Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is home to the largest weekly horse auction east of the Mississippi averaging close to 200 horses per week with a large number of horses purchased by agents for foreign owned horse slaughterhouses located in Illinois, Canada and Texas. But Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is not alone, North Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and New York also have horse auctions known as "meat sales" or "killer sales" and frequented by "killer buyers".
All across the United States there are low end horse auctions where
horse dealers buy and sell all types of horses every day of the week.
These auctions have several things in common. They require no proof
of ownership, no health certificates, no Coggins Tests unless required
by state law, in which case the auction then has a vet present to
draw blood for the test for Equine Infectious Anemia. The horses are
usually kept tied side by side, often breaking loose, or they are
herded or forced into overcrowded pens where fights break out and
horses are injured. The availability of water and/or hay is usually
Amazingly sick and injured horses are sold, even if a vet is on site.
The crowd will often laugh and make jokes about a sick, injured, or
neglected horse. Once in awhile a concerned citizen will make a fuss.
People interested in "rescuing" a horse will pick through
the sick, neglected, and injured. Rarely, if ever, does anybody make
the effort to call law enforcement and report the abuse. If law enforcement,
usually some sort of humane society police officer is reached, they
refuse to respond or simply state, often inaccurately, that there
is anything that can be done.
Accepted horse industry management practices are usually non-existent
and violations of local, state, and federal laws are common.
The Horses, Where do They Come From?
Horses of all descriptions are brought to these sales by dealers and private owners. Former Thoroughbred racehorses that are injured or too slow are shipped directly from racetracks, still wearing their racing plates. The PA and OH sales receive horses from such tracks as Penn National, Philadelphia Park, Delaware Park, and Mountaineer Park.
Former Standardbred racehorses that were used by the Amish as buggy horses are sold, often lame and injured from too many miles on paved roads. Standardbred broodmares are consigned by Standardbred breeding farms when they are no longer productive.
Draft horses are consigned by their Amish owners due to injury, old age or failure to work. Many bear open wounds or scars around their necks. Locals refer to this as the, "Amish Necklace". Former New York City and Philadelphia carriage horses find their way to the Lancaster PA horse auction. Mules used by the Amish, many with open sores from ill fitting or dirty harness. Hooves caked in manure & suffering from thrush.
Camp horses ridden and loved by children on summer vacation. Many are lamed from improper care by the summer camp that leased them. Many are thin and bear saddle sores.
Ponies abound, often with overgrown hooves. Brought to the auction for numerous reasons. Children have lost interest or outgrown the pony, behavior problems.
Riding horses in all shapes and sizes. Brought to the sale for various reasons. Owners lost interest, end of the riding season, behavioral problems, divorce, family is relocating or any other reason that an owner may have for no longer wanting to own a horse.
Conditions at the Sale
Often the sale facilities are lacking in the very basics of accepted equine or horse industry facilities standards and management practices.
- Water is often non-existent or filthy;
- Hay is unavailable, or not made available in sufficient quantities to prevent fighting, and/or of a quality not acceptable for horses;
- Bedding is filthy, non-existent or too sparse to make a difference;
- Incompatible horses are tied next to each other or are turned loose in pens to work out a pecking order after being sold to the "killers";
- Pens are often overcrowded, have 90 degree corners that can trap a less aggressive horse and/or have dangerous protrusions such as broken boards, nails & trash;
- Horses are needlessly whipped or beaten in the "ring";
- Horses are accepted for sale without the health paperwork as required by law;
- Consignors, dealers, & shippers are not required to produce a valid driver's license with photo to prove true identification and address;
- Proof of ownership of horse is not required, facilitating sale of stolen horses;
- Complete and accurate description of horses consigned is not recorded-facilitating sale of stolen horses and hampering identification of horses; Employees are not skilled in handling horses, instead the use of brute force such as whips, electric cattle prods & any other blunt object is used to move horses;
Trailers at these sales are in all shapes and sizes. The low end dealers' trailers have one thing in common. The trailers are filthy, the floors are often covered in manure. The trailers often lack rubber mats. Bedding is non-existent, the only visible material on the floor of the trailers is several inches of manure.
The "killer buyers" will often have tractor trailers. Some are double decker cattle trailers designed to transport cattle and hogs, not horses. Or the "killer buyers" will bring their trailers in after the public has left. The loading of the "killer horses" onto the trailers, whether single tier or double tiers is almost always accomplished with whips, electric cattle prods, and yelling. The "killers" are well aware that what they are doing is not accepted equine industry management practice and like any other criminal elect to commit their crimes under the cover of darkness.
Often secreted away in trailers are horses in deplorable condition, left on the trailer so as not to be visible to the public. A private deal is then made between the dealer and the "killer buyer". This is illegal in PA. No sales are allowed in the parking lot or on the roads surrounding a livestock market.
The "Killer Buyers"
"Killer buyers" frequent several other sales held on a weekly or monthly basis in PA and other states. Horse dealers from all over the United States bring horses to these sales, often without the health papers that are required by law. Stolen horses are easily disposed of at these low end auctions, sometimes with the knowledge of the auction owners themselves. A case in point is the stolen mare Idaho, sold at a TN horse auction by Schuffler, later convicted of stealing her, and purchased by the auction owner. When the auction owner realized the mare was stolen, instead of reporting this to law enforcement and contacting the rightful owners of the horse, the auction owner contacted the thief to come & get the stolen mare! The USDA which licenses livestock markets never took any action against this livestock market. More stolen horses have been sold through this auction.
Fate of Horses Purchased by "the killers"
The horses purchased by the "killer buyers" are slaughtered for human consumption overseas in Europe and Japan. Horses purchased for slaughter are often transported in double deck cattle trailers designed to transport cattle and hogs. Trailers designed for cattle and hogs do not meet equine industry standards for vehicles used to transport horses. This, in conjunction with overcrowding and a lack of segregation often cause injury and even death to the horses being transported. The lack of food, water and rest contribute to the arduous journey, making it especially inhumane for blind, sick, injured, and/or the very young and the very old. Enforcement is needed at the point of loading to effectively end this cruel and inhumane transport.
The EPN's Position
Blind, sick, and injured horses should not be forced to endure more suffering so their owner can put a few dollars in their pocket and destroy the evidence of their neglect and irresponsibility. Irresponsible breeders should not profit from their lack of responsibility by sending a pregnant mare, or foal to slaughter.
What Can We Do?
More in depth options are discussed in the Rescue section.
Provide owners another option besides sale at slaughter auctions. There are several racehorse adoption programs such as, CANTER, CERF, Equine Transitional Training Alliance, Harness Horse Retirement & Youth Association, ReRun, Standardbred Retirement Foundation, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and the United Pegasus Foundation to just name a few, that accept the donation of retired racehorses and retrain them for other careers.
The continued racing of horses until they become unsound and unusable for other careers is a prime reason why racehorses end up going to slaughter. The racing industry has to take responsibility. Lower end racetracks with purses so small that even winning racehorses cannot earn their keep, funnel horses into the slaughter sales.
The continued racing of horses that are unsound produces very young horses that end up being "worthless cripples". The reality is there are not enough homes or sanctuaries for 3, 4, 5 & 6 year old horses that are unsound. Why not quit with these horses before they reach this point? When racehorses are injured, it is the responsibility of the owner to care for that horse, not sell it at a low end "meat sale". In PA and in several other states, it is illegal to offer a lame or debilitated horse for sale. Owners and trainers that sell injured horses need to be disciplined by the racing industry. These owners and trainers do an injustice to the entire industry and to the noble and gallant horse that we all love and admire.
So what is an owner to do?
Care for that horse until it is sound and can legally be sold;
Donate the horse to a non-profit horse welfare organization;
Euthanise the horse- yes the horse's life is ended. But the horse dies a peaceful death, not a death filled with pain and terror at a slaughterhouse after being transported to a sale, sold through the ring and then transported to a holding facility until a full load is gathered and then finally transported to a slaughterhouse, hundreds or thousands of miles away.
If a racehorse owner cannot afford to euthanise their horse, then they have no business being in the "sport of kings".
Sick, Lame & Debilitated Horses
In PA and in several other states it is illegal to offer for sale a horse in this condition. Why? Obviously due to the fact the people of these states realized that it is immoral and wrong to profit from the pain and suffering of a horse! These laws are on the books because the people, represented by their respective state legislature wanted the laws passed.
Many of the laws in this country are based on our cultural and social values, and one would hope based on the viewpoint of the majority of the people. Sadly there often loopholes in the law put there by groups who had enough money to influence the legislature.
The bottom line then is that it is an owner's responsibility to care for their horse. If your horse becomes sick or injured and you cannot afford veterinarian care to rehabilitate the horse, or the prognosis is poor, then an owner euthanises the horse. Responsible horse owners do it all the time. Many, many horse owners are unable to afford the surgery to repair a broken leg or a twisted intestine. Or if they are able to afford the surgery and aftercare, but cannot afford to have a companion horse, they choose to have the horse euthanised. Responsible horse owners do it all the time. And they find a means to dispose of the body. They do not ship a horse with a broken leg to a "meat auction" because they cannot find a means to dispose of the carcass.
The problem at PA horse auctions has been the fact that law enforcement has refused to enforce PA's anti-cruelty law, Title 18, Section 5511(d). Requests to enforce the law have been brushed off with excuses ranging from:
- Officer unable to locate the horse;
- No officers available;
- No vet would respond, no vet available;
- Horse is standing on all four feet;
- Horse has already been sold;
- The horse was sold privately;
- Horse is not being sold, horse is being "given/donated" to the "killers";
- According to the vet, the horse, "can make the trip";
- Horse welfare organization or individual is taking/purchasing the horse;
Cruelty Charges Filed, Defendants Convicted
The EPN's position since 1996 has been that the PA anti cruelty law, Title 18, Section 5511(d) & (e) is being violated at PA horse auctions. The EPN has strongly believed that this law could be successfully enforced. The EPN was provided with excuse after excuse as to why this law could not be enforced or was not being broken.
The EPN also believed that the New York law banning double deckers, on the books since 1980 needed & could be enforced. Regarding the NY law, the EPN contacted the New York State Police, NYSP. The NYSP responded and arrest after arrest followed.
The PA law was much harder. The EPN complained to the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane League of Lancaster County, the PA SPCA, and the New Holland Police Department to no avail. We called the media, showing them pictures of the horses in deplorable conditions. Still no enforcement, still no changes. We turned to the Internet and put our documentation up for the world to see. Backed by accepted horse industry management practices & photographs demonstrating the starved and neglected conditions of the horses at these sales the EPN started to get results.
In July 1998 the PA State Police, PSP, made an appearance at the New Holland Sales Stables. Arrests were made. In 1999 the PSP stepped up enforcement efforts at the sales. In September 1999, the PA State Police started filing cruelty charges against dealers/shippers and owners of sick, lame and debilitated horses transported and offered for sale at the New Holland Sales Stables in violation of Title 18, 5511(d).
In addition the PA State Police, PSP, were enforcing the PA law on Coggins Tests for horses coming into PA, licensing of dealers and haulers, and motor vehicle safety laws.
In the end it was the PA State Police responding to legitimate complaints regarding alleged crimes being committed at these sales that turned the tide. Arrests were made that resulted in convictions. More than one dealer was taken out of New Holland Sales Stables in handcuffs. Some have ended up with criminal records, mug shots & their fingerprints on record.
At the same time the New York State Police had stepped up their enforcement of their law banning double deckers, NY Ag & Markets, Section 359-a. Arrests and convictions followed on top of each other. Finally, after 18 years on the books, the NY law was being enforced.
The PSP were doing such a good job though and finding so many violations that the livestock markets complained to the PA Department of Agriculture, PDA, and to the Vice Chairman of the PA Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee, Senator Wenger from the town of New Holland, PA. The livestock markets' and dealers' complaints? We are being "picked on".
No wonder the livestock markets wanted the PSP gone. Not long after the PSP made their first appearance at the sale, a vet was hired. The horses were tied in the kill pens, instead of being allowed to fight. (After the public is gone, the horses are turned loose & the fighting begins.)
Later the New Holland Police Department, NHPD and the Large Animal Protection Society, LAPS, also filed charges that resulted in several convictions, including the maximum fine being imposed by District Justice Rodney Hartman in the case prosecuted by LAPS. As far as the EPN is aware, that is the first time the maximum fine was imposed in a horse cruelty case involving a horse sold at New Holland.
The compromise was that the PA SPCA would monitor the sale in agreement with the New Holland Sales Stables & the Middleburg Livestock auction. In the year and a half that the PA SPCA has been monitoring the sales on a weekly basis, only 6 people have been charged. The charges were Title 18, 5511(d) & (e) and involved the transporting and offering for sale of 5 horses.
By comparison the PSP,the NHPD,and LAPS have brought 5 charges against 5 defendants involving 5 horses, all resulting in convictions. LAPS responded to one call, the NHPD responded to 5 calls and the PSP to one complaint involving cruelty. Why the discrepancy?
In many instances as long as the horse was being purchased by an equine welfare organization or individual, the PA SPCA has allowed the transport & sale of the horse(s) to continue. A horse with a broken pelvis, horses with broken legs, horses that scored a "2" or less on the Henneke Body Scoring Condition Chart, horses with respirations exceeding 50 breaths per minute while at rest, and other horses that were later euthanised have all been allowed to be sold or transported to or from the sale with no charges filed. Why?
While the conditions at PA horse auctions have improved, and cruelty charges are being filed by the PA SPCA that are resulting in convictions, the EPN still strongly believes that many more cases of cruelty at the PA horses sales are going unpunished. The EPN will continue to press for stepped up enforcement.
The EPN has made a difference at PA horse auctions, and we know you can make a difference at other auctions across the United States. It takes time, dedication and money. We need your support to conduct the investigations that will expose the cruelty.
Anytime a horse is purchased at an auction
that is sick, neglected, or injured,
you must immediately transport the horse
to a facility where the horse can be examined by an equine vet.
Photographs must be taken documenting the condition of the horse.
Bloodwork must be run to document dehydration, muscle wasting, and
any failure of body organ systems. Fecals must be run to document
the parasite load. Radiographs must be taken to document any broken
bones. All of this evidence of the horse's condition MUST be done
immediately after the horse is purchased! Not the next day after
the evidence of dehydration has been destroyed. If that means paying
for an emergency farm call, then so be it. The rules of the game
require that the evidence be collected and preserved immediately,
not a day or two days later.
Once exposed we can press for the enforcement of current laws or advocate for the passage of legislation that will put an end to deplorable conditions that far too many American horses are forced to endure.