Missionville: to be launched in early September

I am excited that Missionville should be available in about a month, in early September. It will be available to purchase online, via Amazon.

If you would like to be alerted, when the book becomes available, please send me an e-mail at alexbr4cornwall@gmail.com

About Missionville

Pete fell in love with horses, then devoted his career to training racehorses at Missionville, a low level racetrack in rural Pennsylvania where horses and humans depend on each other – just to survive. He quickly learns that winning at the races isn’t easy under ordinary circumstances, and that some successes at Missionville aren’t the result of luck or talent – but flagrant cheating. Thanks to a potential love interest, plus death, deception, and more, Pete opens his eyes to what’s really going on around him to discover he doesn’t want to play the game anymore. A push in the right direction sends Pete on a journey that leads him from Harrisburg to Quebec in an effort to help restore a bit of humanity to the racing world.

Praise for Missionville

“Alex Brown, a lifelong horseman, takes you on a journey few are capable of providing, to life on the backside of a hardscrabble Pennsylvania racetrack, showing the pressures that bear on both the horses and the humans, and the possibilities for it all going off the track. He takes you to the real underbelly of the sport. He gives you characters you can root for as they face moral dilemmas. He tells a good tale while he’s giving you the tour. A terrific read.”

–Mike Jensen, journalist, Philadelphia Inquirer, winner of an Eclipse Award

“Behind the grandeur and pageantry of American horse racing there is a dark secret playing out. Author Alex Brown transports his readers to rural Pennsylvania, where heart-pounding action and heartbreak intertwine at the Missionville Racetrack. A captivating read, Missionville excels in its narrative of love, life – and death – on the racetrack’s backside.”

–Jordan Schatz, Sports Editor, Cecil Whig

Missionville: Facebook Page

I am excited to roll out a Facebook page for Missionville.

I will be using this page, over the next several months, to keep everyone updated with the status of the publication of the book Missionville.

I hope you will join the page, and recommend others to do the same. The book is about life at a low-level racetrack based in Pennsylvania. It is fiction, but is a result of my many experiences working in racing in North America.

Missionville: Cover art for new book

bookcovermissionville

Excited to show the cover art that will be used for my new book, Missionville.

Pete trains racehorses at Missionville, a low level racetrack in rural Pennsylvania where horses and humans depend on each other, just to survive. Winning at the races isn’t easy under ordinary circumstances, some successes at Missionville aren’t the result of luck or talent – but flagrant cheating. When Pete begins to open his eyes to the practices going on around him, he realizes he doesn’t want to play the game anymore. A push in the right direction sends Pete on a journey that leads him from Harrisburg to Quebec in an effort to help restore a bit of humanity to his world.

For details on book launch, please leave a comment or e-mail alexbr4cornwall@gmail.com

Second Auction: a short story

There is a damp musty smell in the air; the smell you normally associate with a cold, neglected barn. This place is not much better, but it is much bigger, with an assortment of pens and a collection of horses, and the occasional mouse scurrying around. Horses were here when I arrived last night, more horses arrived throughout the morning. There are all types of horses: large working animals, smaller trotting horses, riding school ponies, and a few old racehorses. Some horses look like they were just dragged in from a field, still caked in mud. Others, like me, still have their sweat marks around their midriff from their last riding activity. Some horses are fat, many are skinny ribby horses.

This is all very confusing, I am only used to other horses like me and the occasional pony horse; I am a racehorse.

We were placed in a corral and just left to our own devices. I guess I was fortunate, Jake put me in a corral on my own and no one has been added. Quite a few horses were shoved together in their enclosures; this has created a lot of anxiety – squealing and biting. Not because we are mean or anti-social, we are just not used to sharing such close quarters.

Overhead there are boardwalks, people are walking along, and gazing down at us. The more adventurous are on our level, carrying out a closer inspection of what is assembled.

I was tired. It was difficult to rest last night. We don’t need much sleep, but this was just too weird a place. I was stood on a dirt floor, no straw for comfort. Through the night there was an occasional call out from a new arrival and a squeal from an anxious animal; it was impossible to relax. My ankle also ached.

I chatted for a while with my neighbor, Indy. He was a trotting racehorse, the kind that pulls a cart in his races. He’d raced 74 times, winning 12, which is pretty great. Like me, he had his aches and pains. Indy had actually been at this auction before. After his racing career was over, he was sent here and was bought by a local farmer. He was used as a driving horse, taking the farmer and his family around the local countryside and into town, in a buggy. Two years later, and a few more aches, he is back again. He has a story.

This is a strange place. I now know it’s an auction, but not like the one I had been to when I was younger, before I started my racing career. At that sale, I had an attendant outside my stall at all times. Whenever anyone appeared interested in me – and there were quite a few – my handler would bring me out, make sure I was clean, and trot me up and down for inspection. Conversations would move from my good conformation to my relatives; apparently my half brother, Ace of Spades, was a Grade 2 stakes winner. I sold well for $150,000.

This auction is very different. No one seems interested in me, no one is attending to me.

I was a good racehorse in my youth. My first trainer, Mike, a great guy, was always keen on me. He had his best groom look after me. I won four races for those guys, including a stakes race which seemed to particularly thrill everyone. Unfortunately, I did suffer from a sore ankle in my right front leg; my groom worked very hard to try to keep it pain free. Sometimes a vet would give me some joint injections to relieve the swelling.

I spent two years in Mike’s care, mostly they were two good years.

One day, after finishing second in a race for Mike, someone from another barn collected me after the race. And this started to happen frequently; I was now competing in a claiming system that moved me from barn to barn, from racetrack to racetrack, until I found myself at a small track in Ohio.

Two years after leaving Mike’s barn, he stopped by to see me. He had shipped a horse in to run in a race later that night at our little track; this was far from the big tracks where Mike usually raced his horses.

I remember the visit well, he was my friend. “Hey pal, I hope you are doing well. You look good,” Mike had said to me. He also gave me an affectionate rub on my nose. But I could detect an uneasiness in his voice, a hint of regret perhaps. We can sense this stuff you know, call it a gift. Mike gave me a mint, before he left he called out, “I’ll see you next time.” I remember wondering when that next time might be.

In my last start, which was only three days ago and two months after Mike’s visit, I got hurt, hurt very badly.

I was what they call, “racing sound.” I had my aches and pains, mostly that right front ankle that I first hurt when I was two, but with some drugs I was able to keep running. But now things were different. My right front ankle had blown. They needed to load me into a horse ambulance after the race to remove me from the racetrack. My ankle was painful, I could hardly put that leg on the ground. The vet who attended to me gave me some pain relief and my groom bandaged up the damaged leg.

That bandage was now long gone, the pain however, was not. Someone entered Indy’s corral and herded him out aggessively, striking him several times on the rump with a bull whip. Indy glanced over to me as he scooted out of his corral, “Maybe see you later pal, good luck.” The old guy disappeared down the shed row towards the sales ring.

This is not good, my routine has been shattered. Things have not been ideal for me at the racetrack over the last couple of years, especially with my troubling ankle. But I know the racetrack, I know the routine. This was another world, and not a friendly place.

No one was paying attention to me at the auction. But I do have a story; I won seven races, I was a good racehorse. I would have won a lot more races if I had not hurt my ankle early in my career. I was very fast. When I won that stakes race, Mike was so proud; he knew how tough I must have been to beat a good group of horses when I was not 100% healthy. Honestly, I really do think he liked me, a lot. He also had pretty ambitious plans for me, if only he could have fixed me up a little more. I know he tried.

A few horses were being ridden in the shed row in front my corral. I assumed that they were being tested to see what sort of horse they were. There was no chance I was going to be ridden; I could barely limp – it did seem like an odd time to put me up for sale.

A lady entered my corral. She seemed nice and talked to me in gentle whispers. “Hey pal, let me look at your lip.” It was a curious thing, but when I went to the races the guy at the entrance of the paddock did the same thing, he checked underneath my top lip. When I was young, someone had placed a mark there, so I assume this is how I am identified.

The lady spoke to a friend, who remained outside my corral, “Shame, it’s too hard to read, there’s no way that we can identify this guy before he goes up for sale. He does look like a thoroughbred, and that ankle looks pretty shocking.” She slipped me a mint.

Yes, my ankle hurt. But this was puzzling to me. Jake, the guy who dropped me off last night who is a pony guy at the racetrack, knows who I am. Surely he let the auction house know. I was a winner of seven races, a stakes winner no less.

I’m also hungry, really hungry! Jake left me here with a flake of hay, but that was nearly a day ago. At the racetrack we were fed like clockwork, three square meals a day, first thing in the morning, after training, and in the evening. A bag of hay is always there for munching. I would eat anything they put in front of me. Where the heck is Jake?

Someone else came into my corral. He did not try to come to me, but used a bull whip and a little hollering to herd me out. It’s the same guy who came for Indy. He’s not a horseman, it’s easy to tell these things. Frankly, he seemed scared of me. Now I was freaking out. Not visibly, in fact I acted like nothing was unusual, I wanted to be cooperative. But inside, I will admit, I was horrified. I also still had those sweat marks on my body from my race three nights ago. Was no one going to clean me up before I was put up for sale?

Bull whip guy herded me onto a machine that was there to weigh me. I was not sure what my weight had to do with things, but I guess a good weight could be a sign of health. I do have a great body, always ate well – when I was fed – and always retained a good body weight. Maybe this is a good thing for me.

The horse in front of me was ridden into the ring. He was not weighed, but he was skinny. I overheard some of the bidding; it was all over in a matter of 30 seconds. The skinny horse was sold for $600; this is a far cry from the $150,000 I had fetched at my first auction.

Now it was my turn.

Bull whip guy herded me into the ring, loose. I thought that was odd. The gallery was packed with onlookers, chatting among themselves. I spied Jake, sat in the top left corner, eating a sandwich. He didn’t seem to show any interest as I entered. Come on Jake, help me out here!

While I did not know Jake that well, he had seemed nice enough. One time he ponied me before a race, I spooked at a black bag that was gusting across the track. Jake jumped off his pony immediately, took hold of my reins and started petting me and whispering to me in a calm, soothing voice. It was a good thing too, my jockey was getting more uptight than me. I won that race. I really needed that soothing voice right now.

The auctioneer made no mention of who I was, he hollered out over the crowd noise, “Does this horse come with a signed paper?” The audience silenced, Jake replied, “Yes, I’ll sign.” The auctioneer continued, “Sold with signed paper, 1,100 pounds.” I had no clue what this all meant, but I knew it was not good; everyone was now looking at me.

Odder still, the bidding started at 10 cents. 10 cents? I could not believe what I was hearing. “15 cents.” “20 cents.” “25 cents.”

There were three people bidding on me. The lady who had been in my corral was one of them, I really needed her to win. There was a guy in a red shirt in one corner of the audience who was also bidding. And a third guy, who sat close to the front and center of the gallery. He stared at me, intently, with his dark, soulless eyes. This third bidder barely made a signal for each of his bids, but was closely monitored by the auctioneer. He lacked basic humanity, we can tell these things. Maybe it was the same with the red shirt guy, but there was something very unsettling about this guy.

The man with the red shirt dropped out of the bidding at 30 cents. The lady’s final bid was 40 cents. The guy with the soulless eyes purchased me at 45 cents and scribbled a note onto a card he held in front of him. He then turned to chat to his motley group of hangers-on.

The whole thing was over in less than 20 seconds. The audience returned to its buzz of gossip.

Bull whip guy herded me out of the sales ring, I was shoved into a large corral; my ankle was really throbbing now – there was a sharp stabbing pain shooting up my leg.

The corral was already full of horses. I spotted Indy in the corner; he glanced over at me with a resigned look, “Things don’t look good pal.”

Whoever the soulless eyes guy is, he bought a lot of horses. Looking around, the other horses were all different shapes and sizes. The one thing we had in common, we were all of good body weight.

I kind of wish that Mike was around right around now. Not too much made any sense to me anymore.

An hour passed, a few more horses had been shoved into our corral, but the sale was over now; people were leaving. The soulless eyes guy came over to inspect his new stock; he is surrounded by his posse of hangers-on, which now includes Jake. The lady is also with them, she appears to be in an animated conversation with the soulless eyes guy and Jake. I wonder if Jake has shared my story.

Horse racing: a short story

It happened again, and I still really don’t understand it. I am now standing here, in an unfamiliar stall, surrounded by unfamiliar people. This usually happens after every three or four races.

The race itself seemed a little easier than the races I had run in lately. While I did not feel like I could run particularly fast, with the urging of my rider – ouch! That whipping stuff does hurt – I moved my tired and sore legs as fast as I could, and managed to finish second, about a neck’s length behind the winner.

The next morning after my race, my new groom fed me some breakfast and fussed around me as she undid the wraps around my legs. Having been through this routine for a number of years now, I knew what to expect next.

She, or another fella who might be the trainer or assistant trainer, would rub their hands down each of my legs, twist and flex my joints, and try to find my pain points. They would jog me up and down the shed row, and then make some medical decisions, along with their vet.

In the next few days I would receive a series of injections, sometimes in the joints that do bother me – my left hock and right front ankle – and sometimes in other joints, for goodness knows what reason. It’s a mystery to me why these folks don’t talk to the last guys that looked after me. One time, a few months and trainers ago, I remember I was injected in my left front knee. The knee had never given me any grief in my life.

It was not always like this.

I was born to be great, or at least I used to be treated as if I would be the best colt of my generation. My youth was spent at a big and lush horse farm in Kentucky. As a baby, I frolicked and played around with other young colts and their mothers; life was full of curiosities and possibilities.

My first inclination that things weren’t always going to be idyllic was when I was put up for sale. I had assumed that all the pampering and fuss I had received as a baby was because I was loved, but apparently it was my monetary value, rather than me, that was loved. I fetched my breeders a tidy sum too, $1.5 million dollars.

I imagine my new owners assumed that I would be a rocket ship for that price. I learned my trade as a young horse, being “broken in” – seriously that is what they call it, when we allow riders into our lives to train us before the racetrack – in sunny Florida. I was with hundreds of other young horses, all with the same target: to be the next Kentucky Derby winner.

Of course, only one horse can achieve that honor each year, and for my year it was not me, but I was close, which is pretty incredible itself.

I raced three times as a two-year-old, winning my second race in New York, at Saratoga, by several horse lengths. I was lauded upon my return to the saddling enclosure; my trainer, jockey and groom really seemed very thrilled with me and my effort. There was also an audible buzz coming from the large crowd, the type of buzz you get when you witness something special.

In my next and final start as a two-year-old, I won again, this time it was a “stakes race,” which is very prestigious. I remember my groom showing me the Daily Racing Form the next morning; on the front page there was a big picture of me. The story headline read, “Thunder Clouds, (that is my name of course) Storms to Victory in the HillTop.” I remember thinking how clever that headline was, and I will admit, I was pretty proud of myself at the time.

The next spring I raced three times, and won once, and placed the other two times. I was one of the top twenty money earning colts of my generation after three wins, so it was decided that I should take my place in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

This was the real big time. Massive crowds thronged the backside each morning for our daily training exercises in the week leading up to the big day. And while I enjoyed all the attention, my right front ankle was starting to nag at me a little bit. The vets had been called out to see me over the previous few weeks, and I had received a series of injections to try to relieve the pain. Once the pain was gone, I could run just as fast as if the pain had never been there in the first place.

I did not win the Kentucky Derby. Actually, honestly, I was a little over matched at odds of 50-1, and finished 14th in the field of 20 horses. I tried to make a bit of a run at the leaders going into the final turn, but I did not gain too much ground. Deep into the stretch I felt the urging of my jockey – ouch, and ouch again – while also feeling my right leg weakening a little around the ankle.

Anyway, I had my shot at super stardom. The horse that won the race went on to win the coveted, and often elusive, Triple Crown series. He was sold for $100 million at the end of the year. He was then retired from racing and embarked on a lucrative – and likely quite enjoyable – stud career.

For me, it was a different story.

I had a few months off. During that time, my caretakers also decided to remove my manhood; apparently I was’t going to be good enough to be a stallion, so gelding me was supposed to help me focus on racing. Honestly, I was pretty bummed about my new condition at the time, but like anything, you simply learn to get used to it.

I returned to the races for a fall campaign. My first race was again at the end of the Saratoga meet, this time in a small stakes race, which I won. But then my ankle started hurting again, and it was really making me a little less agile in my training. The ankle was treated, and I raced again and again, each time in stakes races, each time finishing slightly lower down than the last time. You know, it is quite disheartening when you get beaten, not because you are not good enough to win – I was, I was getting beaten by horses I had previously defeated easily – but because you were not a 100% healthy.

My trainer was now getting in newer and younger horses, my turn in his barn was coming to an end.

In my next race, my first race as a four-year-old, I won, and I won easily. At first I was a little confused because before the race I did not feel particularly great; my hock had started hurting now, as well as my ankle. Nevertheless, I was still able to win. The other odd thing, after the race I was collected by someone I did not know, and taken to a horse barn full of strange horses and strange people.

This was then to be my new life, moving from trainer to trainer, every three to four races, and sometimes moving to a new racetrack.

I am now at a racetrack that is quite small. While I spent my youth running around one mile tracks in front of the large boisterous crowds of Churchill Downs and Saratoga, I was now racing at a bullring track of about 5/8ths of a mile in god-knows-where, West Virginia.

Few people came out to watch our races; we mostly raced at night, and sometimes in the dead of winter under floodlights and sleet and hail.

Oddly though, I am a bit of a celebrity on the backside. Everyone seems to know me, and say affectionate things about me as they pass me by going to and from the training track; ‘How’s ole’ Thunder holding up after his last race?’ a rider from another barn might ask. My rider would invariably respond, ‘He’s great; amazing old hoss.’ It did not seem to matter if I did, in fact, feel fine or if my ankle or hock was hurting. I was oblivious to the high stakes claiming game in which I was an unwitting pawn; the game meant that no one would reveal my real well-being, in case someone listening was plotting the next claim for me.

So I was readied for my next race. I had a new exercise rider, as is always the case when I move to a new barn. He seemed like a decent chap, he was the leading rider at the track some twenty years ago. He would pet me once in a while, and let me know when he wanted me to go slower and faster. Sometimes, though, he did not show up for work; sometimes he would come to work but there would be a stink on his breath that was really quite overwhelming. I had experienced all this before, in a couple of weeks I will be sent to race again.

But the reality is, I have pretty much had enough. My legs are tired and sore. I have not had a break since after the Kentucky Derby, which was now more than three long years ago. Since that time, I have raced 34 times, winning quite a few (10) and losing quite a few more. During those 34 races, I have been ridden by lots of different riders, none of whom paid too much attention to me. It was the same with the grooms who looked after me temporarily, and also with the vets who kept stabbing me with needles full of drugs.

I stood in the starting gate for my next start and waited for the gates to open and the race to unfold. I couldn’t imagine that I could win this race, but I have felt poorly before and won; they somehow seem to make the races easier, just as I think I can no longer compete. My specialist distance was now 5/8ths of a mile, which is a far cry from the mile and a quarter of the fastest two minutes in sports.

As the race began and we headed out of the clubhouse turn and into the back stretch I took a bad step – well “took a bad step” is the euphemism they will use to describe my final moments. The reality is, my ankle crumpled and I fell to the ground.

Phone conversation with Ahmed Zayat, owner of American Pharoah, prior to the Haskell.

American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Belmont Stakes (Gr I) and the Triple Crown at Belmont Park 6/6/15. Trainer: Bob Baffert. Owner: Zayat Stables
American Pharoah strides clear in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
Photo Credit: Jessie Holmes/Equisport Photos

The following is based on a telephone conversation I had with Ahmed Zayat, owner of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, on Tuesday, July 28.

American Pharoah begins the second part of his three-year-old season in the Haskell Invitational Stakes on Sunday at Monmouth Park.

AB: What is it like to own an American treasure.
AZ: American Pharoah is a blessing, a special horse, a sweet horse. He is a one-in-a-lifetime horse. It is an unbelievable privilege. We bred him as well as own him; we did it the hard way as [Bob] Baffert [his trainer] would say, breeding him.

He is America’s horse, we’ve waited for this horse to bring us hope. He is everybody’s horse now. We own him, we are his custodians. It is a responsibility. I feel a sense of responsibility to share him, to share him with the public. He belongs to everyone now, he is a Triple Crown winner. We have to be extremely careful what with we do next.

American Pharoah has won 5 Grade 1 races, on different tracks, in different conditions.

He is carrying his flesh well. When considering his next race, we can see how is he traveling. He is a great horse, but the horse always comes first.

We have to be careful not to tarnish the Triple Crown. We are not scared of racing him, but it is a balancing act. He enjoys his training, he enjoys his racing, he is a happy horse. We won’t race him unless we know he is ready, and really fit. But we know that things can happen in a race; Secretariat was beaten by Onion at Saratoga, it does happens. But as long as he is happy and healthy we will race him.

I am a fan before being an owner. I am a student of the game. Things happen in racing. Small fields, you become the target, but we cannot worry about that. I cannot micromanage the race. As long as he is happy, healthy and fit, in that order, we will keep racing.

He did some incredible things in this year’s Triple Crown, beating larger fields than in the past. He has won at seven furlongs up to a mile and a half in his career. He has won on the polytrack, and all kinds of dirt surfaces.

AB: Is it about the horse or you?
AZ: This is all about American Pharoah. I am just a person, a very lucky person. We have been gifted with a beautiful horse, it is just a beautiful gift. But it is all about American Pharoah. Its about the athlete, I love horses, I just do.

Not long ago I was laying down in his stall, he is a 1200 pound animal. Baffert was nervous. I told Victor [Espinoza] to come in a lay down with us. Pharoah is really smart, just licking me, I guess he loves the cologne.

I am the ambassador of this horse.

AB: Does he compare to Secretariat?
AZ: No, no. No one ever.

We all remember the “tremendous machine”. Winning the Belmont by 31 lengths, in a little over a canter, it was incredible.

American Pharoah is American Pharoah, Pharoah is royalty. How will he stand in history? His Belmont was a very respectable time, his last quarter was fast, but it is all hard to compare, but of course I am a bit biased.

I was about 10 when Secretariat won, I have watched it. We all remember the images. But I will tell you, the roar of the crowd [when American Pharoah won], 90,000 people, hugging, kissing, happy, screaming, it was an incredible moment. It was a mad house, NYRA security was around — it was a mad house, everything was so spontaneous, crazy elation and lots of sheer happiness, incredible, a celebration of joy.

AB: Decision to sell his breeding rights.
AZ: It was not a difficult decision. Every stallion I have had, since 2006, it is now 14 stallions. People in Kentucky call me a stallion maker, Pioneerofthe Nile, Paynter, Bodemeister and so forth.

I am used to making stallion deals, but I always keep a portion, whether it is 25% or 75% as with Pharoah’s father, Pioneerofthe Nile. I never sell 100%. It provides me access. I like to go to the barns and visit. I would like to breed to him. I am still in control of American Pharoah while he races, and when he retires I will still have a portion.

AB: Does the champ have a barn name?
AZ: There is no real pet name for American Pharoah. Some people call him “the Pharoah”, others call him “AP”. Different people call him something different.

AB: If you could change something in racing, what would it be?
AZ: The Biggest thing is we need the fans of the sport, and what is a sport without transparency. And transparency should not be a buzzword, it needs to be operational. The disclosure of medical records for example.

We need to bring fans into the action. We need to be open. We can use social media, more open communications. That’s how American Pharoah got his name. We try to open up our barn so fans can come and see him. I think this is very important.

We are also looking at the use of lasix with a research project in Gulfstream Park. it is a scientific study, privately funded, looking at lasix-free races versus lasix races. We are funding it, we want hard data. We have commissioned one of the foremost vets to undertake the study. Gulfstream Park is providing us all the access and support.

AB: Thanks for your time.
AZ: Thanks for the coverage you helped provide with Paynter.

AQHA’s disingenuous position on horse slaughter, encourages membership to derail SAFE Act

slaughtersugarcreek

It is surprising to some people when they learn that horse-related organizations support horse slaughter. Why would they do that?

The short answer is, it supports their industry interests, and their membership interests. That is the case for both the AVMA (vets), and the AQHA (quarter horse association). They then try to convince themselves and everyone else that they actually take this stance for the horse, not for their own interests.

Yes, slaughter is good for you, really ?

Anyway, I digress. I thought it would be interest to parse the statement from the AQHA, in support of horse “processing” (“processing” is surely more appealing than “slaughter”).

Here is a link to the AQHA’s complete statement: AQHA News Bits: Unsafe Consequences.

There is a preamble about the SAFE Act, and its rationale, that of food safety. The statement then avoids the food safety issue completely.

They then note that the ban of horse slaughter would “mean that thousands of unwanted horses will be sentenced to a destiny of starvation, abuse and neglect. It’s a hellish demise.”

There are two problems with this emotive statement:

1. while there may be some unwanted horses, to presume all horses that are purchased by kill buyers to go to slaughter are unwanted, is not accurate.

2. “slaughter” or “abuse and neglect” is not a binary choice. The third option, cleverly left out of the entire statement, is that of humane euthanasia.

Subsequent to the above quote, the statement then goes on to tie the number of horses that are slaughtered to the number of unwanted horses. Again, there is no proof that is the case. What is known is that the number of horses slaughtered is simply based on the demand for the horse meat from the customer, via the meat packers and the slaughter houses. Horses are slaughtered because there is demand for the meat, slaughter is not just a disposal solution for horses no one else wants.

The statement then goes on to discuss the increasing number of abuse and neglect cases, which may or may not be accurate. Whether it is or not has little to do with slaughter, because we are currently slaughtering plenty of horses (same numbers in recent years, so an increase in abuse cases is more likely an economic issue, or an issue of horses no longer being employed for whatever work they were doing).

The statement then examines the cost of taking care of all the horses that are sent to slaughter. A considerable cost indeed, but neglects to consider that some of these horses would be humanely euthanized, some would be diverted to new careers, and some would find other solutions. This ignores the idea of “owner responsibility,” and each owner doing the appropriate thing for his horse. Thus the burden on the government is, at least, exaggerated.

Then they discuss the “property rights” argument that surrounds the horse. The AQHA firmly believes anyone has the right to do what they want with their horses, which includes slaughter as an end of life option. “Salvage value” is another term that I have heard being used.

There is then some preamble that ties together the AQHA, AVMA and AAEP together in wanting to slaughter our horses domestically. Well, we know that each organization is pro-slaughter, sadly not so much “pro-horse.”

The statement concludes,

“As we celebrate the Fourth of July weekend with family and friends, I am reminded that this holiday weekend is not only about picnics, parades and fireworks. July 4th celebrates the birth of American independence, and because of our freedom, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, including our horse.”

That statement seems disingenuous at best.

In summary:
The SAFE Act is about food safety, which is a genuine concern given the undocumented drugs that American horses receive, before they become a “food animal”. The response from the AQHA completely ignores this, and moves the conversation to an “unwanted horse” issue. They do this in a very disingenuous manner.

For those of you who want to learn more about the horse slaughter issue, and make a truly informed decision on what is the right thing to do, I ask you to review my video series. The better informed we are, the better it will be for our horses.

Broker Programs: A Complicated Issue

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Broker Programs: It’s Complicated

Broker programs are perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of the horse slaughter system that we have in the United States.

A program is typically run by a rescue organization which has a relationship with a kill buyer. The rescue organization will promote the horses that have been acquired by the kill buyer, to help those horses find a home, before they would be shipped to slaughter if no home is discovered. This all occurs in a compressed timeframe.

This is the last chance for these horses. For that reason, many people will support these programs to try to help place these horses, either by supporting fundraisers, sharing the fundraisers, or offering homes.

Some of these horses were purchased by the kill buyer at a kill auction. Some were surrendered by owners who determined that they had no other option, due to a variety of circumstances. Some were culls from a variety of situations, some of which went directly to the kill buyer.

The kill buyer is the option of last resort.

So why the controversy ?

There are five broad reasons why some people consider the broker program bad for horses and the anti slaughter movement.

1. The number of horses slaughtered remains constant
A kill buyer, that enables a broker program, now has access to a new market for his horses. Thus, the kill buyer can purchase more horses, knowing that some will now be purchased through the broker program. The broker program is not reducing the number of horses that enter the slaughter pipeline, but is increasing the business opportunity for the kill buyer.

Because the broker program is not reducing the number of horses that the kill buyer is shipping to slaughter (that number is determined by the contract the kill buyer has with the slaughterhouse to which he is contracted), the broker program is essentially determining which horses go to slaughter. For each horse saved, another horse is swapped into his place.

2. Emotional buy
The broker program typically operates in a compressed timeframe with a certain outcome. The kill buyer purchases the bulk of his horses at a kill auction (New Holland, PA or Sugarcreek, OH for example) and will ship those horses to a slaughterhouse, or the slaughterhouse’s feedlot, a week or so later. It is within that timeframe that the broker program needs to take pictures, and promote the horses through social media and other outlets.

The sense of urgency is real, the images are real, the “kill truck is coming” is a popular refrain. This creates a situation of drama, that inspires people to do things that they might not do under ordinary circumstances.
It also deflects money and effort from other types of rescue programs, and the broader horse slaughter issue.

3. The Price is High
Oftentimes the horses are surrendered to the kill buyer, or purchased very cheaply at the auction. Because the community is trying to “rescue” these horses, there is a sense that they should be able to purchase the horses at close to what the kill buyer pays. In some instances this will happen, if you have a relationship with the kill buyer, and make an offer to him at the auction, after the sale of a horse. At that point the kill buyer can simply purchase another horse to replace the one he has bought.

Once in the broker program, this is no longer the case. The kill buyer’s main customer at this point is the slaughterhouse, so it is that price point, the price that the kill buyer can earn at the plant, that should be used to compare the prices offered by the broker program. This may be 50-100% over the purchase price at the kill auction for example.

Added to that are costs associated with the broker program. It takes time and work to make these horses available online, that time and work also needs to be rewarded.

4. Selective Access
The method of deciding which horses are available through the broker program also creates controversy. It is not always all the horses that the kill buyer has in stock. Why? The kill buyer has horse dealers with whom he works. Sometimes those dealers do not want to be exposed (someone hussling racehorses from the local racetrack for example) so the horses that that dealer brings to the kill buyer will not be part of the program.

Because the broker is typically the only “rescue” with access to the kill buyer’s pens, and understands which horses can be made available and which cannot, many consider that they are simply complicit in the entire slaughter system.

5. Working with a Kill Buyer
Can someone really be considered a rescue, if all they do is offer a broker program and work directly with the kill buyer? Some argue no, some of course argue that absolutely they can.

The relationship with the kill buyer is controversial, especially if there is a lack of transparency in terms of how that relationship works. Broker programs that have been controversial in the past include CBER (Washington State) and AC4H (Pennsylvania).

In Conclusion…
This is a controversial aspect of the horse slaughter system, of that there is no doubt. Broker programs have done some great things, especially for the individual horses which have been saved, but there are always consequences to these transactions.

If you think I missed a point, or wanted to share your thoughts, please use the comments.

To learn more about the horse slaughter issue, you can explore my three part video series, Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter.

Horse Slaughter: A fractured effort

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Together, we can make a difference

There is no doubt this post will piss some people off. So be it.

I have been a part of the anti-slaughter effort for a few years now. There are a few things I have learned, most importantly, we are on the right side of the issue. Horse slaughter should be ended. Full stop. The reasons are manifold, but the one argument I tend to focus on is that the horse is not born a food animal and is not regulated as a food animal.

OK, that being said I have learned something else too, the narrow-minded points of view of some of those in the anti-slaughter communities has created a fractured effort.

In Washington there is a bill, The SAFE Act, that is designed to end horse slaughter. Bravo to those supporting this bill.

Sadly there is also an element of the anti-slaughter movement which won’t support the bill. Should I repeat that for comprehension? Yes, there is a population among the anti-slaughter communities that do not support the bill.

The reasons for not supporting the bill appear three-fold:

1. it is poorly written (personally I like its simplicity)

2. it is unenforceable (really, I think we need law first, then figure out how to enforce the law)

3. Washington is so washed up in money that we have little chance of getting the bill passed.

OK, in principle I agree with the latter argument, but I do not agree that it means we should not support the bill.

I really wish there would be a way to bring the different factions of the anti-slaughter movement together. Together we are much stronger, fractured we are weak, the infighting is ridiculous.

Someone needs to take the lead, call all the players together, and lets get something done.

I address this issue, and of course many others, in my three part YouTube series, Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter (a small plug here).