Last night on HBO's program "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble" (Episode 134) a segment aired about the issue of horse slaughter. The segment ran about 15 minutes and was well done. For those who were unable to watch the show, I thought I would share what the show said. I do want to say that the show had VERY graphic scenes and while I will try in my description of the show to be sensitive, the topic is far from being a tame one and not everything can be sugar coated.
The segment was called Running for Their Lives, produced by Joe Perskle, edited by Tres Driscoll and narrated by Bernard Goldberg. The intro by Bryant talked about the death of Eight Belles (the filly who came in second at this year's Kentucky Derby that broke down after the race and was euthanized on the track). Bryant said that those concerned with the welfare of horses should look beyond the tack because while a "handful" break down many more horses face a different and much crueler fate when racing is done with them.
The opening sequence and much of the segment was shot in West Virginia at Mountaineer Park. In the barn area a black trailer pulls in, heading for the stable of a horse who had raced there a few days ago, it's last race. Bernard Goldberg tells us that this is the story of horses who run for their lives literally, where thousands of Thoroughbreds become somebody's dinner.
The scene moves to Becky Care, who quotes the slaughter industry's favorite saying, "Stable to table in 7 days". Ms. Care previously worked as an assistant to trainers at race tracks and specifically Mountaineer, but now runs a rescue for horses. What she saw drove her out of the business. She says that a horse that can't win races and doesn't win enough money is worthless and they "want it gone". She says that a "meat man" (known by this name because the horses he buys ends up slaughtered for their meat) visits the track every week looking to buy horses "on the cheap". Ms. Care said that the trainer she worked for sold horses to the meat man regularly, even though she tried to place them. She said that handing a horse to them was like handing it off to the grim reaper.
The show then shows a race in which a filly named No Day Off ran. She came in fourth in the race, which wasn't good enough because the meat man is there to see her. They filmed with hidden cameras the horse being loaded on the trailer. The horse refuses and is beaten by her trainer until she enters the trailer. No Day Off is 4 years old and they ask the trainer why she is being sold and he says she just "don't run too good". The next day she is taken to the Sugarcreek auction. No Day Off exits the trailer first, followed by other horses from the track and enters the kill pen. In the pen horses are shown fighting and in overcrowded conditions. They also show a weak horse down, left for dead, while the others are sold off to their deaths. Ms. Care tries to buy horses from the auction and has often been outbid by the kill buyers. Unfortunately, nobody is able to save No Day Off and she is sold to a kill buyer for $425. She is packed into a double decker trailer and sent to the slaughter house.
The segment then shows the slaughter video where one of the horses is hit with the bolt gun at least 5 times and a horse fights having it's throat slit. The show states that one week they are treated like kings and the next week they are a meal. Stable to table in 7 days. Mr Gold berg talks about the closing of the slaughter plants in the United States saying that was good news for American horses, the bad news is that now horses are crammed into double decker trailers where they are shipped thousands of miles on trips that last day and night to go across the border to slaughter plants. They then show a Canadian plant where they use a 22 rifle and a Mexican plant where they stab at the horses with knives. When the worker finally severs the spinal cord of the horse, he is applauded.
Mr. Goldberg returned to Mountaineer after No Day Off is slaughtered to speak to the trainer who sold her. The trainer says that he doesn't know what happens to the horses he sells and that he prefers not to know. Mr Goldberg tells him that No Day Off went to the slaughterhouse, the trainer doesn't look surprised. However, apparently he didn't like being told because security shows up and tells them to quit filming and that they must turn over the tape to him or erase it. He even refuses to allow them to leave until he is given tape. The tape he got was blank, which they found out later and they left with the real footage of what goes on at the track. (Personally I think they should have called police because they were restrained and prevented from leaving which is a crime.)
The next part shows Christy Sheidy from Another Chance for Horses. She shows Mr Goldberg a horse that she found at auction. When she called in to find out about him everyone was shocked and said she couldn't have found him at auction. It was Little Cliff, two years ago he was a Kentucky Derby contender and he had won over $200K in purses. In March he ran a little too slow and was sold to a meat man for a few hundred dollars. It turns out that Little Cliff had just missed the truck heading to the slaughter plant. Mr Goldberg and crew follow Christy to an auction where they save a dozen horses with funds from an online group. They buy a nice looking paint horse from a kill buyer who jacks up the price from what he paid a few minutes earlier. He paid $475 and sold him for $525. After the auction Sheidy says "You bred it, you own it, you raced it, you destroyed it so you euthanize it or put it in a home". She calls it a "compromise of ethics, integrity and responsibility". Last year AC4H placed over 200 horses and they say that the horses are in demand. Becky Care agrees saying she has never had one she was unable to place in a new home.
Sheidy says that she wonders about the horse who was standing next to Little Cliff, what his story was and who owned him. Mr Goldberg says that "We do know one thing about who was standing next to him". Sheidy finishes the thought "He's no longer here".
Gumble and Goldberg talk about the segment saying it was shot at Mountaineer Race Track. Gumble asks if most tracks have a meat man to which Goldberg responds yes that the track is like most others. They talk about it being practical that horses do have to be sold. Gumble asks if there are standards for retiring a horse or disposing of one. Goldberg responds that it is private property and that it isn't illegal to sell them to whoever. he does mention that some tracks, like greyhound tracks, have a retirement/adoption program. Goldberg says that although many people may want horses, there are limits like for those living in apartments. He also says that "some may disagree, but you can't adopt out every horse in America". Then Goldberg does mention the pending bills in Congress that would ban the transportation of horses to slaughter for human consumption.
I found the show to be pretty fair and balanced. Although it didn't cover all the issues and failed to mention the bills by name or number.