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The big Star investigation into Holly is up.  Greatly anticipated by those in the know, this has been a while coming.  I’ll be the first to point out that I am NOT in the know, although I would call myself aware of the situation.

I became aware of this story when I saw the listing on Need You Now Equine (NYNE), a facebook group which posts horses currently owned by a kill buyer.  While not everyone agrees with this rescue model, it has kept hundreds of horses from going to slaughter.  Holly’s ad was no different than hundreds of others.  Confused, searching, obviously in strange surroundings.  There was immediate chatter about her due to her flashy markings, soft eye and cute expression.

Holly

Things took a turn when it came out that the mare was on a lease and not authorized to be sold.  Welcome to the underbelly of horse the industry.

Already owned by a kill buyer, attempting to get police involvement, accusations flying about who should be doing what.  Facebook is an incredible vehicle to connect people however it also allows for any spark to be fanned into flames in the blink of an eye.  I know people were scrambling behind the scenes.  Probably much more than anyone will ever know.  Either way, she was rescued and is now home.

What the Star article misses again the flawed system of horse ownership itself in North America when working animals cross the line into the food chain.  No other animal in North America does this.  They are either working or food, never both.  While the author may have wanted to concentrate on Holly’s rescue and documentation, the industry itself is what’s at fault.

Leasing

If you’ve been involved in horses for any amount of time, you’ve either been a part of or have seen experiences of leased horses.  I leased a horse from 1987 to 1995,  so I’d like to think I can speak of the experience a little bit.  I had known the owners of the mare for many years before the lease.  I took on all aspects of the mare’s care (board, blacksmith, vet, exercise, etc.).  Everything short of having her ownership papers in my name.  If at any point I couldn’t keep her, she was to be returned to her original owners.  I returned her after she gave me a beautiful filly in January of 1995.

While my lease experience was a successful one, not all are.  At one point I had a riding school using my mare “part-time” in return for lower board.  I had become excessively busy and it seemed to be a win:win.  I’d save some money, she’d get some occasional exercise and they’d get a really nicely trained horse to teach their students on.  Until the day I went to the barn and couldn’t find my horse.  Becoming more frantic, I eventually found her backing off a trailer, without any wraps or protection.  They had taken her off property to a show.

They had no permission to take her.  They had never asked (which I would have refused).  What if she had been injured?  What if she had injured someone?  Who would be at fault?  Who would pay those bills?  I also later found that she was used constantly in the lessons, much more than our agreement.  I moved my mare out of that barn shortly after.  I then vowed to myself that I would never allow my mare or any future horse to be used without my ability to witness it.  Without the control of being there in person, you have no idea of what may happen to your horse.

This is essentially what happened to Holly.  Taken off property to be leased, you have no way of knowing what is happening.  Once they have physical possession, you and your horse are at their mercy.  You’d like to think that people will honour the agreements they make, that they won’t go back on their word, that they’ll respect the contracts they sign.

The horse world just like any other, has its bad apples.  Pam Hughson, the woman in the Star article took the horse under false pretenses.  She’s been highlighted throughout the community as presenting herself as looking for a horse for her daughter, only to have the horse later “disappear”.  Contracts have loop holes.  Proper identification isn’t verified.  Even then – anyone can be swindled.  Bernie Madoff anyone?  However when dealing with horses, you’re dealing with a live, feeling being that requires an extra level of consideration and protection.  Unable to fend for themselves, it is up to us to ensure their welfare.

The point being is this: There is a quick outlet to ship horses to, to turn them over for a profit with them being disposed of, in their entirety.  Slaughter.  It’s out there, we’re aware of it and it isn’t going away any time soon.  Horse owners must make conscious choices, taking this into account.

The only reason Holly was saved was because NYNE posted her.  It was by chance that someone recognized her.  Thankfully they recognized her in time.  If she had been purchased by another kill buyer, Holly would be dead.  If she hadn’t been posted by NYNE, Holly would be dead.  This cannot be argued or denied.  Thank you NYNE.  Thank you Tracey Thompson-Hoogeveen.  Thank you Jonathan Lalonde.  Thank you Cathy McEwin.  Together you saved Holly.  Regardless of what you think of this rescue or the people involved, together they did it.

Now What?

The Star has printed their stories.  The headlines have sold papers.  They’ve referenced the “serious flaws in Canada’s food inspection system that, through lax oversight and shoddy paperwork, allows drug-filled horses to be cleared as food.”  Okay Mary Ormsby.  Okay Toronto Star.  Now what?  Or have you gotten your story and washed your hands of it all?

What was the point?  Do you want them to fix the “serious flaws”?  Do you want them to clamp down on the “lax oversight and shoddy paperwork”?  If they fix that, then only drug-free horses will be cleared as food.  That seems to be your “ah ha” moment in the article.  That they need to fix these things.  So that horse meat is safe. Why are you allowing yourselves to be distracted by the symptoms rather than addressing the true disease?  Fix the system that allows horses to be horribly abused via dangerous transport practices.  Fix the system that slaughters horses by brutal methods that aren’t intended for flight animals.  Champion the fact that horses in North America are not raised as food and are not safe for food.  Therefore, stop slaughtering them.  THAT is your cause, THAT is your story.

You’ve fallen short of doing anything.  Maybe that’s not your role as a newpaper or a reporter, but it should be as a human being.

Call To Action

  1. I’d like to cut the snake off at its head.  If this article upset you, do something about it.  Support Bill C-322.  Put an end to horse slaughter in Canada.  Sign your copy and send it to your MP.  Make yourself heard!
  2. Read “Why Not Horsemeat?” to find out why it should never land on our plates.  Tell everyone.
  3. Don’t eat horse meat.  Don’t patronize businesses who carry  or promote horse meat.  Tell them why they’re not getting your business.
  4. Support groups like Need You Now Equine if you’re so inclined.
  5. Rescue a horse.
  6. Stop posting horses for free or cheap on craigslist or kijiji.  Slaughter trolls will pose has loving owners just to get their claws into your horse.  Work with local rescue groups BEFORE you can’t afford them.  Keep them until a home is found.  Work together to get them a verified, loving home.
  7. Be aware of who you’re leasing to, know the risks, be diligent.
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