It’s not illegal to slaughter horses in America, but since 2007, when the last U.S. horse slaughterhouse closed, hundreds of thousands of horses have been sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, where some of that meat ends up on dinner tables in Europe and Asia.
NBC4 investigates the central role Ohio is playing in supplying the international demand for horse meat.
Horses are American icons, symbols of grace and freedom woven into the fabric of Central Ohio.
NBC4’s Duane Pohlman went undercover at a livestock auction in Ohio to discover the very dark side to the horse trade, where even thoroughbreds are sent to slaughter.
Kevin Silverlaspia is a thoroughbred horse from the most royal of racing blood. He is a direct descendant of the last two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Secretariat.
He’s also related to California Chrome, this year’s Kentucky Derby winner.
On March 27, he claimed his place in the world of champions, running to victory at Penn National. Then, he disappeared from the tracks.
Seven months after his last win, and after several ownership changes, NBC4 found Kevin Silverlaspia alone and very thin in an Ohio stable.
NBC4 confirmed it with something all thoroughbreds have – a tattoo under their lips. His was worn, so with the help of animal rights experts, NBC4 checked it against more than 400 possible combinations to discover the mark: M09194. Only one thoroughbred has that tattoo: Kevin Silverlaspia.
After winning nearly $77,000 on the track, the champion horse was alone and broken. Waiting for what would be his final journey from track to table.
Sugarcreek Livestock Auction is in the heart of Ohio Amish Country.
NBC4 went undercover to find Kevin Silverlaspia, one of hundreds of horses – from work horses to quarter horses, standard breeds, and thoroughbreds.
The horses were hauled to the auction house on Oct. 10 where they were sold to the highest bidder.
It is, for the most part, a meat market for horses.
Pohlman: “Should horses be slaughtered?”
Auction owner Leroy Baker: “Yes.”
Pohlman: “How many horses are coming through here in a week?”
Baker: “100 to 225.”
Pohlman: “Are they all going to slaughter?”
Baker: “75 percent.”
The last American horse slaughterhouse was closed in 2007. Now, tens of thousands of American horses are sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and other animal rights groups said the Ohio livestock auction is playing a central role in a tragic trail.
“There’s no question that Ohio bares a big responsibility for supplying horses to the slaughterhouse,” said Kathy Guillermo, of PETA.
Pohlman: “Not illegal?”
Guillermo: “No. It’s not illegal to kill horses to eat them. It’s despicable and disgusting and most Americans hate it. But it certainly goes on every single day. Lawmakers should take steps immediately to ban the expert of horses from Ohio to slaughter.”
Baker buys most of the horses that don’t sell at the auction, packing them on rigs and transporting them to slaughterhouses outside the country.
Another beat buyer, Fred Bauer, drives smaller trucks, picking up, he said, 150 horses a week from animal auctions.
Bauer told NBC4 that a slaughterhouse in Quebec sends its own trucks to pick up the horses he buys from his farm in northwestern Ohio.
The horses will soon be meat for sale in Quebec, Europe, and Japan.
Back at Sugarcreek Livestock Auction, NBc4 found a dead horse on the back of the property. The horse had been shot.
Baker: “It was old, got hurt on the trailer coming down, so we put him down. We shot him.”
Inside, NBC4 found several other horses that were hurt, thin, or sick. But most were far from old.
Kevin Silverlaspia, the once-winning thoroughbred, was just five years old when NBC4’s crews found him. That’s just one-sixth of the full 30 years of a horse’s lifespan.
An injury to his leg was the only clue about why he may have been sent to the auction.
Guillermo: “It had injuries to its legs … and that they were trying to get his legs to heal.”
But that healing would never happen.
Horse racing is an expensive sport, so an injury is often to blame for even champion horses ending up at auction.
Pohlman: “He was thrown away?”
Guillermo: “He was thrown away and that is the way it is so often in racing. People feel they can’t make money on a horse. They don’t feed them as much. They don’t get the care that they need. They’re gone.”
The trail for Kevin Silverlaspia ended shortly after Ohio. He joined hundreds of thousands of other horses on their last journey from track to table.
To be clear: sending horses to slaughterhouses outside the U.S. is legal. So what’s being done to stop thoroughbreds from being slaughtered?
Rescue groups have been saving them for years, and The Jockey Club, which regulates thoroughbreds, has a fund to send horses to pasture after the retire. But it isn’t enough to stop the flow of race horses to slaughter.