Kill Pen: an interview with the director of soon to be released documentary on Horse Slaughter


Sharon Boeckle is the director of Kill Pen, a soon to be released documentary that addresses the horse slaughter issue in the United States. Her work on this project was the inspiration for my own project, Horses: Sports, Culture and Slaughter.

Please watch the trailer for Kill Pen.

I asked Sharon a few questions about Kill Pen. Her answers are very revealing.

What inspired you to explore the subject matter in Kill Pen?

Three years ago I – like most of the public, I assume – had no clue that we ever slaughtered horses for human consumption in the United States. A chance visit to a wonderful horse rescue facility on Long Island in New York, Baiting Hollow Farm & Horse Rescue, opened my eyes to the reality of what often happens to horses in this country.

I’m not a “horse” person – have never owned one, never spent time around them – but I’m an animal lover and I have a strong sense of obligation to all species vulnerable to exploitation. So I started digging further, and there was a lot of information to uncover.

The story just kind of exploded – it was going to be a short documentary on Baiting Hollow but I realized quickly there was much more to expose. I followed the trail, the many trails, and realized that this issue is far more about politics and economics than it is about animal welfare, although the animal certainly pays a price for the forces pushing and pulling on this issue.

What key ideas have you learned, while working on the documentary, regarding horses?

I think the big takeaway for me has been an understanding that this is one singular animal in a very unusual and precarious position in our country; the horse has been a work animal, a sports animal, a companion or pet … but it’s never been a “meat” animal, at least not in our country to any wide extent.

That being said, it’s an animal that defies clear cut classification … to many, it’s a pet. To others, it is livestock. I think most of us in the country would agree that a dog is a pet; it’s not a work animal or livestock, not like a pig or cow. But engage in the same debate about the horse and you’ll find that the opinions vary significantly around the country. That gray area puts the horse in an unfavorable and unstable position when it comes to protection.

What is your plan for getting the documentary out there for people to see?

We have just begun the film festival submission process, and we’ve just released the trailer publicly so that it can be shared and promoted on social media. Once the film has screened publicly, we will explore other distribution channels as they open up to us.

What can people do, now, to support this work?

Share the Kill Pen trailer! Let people know the film is out there, it is complete, and we are looking for an opportunity to share it with the widest audience possible.

If we look at the difference made by such films as Blackfish, it’s clear that viewers have a lot of power in promoting films that spark the conversation to create major change. I think that could happen with Kill Pen. I KNOW it could happen, with the right champions behind it.

Your documentary inspired me to develop Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter. We adopted different approaches, you tell a story, my series is purely informational. Can give the viewers an idea as to how you developed your “story”.

We anchor Kill Pen with the European horse meat scandal of 2013, where a number of very well-known companies were found to have “beef” products containing up to 40% horse meat. I think most people were not shocked that food labeling is deceptive, but they were very shocked to find out that it was HORSE meat (not pork, chicken, or lamb) being used as a cheap filler for beef.

So we open the film with that deceptive adulteration of products, and from there, explore the intricate web of politics and economics that brought many of our country’s racehorses, work horses, and – sadly – pets into those products. From there, an even bigger issue becomes the key argument of the film: with a nearly unregulated pipeline, there is no way to trace what dangerous toxins are in those racehorses, work horses, and pets before they end up in someone’s burger.

While we knew we wanted to address the often cruel and insensitive nature of horse slaughter itself, we decided to reduce the focus on that aspect of the issue for a few reasons; one, it tends to turn off sensitive viewers who might otherwise watch the film; two, on the opposite side, many people are not affected much by animal welfare or the realities of slaughter. For those folks, the suffering of the horses isn’t the strongest argument against horse slaughter; it was clear that a stronger argument could be made on food safety issues, and so we decided to steer the focus of the film in that direction.

Thank you Sharon, great work.

Please watch and share the trailer for Kill Pen.

32 thoughts on “Kill Pen: an interview with the director of soon to be released documentary on Horse Slaughter”

  1. I watched the trailer. There’s no FB share button on it.
    And I will not say what I want to say about the ass with the gun at the end, but it involves a lot of pain and suffering for his stupid fat ass.

    1. I totally agree with what you said. It just angers me that these kill buyers get away with this. I, myself, would like to take the gun and shoot him! Point blank at his head too.

  2. This HAS to end. Horses give so much to us. We CANNOT inflict such injustices to those that give so much.

    On another note, our horses are so full of meds to make them do more for us that they should not be consumed.

    We have to STOP breeding horses at such a high rate so people appriciate what they have!

  3. Yes, as a veterinarian, I know the drugs routinely used to maintain horse health are toxic to humans. We are knowingly poisoning consumers as they unknowingly or knowingly consume horse meat. I also know that horse slaughter is very inhumane due to the horse’s length of neck and the position of their brain in the skull which makes them difficult to kill as they try to fight or flee for their survival. They are prey animals and fleeing danger is their instinctive response. Therefore, their demise at slaughter facilities is very, very cruel. Horses, in this country are companion, recreational and sport animals. Their ability to be trained and relate to humans makes them very valuable companions, especially on an emotional level. Horse slaughter is inhumane and must come to a stop, and will come to a stop as more and more people become informed. Thank you for your efforts in this arena.

    1. Thank you for your knowledgeable and caring response. It breaks my heart that these animals are so brutally treated and killed.

    2. Wonderful comments !
      Such a sad situation for horses, ponies, donkeys & foals to be put into the slaughter pipeline. Just as the killing of dogs & cats at high-kill shelters is tragic! Such a horrible end for animals that depend on us to care for them.
      People need to be responsible! Stop breeding more & care for the ones you have!

      1. … well put d ernest, as far as population & responsibility is concerned – also horse slaughter is betrayal.

  4. I am a rescuer. I out bid kill buyers at New Holland in Pa. I understand your feeling of wanting shock value in your trailer. However if you get too graphic it will turn the ordinary person away. I can not post your trailer because of the ending. Language and gun. Of course I get this is reality but we need more regular animal lovers to get involved and This will turn them off. Hope to see you in DC in September. March on Washington for the Safe act!

    1. … yay ! tina – Safe Food Safe Horses. get with it congress pass the S A F E A c t ! get with your sense of right – your conscience. kick out the blood money people ! March for the horses september 29th in d c.

  5. it was the peta-types “animal lovers” concerned with “animal-welfare” that got horse slaughter banned in the US which only made it a much longer harrowing trip to Canada or Mexico, and Mexico is where there are very cruel methods to slaughter…which hurt the horse market which caused people to often just dump horse…thanks all you so-called animal lovers. Look at what you have done for horse welfare! If they open up plants here in the US they can be regulated as to humane disposal. btw, we are already feeding dogs and cats to dogs and cats…that is what meat by-products are in the name brands. meat by-products can be any mammal including animals euthanized by vets. My husband was in a rendering plant where everything, road and vet kill with flea collars and everything went into the soup. He was sick for days!

    1. Esbee – I did a study on what goes into pet food. Everyone thought I was crazy. Thanks for your post.

      I think horse slaughter is about the most awful thing on the planet. The regulations now in place are beyond ridiculous. I really do not know whether it would be any better if done in the US. All the local little plants have closed because of the Never-in-my-backyard attitude. The big companies that “processed” in the past were foreign and were horrible polluters. There was little to no ability to make them pay for the pollution.
      I wish I had a solution.

    2. No actually it is responsible horse owners not Peta types that demand that horses be treated with dignity and given humane deaths. Slaughter only stuffs the pockets of greedy maggots who prey on the misfortune of horse owners who must sell their horses and but never want them to go to slaughter. The borders will close and the shame of horse slaughter on American soil from the past will be addressed. We never did want and it and still dont. Time to be responsible breeders and horse owners.

    3. … esbee – sounds as if this particular facility needs to be investigated (if it is still in existence) & if you are correct then the govt agency (u s d a ?) responsible for ingredients is lying / falsifying. tell you what – how about simply standing up for the horses – maybe you could expand on the facility (you referenced) & the existing rules & regulations regarding what can constitute as food & for whom (cattle dogs cats). there is some truth in your post & there are some untruths. unless the u s d a is lying.

    4. Horse slaughter plants were no more regulated than anywhere else. Who are you trying to fool? There is NO way to humanely slaughter a horse. Take it from the vet post above. Rendering plants are smelly places enough to make a person sick but all that happens to the corpse happens after death and is not the cause of death. Slaughter is good for nothing.

  6. I am also a horse rescuer. I think the trailer was great. From beginning to end, you had my attention. I’m definitely going to share the trailer to everyone I know. Cannot wait to see the whole thing once it’s released. Thanks for all of your hard work and dedication making this film happen.

  7. Esbee, my ? to u is, since horses, ponies, burro’s and mules have always shipped across the borders, even when the sh’s were operating , so HOW WILL YOU CLOSE THE BORDERS if we let the foreigners back in. And how would you justify the abuse these sh’s were allowed should they be allowed here, ie., the destruction of cities water systems, the poisoning of our rivers with drugs such as bute, the non taxable profits and lack of tariffs, the decline of surrounding property values, etc., etc.

    1. … well put marilyn. point being : there is no real point in esbee’s post – agreed (key part of the word greed) shipping to mexico esp is horrendous, th@’s about as far as i can agree with the post. the feeding of slaughtered cattle to cattle yes it is. dogs & cats, no. according to u s d a no more. i had asked esbee to expand on the facility referenced. horse slaughter is betrayal. to put it in modern language – the peta thing is bogus. does this person N O T Know the magnitude of horse advocacy in this u s of a ! Come on congress – step out of servitude ! Pass the S A F E A c t : stop the slaughter stop the export

  8. Please check into next year’s Bentonville Film Festival- it’s the hometown of Walmart n the winner gets distribution contact with their stores. What a boon that would be!

  9. … all in all – come on congress – do your part – step away from the blood money table – pass the S A F E A c t. stop the slaughter stop the export – & don’t give us th@ well what can we do with the unwanted horses. there is networking for the homeless. no bogus agendas – no more blood money. kick the killers out of business.

    1. There’s no excuse for their stance except that it offers a cheap way to dispose of their over breeding practices. They should concentrate on selective breeding rather on disposal of the overstock.

  10. You have to look at the wider picture with these issues and not only morals, there are too many horses, so they have to go somewhere, if you ban slaughter in one place where do they go?

    They have to have a value, now that vlaue means a long arduous journey in awful conditions to Canada or worse Mexico. In Mexico they are killed without any regulation often in a very cruel way. If they do not go for slaughter then what happens? Without value it costs to kill a horse, so they are abandoned or are starved to death. Often they are “rescued” by well meaning people that are ignorant to the needs of a horse and are therefore neglected! Banning slaughter is not a pink and fluffy solution it in itself creates suffering.

    You need to treat the root cause – stop overbreeding horses !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Here in the UK we have a horse crisis because of a tightening in our slaughter regulations too many cannot go for human consumption anymore, with their value gone they are abandoned. Our rescues are full of gypsy cobs and people think that by buying them off their breeders they are resuing them!! At $100 their owners are making a profit, because they never use vets and rarely pay for grazing so they are still producing more with no care of what they look like or who the parents are!!!
    Now people think they can get a quality horse for much less money so responsible breeders are cutting back producing quality riding horses. In five years time there will be a huge shortage of responsibly bred quality riding horses in the country forcing buyers to pay much more or go to Europe for a decent riding animal!

    So are you better off accepting that you need to deal with the surpluss now and have a fully licenced and regulated purpose built vacility in the USA or just think pink and fluffy things because no horses are killed on US soil and forget those subjected to neglect or those taking long journeys to a cruel often unregulated end because they are not near you?

    You know what in all of the crisis here only a few vets offer cheap castration and NO VETS offer cut price euthinasia of unwnated horses, so what is the alternative to slaughter???? it currently costs $600 to put a horse to sleep and legally dispose of a carcass here, or if you have a hunt or Knacker man who can use the meat it is $150 to have them shot at home by humane killer, but that horse shot at home can only be used for pet food. Send that horse to one of the two plants that are licenced and regulated to process horses you get $600 no brainer to a lot of owners strapped for cash !!!!!!!!
    Doccumentaries like this have a way of sending a blinkered message on an emotive subject but often create more suffering than they solve and rarely do they tackle the whole problem or consider the wider impact, so this will be interesting!

    1. Its all about money with you isn’t it? Stop breeding and deal with the ones uiu already have. Slaughter is not an option.

  11. Aww the poor cows. Why that’s right!! No one even thinks about how cows, calves, goats, sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and ducks. The list goes on. The amount of horses in this country is out of control. All the people ( that has no business owning a horse) are breeding so they can say they have a baby horse. I’m sorry to tell some of you this, but some breeds of horses were bred for food.

  12. If at all possible can you contact me on Facebook. This documentary is amazing I had seen the actual footage of the monster who shot the horse. I have been voicing for horse’s along time. I want to help get this movie out. Please contact me if know someone in the industry that could help this happen.

  13. I’m gonna regret this, because of all the hateful ignorant people who think they know what’s best for the horse industry… BUT- Someone needs to say it. Horses have always been a work animal, pet AND meat animal. A lot of people’s great and great-great grandparents survived through the Great Depression and world wars because of the horse slaughter industry. Horse slaughter is a necessary evil, no one likes it, but it’s needed!!! End of story! If you don’t want horse slaughter, STOP BREEDING HORSES.

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