I’m a part-time vegetarian. That means I’m an omnivore but heavy on the herbivore side. In other words, my heart prefers non-meat foods, but my carnivorous soul requires consuming something with legs. It’s kind of gross when I think about it.
It felt even more unpleasant when around last Thanksgiving President Obama legalized horse meat for human consumption. And the bill that legalized horse meat–soon to be featured at your local grocery store–was something both Democrats and Republicans agreed upon! Like the linked news piece said, “Essentially, one turkey was pardoned in the presence of worldwide media while in the shadows, buried under pages of fiscal regulation, millions of horses were sentenced to death.”
Serving a horse roast is not unusual to other cultures. Humans consume nearly 5 million horses annually. In fact, the GAO estimated that in 2010 the U.S. exported about 138,000 horses for slaughter to other countries. (Hey, we can export something!!) And slaughtering horses for food continued in the U.S until 2007 when Congress ended that enterprise.
Still I can’t fathom eating Star Three-Boots, my once beautiful Palomino Quarter Horse that I broke, trained and loved as much as I did my babies.
That gelded golden boy was more than a huge beast that required tons of alfalfa, oats, attention, and barn cleaning—he was often my best friend. When life got bumpy, I’d slip a hackamore over his nose, strap on a riding pad and ride off into the desert for hours of rambling through sage, creosote and sand dunes. Sometimes I was crying when I readied him for an unplanned desert jaunt. He seemed to feel my emotion and gave me no trouble. Often he’d push his nose into my neck as if to say, “Let’s go have fun and explore. You’ll feel better.”
After few miles out, my troubles faded. Star Three-Boots and I played cutting horse among the desert shrubs, and captured a few full-out runs on a deserted dirt road. As the sun neared its setting point, I’d rein him around and we headed back to his corral.
He could be a ornery horse with a passion for busting out from his corral and then roam the neighborhood before sunrise. Until I lined his homestead with a thin electrically charged wire, I dreaded those late night/early morning phone calls from my neighbor: “Charmaine, I just heard something gallop past my window and caught a glimpse of something big and yellow romping about my garden.”
I’d pull my jeans and a sweatshirt over my pjs, yank my boots on , grab a flash light, round up the horse’s gear and a rope, and traipse out into the darkness. A few good whistles usually brought him back to me. He sensed my anger. His ears laid back and his head hung with his big brown eyes showing signs of sheep instead of steed.
The electric wire was for his safety and my sanity.
When my life took a radical and unexpected turn I had to let Star Three Boots go. I sold him to a kindly man of wealth who thought the horse perfect for his granddaughter. He went to a good home, but oh, Lord how I wept when I guided my pal into a new horse trailer and watched a shiny red brand new pickup haul my horse away.
I still dream about that horse even though I’m sure he’s in the ground by now.
My heartache for losing him is as strong as the pain I felt each time I lost a beloved pet. And that’s why 70% of Americans disapprove of slaughtering horses for human consumption—they’re our pets with an ability to communicate and learn. Sentimentality.
But the current economy justified the change in law, say the new law’s proponents. And their argument has a point with a surge of horse neglect and abuse because some horse owners can’t afford to care for the steeds and can’t afford to put them down and properly dispose of the carcass. Horse lovers across the U.S. try to provide shelter for neglected horses, but again, it’s a costly operation dependent upon donations.
My prayer is that breeding horses will slow to what the market can manage. But with a horse’s longevity, this leaves plenty of young and aging horses in unfortunate circumstances, at risk.
It’s my guess that the first time I see horse meat shrink wrapped and displayed in the meat section of my grocery store is the day that I turn 100% vegetarian.
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