, two in Texas and one in Illinois, and essentially state sponsored legislation was passed in Texas and Illinois which effectively ended horse slaughter in the U.S., but in reality all it really did was stop horse slaughter in those two states and horses are now being transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. The majority of horses slaughtered in Canada are coming in from the U.S..
The other side of that is it wouldn't be so difficult for another state, such as South Dakota, to open up a new slaughterhouse.
TDH: The U.S. Bill (H.R. 6598) for The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008 against horse slaughter was approved by judicial counsel at the end of September. Will the bill make it through congress?
AB: Sadly I think the bills are all dead. It's a two year cycle and we are at the end of the second year. We get these little wins at the end but they're not really going to amount to much. However we're still trying and you don't give up until the last day of congress because you never know what might happen, but in effect it's done for this cycle. That's one of the reasons I'm in Canada. While we work on stuff in the U.S, why not see what is happening in Canada and work on stuff here.
TDH: What do you think needs to happen in Canada?
AB: They need a bill here same as in the U.S to end the practice. I am meeting with someone next week to start to discuss getting a bill sponsored by an MP and try to get the ball rolling.
TDH: Do you still enjoy the work you are doing?
AB: As a horseman who has worked with horses my entire life, it's fun to be doing what is essentially the right thing.
TDH: What bothers you the most about the situation as it stands?
AB: The inhumanity of getting a horse from racetrack wherever to slaughterhouse wherever can be as much as 3000 miles. They go through the kill auctions, feeds lots, traveling in double-deckers and they're not used to that. The whole process is completely inhumane. Then the process of slaughter itself is inhumane for the horse and not designed for the unique characteristics of the horse.
There are so many arguments against horse slaughter that whichever one you want to pick is good.
I received an email from Alex on Tuesday night that said:
"Keith, i just bought a horse at OLEX :)"
Add one more horse saved to an already impressive resume.
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WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Visit Alex Brown Racing and read about the issues and get involved.
Visit Long Run Thoroughbred Retirement Society and adopt a horse or volunteer.
Visit Phase 2 Thoroughbreds and help a race horse find a second career.
Join the fight at Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and help stop horse slaughter.
Donate funds directly from your HorsePlayerInteractive account to the Long Run Retirement Society. 1500 points can be redeemed for a $5 donation.