Indiana's role in the horse slaughter industry

The pickup truck on U.S. 20 drives slowly, its red cattle trailer veering back and forth over this two-lane highway. The cargo, three horses much too large for the container, struggle to keep their footing. A pickup truck on U.S. 20 hauls three horses in a cattle trailer to the Shipshewana auction.

As the trailer rocks, one horse's hind end rubs against the trailer doors, creating a blood-colored, burn-like wound. With every bump in the road, his haunches and shoulders hit the roof. His head is also forcibly lowered down to fit. Still, his drive to the Shipshewana auction will be better than the one to the slaughterhouse.

The Shipshewana Auction, Inc. in Shipshewana, Ind., holds a kill auction every Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. A kill auction is an auction for slaughter-bound horses whose meat will be sold overseas. It's termed a "loose auction" though it's common knowledge that the horses there are bought by buyers, called kill buyers, working for the three foreign-owned slaughterhouses operating in the United States. Horsemeat, a popular alternative to beef in the wake of mad cow disease, will be shipped to Italy, Belgium, France, Japan and Holland.

Toward the center of the huge, two-story auction barn, away from the small, seated, arena where work and saddle horses are auctioned, the horse with the bloodied dock stands among nearly 80 others crowded into five stalls. Thirteen to 17 horses of varied types are packed into side-by-side stalls approximately 10-by-40-feet. These are the kill pens.

The center stalls contain athletes - thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses - with shiny coats and shoed feet that click on the straw-covered concrete floor as they walk into the auction area. Unlike the horses on U.S. 20 this morning, these are delivered mid-week and/or in the middle of the night on back-roads so they're less likely to be seen.

The Indiana Board of Animal Health and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) would prefer the public believed horses sent to slaughter are past their prime.

The auctioneer at the Shipshewana kill auction rattles through bid amounts in the makeshift auction ring as the kill buyers inspect horses they'll send to the slaughter.

Most horses in the kill auction are healthy and young, with some on the fleshy side, some with braided manes and leather bridles. No evidence of food or water is present. Signs of dehydration exist in the animals - like sunken eyes and temples. Indiana law says horses at market for more than 24 hours must have access to food and water, but most of these horses will spend less time than that here. Profusely sweating and skittish, many of the horses are unquestionably nervous. A small horse, sandwiched among others, continuously kicks a draft horse in the neck and face with neither one being able to gain space despite their struggle.

Stall by stall, one horse at a time is ushered into a partitioned bend between a series of gated enclosures where the kill auction discreetly commences. The auctioneer sputters through bid amounts as most horses, identified by numbered white hip tags, bound about in the space encircled by vacant, stony buyers, seemingly unmoved by the scene.

"4X," he shouts, indicating the winning buyer's ID number. A woman tallying the sales furiously scribbles transaction details from a decked walkway above where a crowd, including children and Amish, watch the kill auction below. 4X's horses are then maneuvered by teen-aged handlers into another crowded stall no different than the kill pens they just left.

The athletes, possibly retired racehorses from the two Indiana tracks, Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park, were going for about $300. "That's a good one," the auctioneer says of one that sells for $470. The auctioneer's voice becomes unhurried as he eyes the buyers, saying, "Look at the hips on that mare," of a fat, regal, gray draft horse, her head held high. She's calm and seems deliberate with every step as she faces a kill buyer.

Bidding starts at $700. The slaughterhouse will get $20 per pound for her. That's nearly an $18 profit margin. Bulky draft horses are most sought after by the kill buyers who get 20-40 cents per pound from slaughterhouses; the best kill buyers get more.

Thirteen to 17 horses of varied types are packed into five side-by-side stalls approximately 10-by-40-feet. These are the kill pens.

Two horses sustaining injuries walk through. One, dirty, thin and disfigured from a leg break that healed poorly long ago, sells for $125. Disoriented and possibly sedated, the other ragged, swaybacked horse staggers with a limp and incessantly sways its head. He's given free to the kill buyer.

A hearty horse that follows prompts the auctioneer to joke, "Here's a walkin' horse! Look at him walkin'!" A woman in the crowd rescues the last horse up for bid, a mini, for $100.

Any horse can wind up in this kill auction. Quota contractors supply horses to the kill auctions to keep the slaughterhouse's dollars rolling in. They comb the state for horses they can get cheap to turn a quick, usually cash, profit. Because the horses can change hands many times before reaching a kill auction, their paper trail can vanish - that means ownership and health records. Auction records therefore don't always show quota buyers as owners. Horses can also be stolen.

It takes just under 30 minutes to sell the nearly 80 horses at the Shipshewana auction. That would average some 4,000 horses sent annually to slaughter from there alone. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service/USDA, 65,976 American horses were slaughtered for meat in 2004.

Kill horse rescue

Kimberly King, Fox 59 news reporter and meteorologist, at Indiana Downs in Shelbyville, Ind., where her volunteer efforts with CANTER Indiana give thoroughbred racehorses a second chance.

"We need this because we have a pretty big thoroughbred industry in Indiana," Kimberly King says of CANTER Indiana, a national nonprofit affiliate that provides retiring thoroughbreds with opportunities for new careers as hunters, jumpers, sport horses or beloved pets. The Fox 59 news reporter and meteorologist volunteers with CANTER (Communications Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) by walking the shed rows early every Saturday morning at Indiana Downs in Shelbyville, Ind., networking with trainers and owners and typically saying, "Would you like to find a new home for your horse? He's done racing." She explained, "We are purely a middle-man to give the trainer free advertising for the horse. We put the horse's picture on the Web and give the phone number of the trainer." Depending on how long a horse has been raced, thoroughbred prices range from $500 to the claiming price of a given track, which is $3,000 at Indiana Downs. CANTER receives no commission.

Hoosier Park, owned by Churchill Downs, has also recently partnered with CANTER Indiana. "We are thrilled to have both Indiana tracks as partners of CANTER," King says. "We have gotten a very good response. Initially ... they [trainers and owners] weren't that familiar with the program. Since we were coming down every Saturday, they got to know us." It didn't take long before they wanted to find their horses homes. King says they would tell her, "'His racing career is over and I don't want him to end up somewhere that's not humane.' That's the whole point of CANTER - transitioning them and giving them new careers off the track."

Jon Schuster, Indiana Downs general manager, agrees, saying in an e-mailed statement to NUVO: "Along with CANTER, Indiana Downs also feels that every horse deserves the opportunity to go into retirement as a pet or find a new career. The well-being of each horse is of great concern for both parties and CANTER is a great organization who we wish further success and welcome them to Indiana."

Horse rescue groups

Consider donating your horse to a therapeutic riding organization or equine rescue rather than selling it at auction. Report stolen horses to local and state authorities. Report abuse and neglect to a local animal control office and to law enforcement. Responsible horse ownership could mitigate the number of horses that ultimately wind up at kill auctions.

CANTER Indiana

765-779-4148, 317-966-1882


Indiana Horse Rescue

916 S Prairie Ave., Frankfort, Ind., 46041, 765-659-5209


$250-$750 adoption fees

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF)

450 Shrewsbury Plaza, Suite 351, Shrewsbury, N.J., 07702,


adoption fees: $500-$2,500; sponsor a TRF Retiree: $250 on up

Old Friends

411 Mill Road Place, Midway, Ky., 40347


$50 donors become part owner of thoroughbreds they rescue.

Indiana laws don't protect horses

Jim Bradford, city-county councilman (R), believes Indiana can protect horses from slaughter and improve care and treatment legislation.

Jim Bradford's love of horses was instilled at a young age. "My dad, he loved horses," City-County Councilman Bradford says of his father who passed away four years ago. "We always went to opening day at Churchill Downs," he reminisces, adding that advocating for horses is a way to pay tribute to his father.

Growing up, he rode ponies at Acorn Farm Camp in Carmel and worked at the harness racing track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds summers and weekends as a teen-ager.

When Bradford met Michael Blowen of Old Friends, a racehorse rescue organization in Lexington, Ky., "I started learning about slaughter and what happens to these old racehorses," he says. Old Friends rescues American racehorses shipped overseas for syndication and stud that ultimately wind up slaughtered for meat. Bradford's interest was also spurred by the slaughter of Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby and 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, in 2002 for meat in Japan. "It was such an outrage ... this wasn't going to happen again."

Bradford is creating a nonprofit comparable to Old Friends to rescue Indiana racehorses overseas and in the U.S.

"There are no laws that take care of these horses. Basically, they are livestock. I've gone to kill auctions in Indiana and found it very distressing," Bradford says. While attending the Rushville Horse Sale Co. Inc.'s horse auction this spring, he observed a sick horse that fell and remained on the ground. "Why wasn't there someone in that barn to make sure those horses don't hurt themselves or hurt somebody else? Obviously, no one was looking after them." The Rushville Horse Sales Co. Inc. in Rushville, Ind., conducts their auction every Tuesday at 4 p.m. though their auction license was terminated Feb. 28, 1998.

While horses serve predominantly as companion animals, they're considered livestock. Federal tax laws deem horse owners as farmers. If horses were no longer designated as livestock, federal and state taxes for horse operations would probably increase.

Bradford believes that if the public knew what was happening, laws would change. "We have a new governor who wants to make changes," he says of Mitch Daniels. "These horses are a product, a part of the economy." He hopes to have a dialogue with Daniels and state legislators about the welfare of Indiana's horses. He would like to see double deck trailers used to transport horses and kill auctions ended. "To basically outlaw the slaughter ... of horses for human consumption, that's my goal."

He explains that legislative efforts advocating for horses in New York have been futile, winding up in the hands of agricultural committees. "In Indiana, we've got a great opportunity" to make change, he says. "If we want to be involved in thoroughbred racing, then it's our obligation. Indiana can be the first state to say if we're going to breed a horse here, we're going to make sure those horses are retired and taken care of. We need to push legislation."

Bradford would like to see stricter guidelines for obtaining auction licenses and permits, and see the Indiana Board of Animal Health enforce inspections.

"If the criteria are vague and loose, then we need to make sure they are outlined enough so that the horses are being better taken care of, that you're going to give these horses enough space at auction barns."

Horse auctions

The Rushville Horse Sales Co. Inc. in Rushville, Ind., conducts their auction every Tuesday at 4 p.m. though their auction license was terminated Feb. 28, 1998.

The Veedersburg Sale Barn, Inc.,

100 S. Maple St

Veedersburg, Ind.


The Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market

345 S. Van Buren St.

Shipshewana, Ind.


Slaughter subculture

A double deck truck sits on the Shipshewana auction's lot.

On Sept. 15, 2004, a double deck truck carrying approximately 50 horses flipped over on Indiana S.R. 1 just north of Lawrenceburg. While going around a turn, the vehicle slid, hit the guardrail, then plowed over the embankment. It's not uncommon for trucks to use this route to avoid the weigh scales on I-74, and to avoid Ohio gas taxes.

Twenty-one horses died and 12 were euthanized on site. According to eyewitness accounts, quarter horses, a team of draft horses and horses with show braids were among the survivors. Some horses had their withers worn raw from rubbing against the truck during travel while another with a broken leg wanted to graze. One lucky horse was sold at the scene. It's not known if these horses came from an Indiana auction or whether they were going to slaughter. Young and thirsty, they weren't unlike those slaughter bound.

Intended for transport of cattle and hogs, double deck compartments are too small for horses. Ceiling heights are as low as 5-foot-7, while most horses are 7 to 8 feet tall. Double deck trailers also allow urine and feces from the horses on the upper deck to fall onto the horses in the lower deck. Trailers are dangerous when weight is unevenly distributed (as evidenced in the Lawrenceburg accident and others) and top decks have been known to collapse.

Double deck trucks containing horses travel Indiana back roads at night, a tactic to keep Indiana's role in the horse slaughter industry under the public's and law enforcement's radar. From the Veedersburg kill auction (see sidebar), trucks drive U.S. 41 north to get to the Cavel horse slaughterhouse in DeKalb, Ill. Drivers heading from the Shipshewana auction with their double deck trucks need only U.S. 20 to start their drive to Canadian slaughterhouses.

On Dec. 7, 2001, the USDA passed a bill that will go into effect in 2007, banning the use of double deck trailers for use in transporting horses directly to slaughter - but not for horses traveling elsewhere.

Sen. Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne) proposed legislation in S.B. 86 in 2002 prohibiting double deck transport of horses. Had it been enacted, it would have created criminal penalties for those who transport horses in a vehicle having two or more levels stacked on top of one another, and that does not allow the horse to be transported in a standing position with its head in a normal upright position.

The bill's biggest opponent was state Rep. Bob Cherry (R-Hancock County), director of local government affairs (former lobbyist until his 1998 appointment) for Farm Bureau.

Lousy laws

Indiana has no laws regulating transporting or living space requirements for horses.

Federal law requires they have access to food, water and rest for a minimum of six hours immediately before loading into a conveyance. Slaughter drivers sign a USDA form, VS Form 10-13, to that effect, though the form is said by the Indiana Board of Animal Health to be used primarily to track disease outbreaks rather than enforce care and treatment accountability. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, a horse's daily water requirement varies from 5 to 20 gallons.

An amendment made to the 2005 Federal Appropriations Bill by Sen. Burns (R-Mont.) last November has allowed the commercial sale of wild horses, allowing individuals and corporations to buy wild horses with the intention of slaughtering them for profit. On Jan. 25, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) introduced H.R. 297, to repeal the Burns Amendment, restoring protection of America's wild horses. Comparably, a bill to restore the prohibition on the commercial sale and slaughter of wild free-roaming horses and burros was introduced March 9, 2005, by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.V.).

The U.S. House of Representatives on June 8, 2005, voted in favor of stopping horse slaughter in the United States by a 269-158 landslide vote, House Amendment 236 of H.R. 2744, to bar federal funds from being used to facilitate all horse slaughter. Because it's attached to an annual spending bill it will only stop horse slaughter for one year. However, it demonstrates strong congressional support for a permanent ban that can be achieved through H.R. 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, sponsored by representative John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), who also sponsored the amendment. Joining him on both measures are U.S. Reps. John Spratt (D-S.C.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.V.). H.R. 503 reads, "To amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes." The equine industry supports this bill, including National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Breeders Cup, Ltd.

Contact your local congressman regarding H.R. 503; visit

Until horses are presented for slaughter for human consumption (food animal), they are classified as a "companion animal" and are not subject to the regulations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Conscious citizenry

Denise Derrer, public information director of the State of Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) says, "We do at least at minimum an annual inspection," regarding the frequency with which the agency visits livestock auctions.

"We're not there at every auction or every week by any means, but we're there on a regular basis just for other business or other investigations. In addition, particularly at Shipshewana, the U.S. Department of Agriculture folks are there because of other inspection programs going on, particularly in cattle."

How often does the USDA inspect Indiana horse auctions? "I don't know," Derrer says.

The chain of custody and accountability for horse welfare and what agency should be enforcing abuses is difficult to decipher.

"Now, abuse and neglect of horses is against state law," Derrer explains. "Under state law, interpretation and enforcing that law has to be done at the local law enforcement level." Every county has its own neglect ordinances. "There's not infinite resources to follow every horse trailer moving on every county road. We have four animal health inspectors covering the whole state with vet staff on top of that. We just don't have the enforcement authority ... even if we saw something."

Why don't we eat horsemeat?

Common equine parasitic drugs like Quest and Equimax have labels that read, "Do not use in horses or ponies intended for food," and, "Not for human consumption." When drugs, like the concentrated hormone Lutalyse, wear off, wouldn't there still be a concentration of those and other drugs in the horse's blood stream and a residual content in their tissue?

Amanda Eamich, Congressional and Public Affairs, Food and Safety Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, tells NUVO, "The Food and Drug Administration approves drugs used on animals. Many carry a mandatory withdrawal period, which is verified by an ongoing residue testing program."

How is it that France and Japan allow horsemeat from the U.S. to be consumed? She answers, "FSIS conducts a monitoring program, sampling a certain percentage of horses presented for slaughter for residues. In addition, the European Union [EU] established a residue testing program that is carried out by horse slaughter establishments. The EU audited horse slaughterhouses in 2005 and all results were acceptable."

In the United States, "Horse meat can be used in dog food. It is also purchased by zoos," she adds.

VS Form 10-13 is a form that horse slaughter transport drivers sign off on ensuring that horses have had access to food, water and rest for a minimum of six hours before being loaded onto a conveyance in addition to other care standards. Falsified information can result in fines or imprisonment. The BOAH said the form was used to track disease outbreaks as well. Eamich offers, "The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS] administers and enforces form VS 10-13 ensuring that animals are transported in a safe and humane manner. FSIS also ensures the humane handling and treatment of horses, which are an amenable species, as required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act."

The question, "Why don't we eat horse meat in the U.S.?" was left unanswered.

Slaughterhouse operators render horses unconscious with stun guns (designed for cattle) that send a 4-inch nail into their heads. The Humane Slaughter Act requires that an animal be rendered unconscious by a single blow, but with horses it can require more. Shackled, hoisted into the air, their throats are cut to be bled before being dismembered into steaks.

After the auction

The auctioneer's voice constantly rattles through bids. "Hundred and a quarter," he bellows jumping right into the bids for the next horse.

"One-eighty," he says of the selling price of $180 for a chestnut colored horse with the next few horses going for under $200.

"Hundred and a quarter," he shouts of another winning bid amount over the eerie shrill of a high-spirited horse's constant neighing.

It elevates to such a high pitch it sounds like a child's scream, drowning out the auctioneer not 15 feet away. The horse paces in its spot where he's tied up. Pulling at the rope that tethers him, he repeatedly walks backward, lifting his front legs to get leverage to fight the rope. His eyes are huge. His "flight" behavior is symptomatic of his fear, and his journey is only beginning.

Sitting openly on the Shipshe-wana auction's lot is a double deck trailer. All the day's auctions will end and the public will go home before 4X's horses are loaded on to it. Dusk will settle in by the time this happens, so no one will see.

Recommended reading

After the Finish Line by Bill Heller

Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz