Maryann Tobin

Sunrise at a horse auction lot brings hope for only a few victims of neglect and abuse.

When economic times were better, horses that ended up at an auction had a better chance of finding good homes with families who might one day have them prancing into the show ring.

But happy endings at horse auction lots are becoming rarer since the United States Congress lifted the ban on horse slaughter last year. Now bidders who would slaughter horses for their meat often outnumber families who can afford to keep them as pets.

By the time some horses go to auction, they are so weak from starvation that even if they are lucky enough to be bought by a rescue, they often die in the trailer before ever seeing their new home.

This heart-wrenching scene is being played out across America, often hidden from television cameras and the public eye. But ask anyone who has been to a horse auction and they will tell you that some of them bring in so many starved and abused horses they can barely stand to watch without pushing away tears.

Animal abuse in deplorable conditions is so shameful at animal slaughter facilities that Florida and Iowa have introduced legislation to make photography at farms a felony.

According to Food Safety News:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) secretly filmed a video revealing horrific images of workers at a West Virginia slaughterhouse kicking, stomping and slamming live chickens against walls and floors. …

The Humane Society published a similar undercover, investigative video documenting the abuse of… cattle that are too sick or injured to stand or walk, upon arriving at a California slaughterhouse.

In what Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an expert in slaughter practices, called "one of the worst animal-abuse videos I have ever viewed," the video showed workers kicking the downed cattle, dragging them by chains, pushing them with forklifts and delivering repeated electric shocks in an attempt to get them to stand up for inspection.

Is this level of cruelty what the future holds for horses once kept as family pets in the United States?

Few rural areas have been as hard hit by the Great Recession as central Florida. It was once a place where contented horses were commonly spotted grazing along roadsides in rolling green pastures. Now, the tumbled economy has emptied them and left behind a seemingly unnatural void in the landscape.

Abandoned horses have become as common as foreclosed homes in the Tampa area, and members of the horse rescue community are struggling to keep up with saving them from slaughter auctions.

Carrie Young of Ohana Rescue in Brooksville is among a handful of active nonprofit organizations taking in horses that no one else wants.

“It breaks your heart to see the condition some of these horses are in,” Young said during a recent interview.

Despite the fact that not all abandoned horses are rescued in time to be saved, Young often incurs the expense of taking them to the renowned veterinary college at the University of Florida in Gainesville for life-saving surgery.

Horses that have simply been starved have better odds for recovery but may be left with permanent organ damage or other issues if their nutritional deficiencies continued for an extended period of time.

At Ohana, even when the budget is stretched and the pastures are full, Young often finds room for one more horse, especially if their only other option is an auction that may lead to the slaughterhouse.

Young’s husband, Allan, has become a vocal advocate against horse slaughter for meat through a dedicated Facebook page titled, “My horse is not food!

Also working to save and rehabilitate abandoned horses in the Tampa area is Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue. The Batchelor family, who runs the nonprofit organization, has been doing extraordinary animal rescue work for more than 20 years.

Like Ohana, Beauty’s Haven often spends thousands of dollars for surgery and other expensive veterinary care so horses that have been abandoned and neglected have a chance to start again. These people work their rescues tirelessly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and fund all the feed and veterinary care solely through donations.

With horse slaughter becoming one of the most horrible fates that could befall these proud and gentle animals, rescues are often the only path between life and one of the most painful deaths any animal is forced to endure.

At many horse slaughter facilities, terrified horses are seriously injured as they are prodded into the hands of people who kill them by slashing their throats, then hang them up by their legs to bleed to death as they cry out in agony.

These horses can be saved and placed in new, loving homes. But as with all worthwhile efforts, it takes money, determination and dedicated people who are willing to try to make a difference.

How you can be part of the solution

You can help save horses from slaughter by joining the Ohana Rescue Horse sponsorship program, or contribute directly to horses that need emergency surgery.

If you live in an area where horses are permitted, take a look at Ohana’s horse adoption photos.

Rescued horses are also available for adoption from Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue. If you are not able to adopt a horse, you can help by donating money or supplies by clicking here.

Beauty’s Haven and Ohana are both registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, so all donations are tax deductible.

There are also various websites offering petitions you can sign to ban horse slaughter. You can sign one of them by clicking here.

Warning: Horse slaughter video is very disturbing.