Nearly 150 years ago, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse, resulting in the first successful arrest for horse mistreatment on April 26, 1866. Protecting horses has been a core part of our mission ever since, but we also rely on a strong public voice—people playing direct roles in their communities and through government to save these majestic, loving animals from cruelty and neglect.
This commitment is the driving force behind Help a Horse Day, our nationwide contest on April 26 awarding five $10,000 grants to equine rescues and sanctuaries that succeed in saving lives and raising awareness about at-risk horses. More than 80 groups in 32 states are participating—probably some near you. Their ideas include parading rescued horses down a local main street, having a community “horse wash,” running a horse-themed carnival, and hosting a rally on the steps of a state capitol.
Behind these celebrations is a sad truth: Thousands of equines become homeless each year through no fault of their own, and many end up at livestock auctions where they’re purchased for slaughter overseas. Last year, more than 144,000 American horses were sent to cruel deaths by foreign industries that produce unsafe food for consumers.
This is why ending horse slaughter has been one of our strongest recent campaigns. While the practice is effectively banned in the United States, there’s still more we can do to permanently ensure no horses are slaughtered here, or sent overseas for slaughter. You can help by actively supporting the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, bipartisan legislation that would end the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, once and for all.
Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption, and it’s no wonder. These are typically young and healthy animals that could go on to live productive lives. Instead, they’re often transported without food, water, or rest in dangerously overcrowded trailers. Some are seriously injured or killed in transit. The slaughter process is also inherently cruel, as horses are difficult to stun properly and may be repeatedly injured or stabbed during the procedure.
Horse soring—nothing short of the deliberate infliction of pain—is another reprehensible practice that requires our immediate attention and action. Soring is when trainers use purposefully painful methods, including filing hooves down to the nerve and inserting sharp objects into the hooves, to force horses to exaggerate their gait with high strides. You may have seen this at exhibitions and contests, but that high step is actually the horse’s flinching attempt to avoid pain. Some contests actually reward this tragic training with medals and ribbons.
Finally, there’s the equine event we’re all familiar with: horse racing. However you feel about the sport, there’s no denying that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is unacceptable. The Jockey Club, the organization that maintains the breed registry for all thoroughbred horses in North America, released a study which determined that racehorses in the United States die at a rate twice that of any other country. Horse welfare advocates know that lax drug rules are partly responsible, and have called for a ban on drug use for horses on race day, including a permanent ban for repeat offenders. Unlike human athletes, horses have no say in what’s injected into them for the purpose of glory and human profit.
Unscrupulous trainers take full advantage of America’s weak legal protections for horses, routinely and repeatedly violating medication rules. While the European Union, the Middle East and Japan all ban the use of drugs for horses on race days, the United States has no uniform rules on the practice.
Again, there’s good legislation waiting in the wings; all it needs is strong public support. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing and improve the safety and integrity of the sport. The bill would also create “one and done” and “three strikes, you’re out” penalties for strong enforcement. Learn how you can help protect racehorses by supporting this legislation.
Our commitment to horses is steadfast, and takes more forms than words alone. Last year, the ASPCA awarded $1.4 million in grants to support equine rescues and sanctuaries in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The grants were primarily awarded as part of the ASPCA Equine Fund, which provides life-saving resources including financial help, in-person and online training, and sharing of best practices to non-profit equine welfare organizations in America.
At the ASPCA, helping horses isn’t just something we preach—it’s something we practice in our work every single day. Intelligent, sensitive, and true American icons, horses have been at the heart of our mission since the very beginning, and in honor of our second annual National Help a Horse Day on April 26, we wanted to share the amazing story of Benny.
We first heard about Benny from our friends Joyce and Nona at Last Stop Horse Rescue in Prentiss, Maine. Last Stop is the recipient of an ASPCA grant: every three weeks, our grant funds the delivery of 20 bales of hay to Last Stop to feed the rescued horses.
We recently checked in with Last Stop, and that’s when they told us Benny’s story. Starved, emaciated and close to death, Benny arrived at Last Stop in August 2013. The four-year-old gelding showed clear signs of abuse and neglect, and was so weak that he could not stand on his own legs. The day of his arrival, he weighed just 562 pounds.
The staff at Last Stop spent several days trying to keep Benny standing, but ultimately, the best option was to place him in a sling hanging from a beam in the barn. At the recommendation of Dr. Ron Miles Benny was introduced to food slowly and in small amounts.
Slowly but surely, Benny gained strength. Over the 12 days that he was in the sling, Joyce says “we saw improvement each day with signs of brighter eyes, moving his feet more, and being able to consume more of the food that was being offered to him.” The team at Last Stop fed him every hour around the clock, setting an alarm to ensure that he got meals throughout the night as well.
After nearly two weeks in a sling, Benny stood for the first time on August 15. It was a joyous day for all involved.
It has now been over six months since Benny arrived at Last Stop. He currently weighs 930 pounds, and uses his newfound strength to gallop around the pasture with his fellow horses. Despite years of abuse and neglect, Joyce says, “Benny is our miracle boy. Food and love was all he needed.”
Stories like Benny’s are what inspired us to create National Help a Horse Day. All too often, these amazing animals are mistreated, neglected, or even sent to slaughter. The ASPCA is determined to spread education and activism on behalf of equines everywhere, and Benny is proof that every horse is worth helping. Looking back at Benny’s recovery, Joyce says, “This is what you have done for these horses with the grant from the ASPCA. Thank you!”
To see Benny in action, please watch Last Stop Horse Rescue’s video of his recovery. Be sure to visit our Help a Horse page for information about events in your community. The ASPCA is awarding $10,000 grants to the top five equine organizations whose events inspire the most community engagement and support.
We are happy to announce that the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today approved the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1406, by voice vote. This important step paves the way for an eventual floor vote in the Senate.
The PAST Act, introduced in the Senate by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), will amend the federal Horse Protection Act (HPA) to better protect horses from abusive “soring”—the practice of purposely inflicting severe pain in horses’ legs and hooves to force them into an unnatural, high-stepping gait (walk). Specifically, the PAST Act will improve inspections at Tennessee Walking Horse shows, increase penalties for soring a horse, and ban the use of cruel “action devices,” the heavy chains and stacked shoes that exacerbate the pain for sored horses.
A recently introduced “alternative” bill purports to address the problem of horse soring, but instead would have the effect of forever institutionalizing it. The alternative bill would do nothing to improve horse welfare—it would merely maintain the status quo. The ASPCA supports the PAST Act as the only Congressional bill that will make the reforms needed to end horse soring.
It is time to clean up the U.S. horse racing industry by passing the federal Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act (HISA), H.R. 2012/S. 973. Introduced by Representatives Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in the House, and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) in the Senate, this bill will ban performance-enhancing drugs in U.S. horse racing and designate the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as the governing body to create and oversee the implementation of uniform medication rules to protect horse welfare. The Jockey Club recently acknowledged the importance of this bill and agreed that the USADA “has the experience, the knowledge and the credibility to bring much-needed integrity to our sport.”
Great news! President Obama’s newly released FY 2015 budget proposal once again includes a request for Congress to block spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to inspect U.S. horse slaughter plants. If adopted, this prohibition would effectively ban horse slaughter on U.S. soil through September 2015 because only USDA-inspected meat can be sold for human consumption.
The President’s request reflects the will of the Congress, whose FY 2014 spending bill, passed in January, included the same language. (The inspection-defund language was initially introduced in the House and Senate by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) as an amendment to the FY 2014 Agriculture appropriations bill.) However, the FY 2014 spending bill expires this September, which is why it’s critical to get the measure extended via the FY 2015 budget.
“We are grateful to the White House and USDA for their continued leadership in ensuring that American horses are not slaughtered on our own soil for foreign demand, especially in light of the recent news from Europe about the horrors of discovering horse meat mixed with frozen lasagna and other meat products,” says Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations. “Wasting tax dollars on the cruelty of horse slaughter makes no sense, and we urge Congress to once again adopt this provision.”
Help us ensure that Capitol Hill hears the message to protect our horses, both here and abroad! The pro-slaughter industry will lobby intensely against this newest effort to prohibit federal dollars from being spent on horse slaughter, and our goal is to stop all American horses from experiencing the horrors of slaughter wherever it occurs, so we must continue to press for passage of the SAFE Act to ban horse slaughter permanently.