The Truth About Kill Pen Bail-Outs

Black and white horse running

Equine “kill pen bail-outs” are deceitful operations that buy and sell horses, placing profit over the horses’ well-being. Kill pen buyers that participate in bail-outs are defined as those who acquire horses, then market them to the public as crisis cases, claiming they will be sent to slaughter by a specified date if they are not “rescued” through payment of a fee, commonly referred to as “bail.”

Purchasing horses from equine kill pens through bail-out schemes is not an effective way to help horses, and actually makes genuine humane interventions more difficult.

Kill pen bail-out operations claim that their horses will be sent to slaughter on a certain date to deceive consumers and potential rescuers, creating a false sense of urgency that results in payment of the high bail-out fees that fund the kill buyers’ operations. These artificial emergencies are designed to prey on the public’s emotions.

Despite their claims to the contrary, it is not true that kill pen bail-out operations will always send horses to slaughter if they fail to be “rescued” via a “bail-out.” That would be financially unsustainable. Horses in this population are often sold at or above meat price, and combined with the costs of international transport, any attempt to sell these horses to slaughterhouses for meat would generally result in a financial loss. 

As well-intentioned as the practice of “saving” an at-risk horse might seem on the surface, in reality, participation in the bail-out scheme actually fuels the cruel practice of horse slaughter that we seek to eliminate. Please read on to learn why.

How It Works

An international market for horse meat drives the export and slaughter of American equines in Mexico and Canada. Some horses are purchased by kill buyers and sent directly to slaughter. Other horses are posted for sale, typically online, with urgent messaging encouraging the public to “save” them from the slaughterhouse by paying a “bail” price. (It’s telling that these bail prices can be markedly higher than what that horse would cost were his sale handled ethically.) Payment of this “bail” price provides significant profit for the kill buyer, which further funds their slaughter-brokerage business. They will continue to purchase more horses; some to be sold via bail-outs, and others who will be sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

In offering horses for bail-out, buyers often employ a “ship-to-slaughter” date as a ticking clock, a scare tactic to dupe well-intentioned people into paying the sums demanded. As long as there is a profit to be made through deceptive bail-out schemes, more horses will fall victim and be shipped to slaughter.

The Danger of “Bail-Outs”

These bail-out operations fuel the slaughter industry, lining the pockets of buyers who then purchase even more horses for slaughter. They also endanger the health of every horse who enters the facility: Kill buyers who participate in bail-outs rarely practice good horse health and disease management procedures at their facilities. Both healthy and unhealthy horses are sourced from auctions, and buyers often mix horses from many different backgrounds together without testing or quarantine. It is common for horses purchased from bail-out situations to arrive at their new locations sick, injured, stressed, capable of spreading disease and/or in need of veterinary attention and isolation. This leads to unnecessary suffering for the affected animals, both while at the kill pen and during or after shipping to their next location, and puts more horses at risk of disease and discomfort at any location to which these horses travel.

Additionally, horses with injuries and lameness often don’t receive vital medical care, causing unnecessary pain and suffering. The high stress of kill pens also places these horses at higher risk for physical and behavioral challenges. In fact, another aspect of this predatory scheme is that kill buyers have little incentive to provide better care, because the horses who are suffering and injured will likely inspire more urgency in the appeals for a compassionate person to “bail” them at inflated prices.  Individuals or rescues who bail horses from kill pens frequently then must bear significant, unforeseen costs—beyond the bail price—to get the horses healthy.


By participating in these malicious bail-outs, well-intentioned buyers inadvertently provide kill buyers with much higher profits, which they then can use to send more horses to slaughter. This system also diverts precious resources from legitimate welfare efforts.

To truly help horses in need, we encourage you to utilize the resources shared by the ASPCA, adopt from our partner organizations, advocate to end slaughter, and support intervention long before horses are in the hands of kill buyers.

Additional Information

How to Identify a Kill Pen Bail-Out Program

Kill pens operating bail-out programs may refer to themselves as “kill lots,” “bail-outs,” “rescue pens,” or other related terms. They may be connected to legitimate livestock/equine auctions, or may be standalone operations masquerading as livestock auctions. They understand the public’s desire to help horses, and sometimes promote themselves as horse rescues to capitalize on that desire. They maximize their profit by misleading the public, so it’s important to carefully assess any new “rescue” group with which you interact.

Kill buyers that participate in bail-outs may or may not be registered as non-profits, so corporate structure alone is not a reliable indicator. The language used by the entity in question, however, can be a telltale sign.

  • Kill pen buyers that participate in bail-outs frequently indicate they will ship a horse to slaughter if he or she is not purchased or adopted by a given date. A reputable adoption group will never send their horses to slaughter or pressure an adopter to choose a horse that may not be suitable for them.
  • They may refer to or encourage fundraising to acquire money for “bail” prices.
  • Additionally, kill pen bail-outs may try to upsell medical services for an additional price— indicating that the horses are not already receiving proper medical care, quarantine, deworming and vaccinations.
  • Kill pens do not offer new horse owners support or safety-net services for the horse. This is contrary to how legitimate adoptions work.

A reputable rehoming group will prioritize equine care, provide healthcare-related services on intake, and take horses back into their program should they ever need a safe place to land.

If you’re unsure of how to find a reputable adoption group, you can always choose to adopt from one of our The Right Horse partner organizations. There are many horses who are looking for their next homes, and each adoption through one of these partners will help secure more opportunities for horses in need.

How to Help At-Risk Horses 

If you’re an individual interested in equine adoption and have been tempted by a bail-out scheme, please know that we get it! We understand the emotion involved, and how very difficult it is to resist trying to help the horses marketed through these bail-out schemes—we feel just the same way. It is important that we realize that resources are limited, and the most effective way to help horses is to provide assistance before they land in a kill pen. There are plenty of horses in need who could use a helping hand before they enter the kill pen pipeline; horses who are in legitimate shelters and rehoming facilities around the country. By adopting a horse from one of these organizations, you are not only saving that horse, you are making room at the shelter for another horse to be saved. Further, when you adopt from a reputable organization you are not contributing to the profitability of kill-buying and horse slaughter.

If you’re looking to help horses in your community, we commend you. We encourage you to avoid acquiring (or supporting the acquisition of) horses from kill pens’ deceitful bail-out schemes, and to educate your fellow equine professionals and advocates by sharing this information. Furthermore, we encourage you to adopt directly from a reputable organization. When you choose to adopt, you support humane and sustainable efforts and help multiple horses by providing rehoming organizations with space, time, and funding to help additional horses in need. When you buy from a kill buyer, you essentially fund the very practice you seek to eliminate and put additional horses in harm’s way.

If you’re an equine adoption group looking to sustainably help horses, we encourage you to find ways to help horses in your community before they ever end up in the hands of a kill buyer, and to direct your hard-earned financial resources to more ethical uses. Check out the resources ASPCApro has developed for equine shelters and rescues.

If you would like to help us advocate to end horse slaughter, join our Horse Action Team here. We are actively promoting legislative solutions that will bring an end to the slaughter of American horses, and you can help us achieve that goal.

We should focus our collective resources toward groups that don’t inadvertently fund the slaughter pipeline, and instead obtain their horses from pre-pipeline sources. Ideally, equines in need of a new home can go directly from the owner who can no longer keep the horse into the adoption facility that can rehome them. That way, the horse’s history is better documented, medical needs are met, and we can support their physical and emotional health during their transition.