The 4th annual International Equine Conference

Attendees of the 4th Annual International Equine Conference, Photo courtesy of Wild Horse Freedom Federation.

The 4th annual International Equine Conference took place September 3-5, 2014 with an impressive array of speakers highlighting their excellent work to protect equines in various areas – from fighting horse slaughter to the abuse of pregant mares and foals by the pharmaceutical industry to efforts to reform the racing industry and re-home thoroughbreds, to wild horse protection and advocacy. The conference was organized by the Equine Welfare Alliance and was graciously and generously hosted by businesswoman, philanthropist and horse protection advocate extraordinaire Victoria McCullough at her beautiful estate in Wellington, Florida.

In addition to the impressive roster of presenters, a number of notable public officials stopped by to show their support for horse protection. They included Florida Congressmen Ted Deutsch and Patrick Murphy, former Florida Governor (and current gubernatorial candidate) Charlie Crist, Florida State Senator Joe Abruzzo, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, and Wellington Mayor Bob Margolis. It was heartening to see these esteemed officials take the time to visit and express their dedication to ending horse slaughter and ensuring the humane treatment of America’s horses.

From left to right: Rep. Murphy, State Atty. Aronberg, Former Gov. Crist, Rep. Deutsch

Among the key speakers at the conference:

Dr. Ray Kellosalmi, scientific advisor to the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition and Susan Wagner of Equine Advocates in New York, discussed the horrors of the PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine) industry and the campaign to end the use of horses for the production Premarin, a drug manufactured by Pfizer for hormone replacement in menopausal women. Dr. Kelosalmi revealed that, due in large measure to public scrutiny and regulation, most of the PMU farms have relocated from Canada to China. There, each year, an estimated 90,000 mares are impregnated and tied into stalls where they cannot move or lie down so that their urine can be collected for the production of Premarin. No regulations exist to protect horses on these PMU farms in China and they are suffering tremendously. Shockingly, despite the documented health risks associated with Premarin use and the availability of safer, bio-identical synthetic alternatives, doctor’s continue to prescribe the drug and the United States remains the primary market for its use. For more info, please click here.

Simone Netherlands of Respect4Horses and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group described her efforts to secure protections for a unique and beautiful group of wild horses that have lived in and around the Salt River in the Tonto National Forest outside Phoenix, Arizona for generations. Unfortunately these amazing horses, who rely on the Salt River for many things, such as feeding on grasses in the river and staying cool, were not designated for protection when the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed. Testimony from longtime local residents clearly indicates that the horses were there long before the 1971 Act was passed, but were not afforded the protection they deserved and, therefore, their future is uncertain. Simone also discussed a new App that she has developed to facilitate tracking and identification of wild horses.

Victoria McCullough and State Senator Joe Abruzzo discussed their amazing and tireless efforts on Capitol Hill, in Canada and Europe to stop horse slaughter in the U.S. and close the borders for export of horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.  Their skilled work resulted in language in the 2013 Omnibus Spending bill that reinstated the de facto ban on U.S. horse slaughter by prohibiting federal funding for USDA horsemeat inspections. Ms. McCullough and Senator Abruzzo gave tips to the conference attendees for being effective with your legislators. These included:

  • The personal touch counts – an in-person meeting, phone call or even a handwritten letter is the most effective way to communicate with your elected representatives. Make the effort and it will make a difference. 
  • Be brief – if you get a meeting, don’t bring in reams of information. Have a one page fact sheet with your top few points bulleted and stated clearly.
  • Be positive – put yourselves in the shoes of your elected official or their staff who, all day long, hear people talk about their issues and ask for things. Try to be engaging and connect on a personal level with an interesting story or something that the person you are meeting can relate to. Be sure to listen as much as you talk.
  • When you get what you want – either a yes to your requested action or a commitment to look into it, thank them and take your leave. Don’t stay and continue talking!

Lonita Stewart of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition spoke of her brave undercover work at Canadian slaughter plants. The videos that she and her colleagues have taken document unspeakable brutality and suffering of horses in transport to and handling and killing at slaughter plants. These videos graphically expose the myth of “humane slaughter” for horses, even at a slaughter plant designed by livestock industry consultant Temple Grandin. Lonita and her colleagues deserve our utmost gratitude for their courage in documenting the type of cruelty and suffering that few of us could bear to witness. Lonita said that 58% of the horses being slaughtered in Canada are from the United States. Once they are imported, however, they become Canadian property and the horsemeat is exported with a “Product of Canada” label.

Marjorie Farabee of TMR Rescue and the Wild Horse Freedom Federation gave a great presentation about the intelligence, beauty and engaging nature of burros and why we should redouble our efforts to protect them. She also talked about the great work of her sanctuary in Texas, which is home to 402 donkeys, mules and horses and an assortment of other rescued animals. Especially interesting is her pioneering work to advance the veterinary care of donkeys/burros and her efforts to save the wild donkeys of Bonaire who have been present since the Spanish settled the south Caribbean Island in the 1500's. Marjorie is asking the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to grant the Bonaire donkeys special species status because genetic testing has revealed that they are an exact DNA match to the critically-endangered Nubian wild ass

Ginger Kathrens of The Cloud Foundation gave an excellent presentation on the natural history of the horse, its evolution in North America and the implications of the horse as a native, reintroduced North American wildlife species. She also talked about her work documenting the lives of the Pryor Mountain wild horses, as captured in her PBS Nature film series Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies, as well as the good work of The Cloud Foundation in advocating for the protection of America’s remaining wild horses and burros. Especially interesting is her pioneering work to advance the veterinary care of donkeys/burros and her efforts to save the wild donkeys of Bonaire  who have been present since the Spanish settled the south Caribbean Island in the 1500's.  Marjorie is asking the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to grant the Bonaire donkeys special species status because tests have revealed that they are an exact DNA match to the critically-endangered Nubian wild ass.

Kimberly Franks and Robin Lyda from the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, MT gave a great overview of PZP fertility control, from the science of how it is made and how it works, to the practicalities of administering the vaccine, to the politics of getting management programs utilizing PZP approved. Kim and Robin talked about the growing acceptance of this technology, which has been available and used successfully on wild horses for more than two decades. They discussed the pioneering project at the Assateague National Seashore in Maryland, where wild horses have been managed for 25 years without a single removal thanks to PZP. They also discussed the cost-effectiveness of using PZP and the  growing list of BLM Herd Management Areas where PZP is being used to manage wild horses in conjunction with community partners.

Vickery Eckhoff, a journalist who wrote for Forbes.com before being fired after exposing the connection between welfare ranching and wild horse roundups, talked about the shortcomings in the media’s coverage of animal issues. She is beginning a new project to create a website that will provide centralized resource for journalists covering animal issues and act as a watchdog over media stories on the subject.

John Holland, of the Equine Welfare Alliance, concluded the conference with an extremely important presentation showing the following important facts:

  • Horse breeding in the U.S. is down 37% from 2005 levels.
  • The rate of horse neglect cases is dependent on hay prices, not legality of slaughter.
  • Land use in U.S. is trending back toward hay production (away from producing corn for ethanol in wake of elimination of ethanol subsidies).
  • Excess of mature horses in the U.S. market is a product of the difference between racing overload (quarter horses and thoroughbreds) and recreational demand.
  • Equine neglect is on a downward trend.
  • The claim that slaughter reduces neglect is false.
  • Breeding is very low currently in the U.S., making this a good time to end horse slaughter.

John talked about how predictions of climate change and prolonged drought in the southwest will impact the cost of hay and, therefore, horses. He suggested that strategies to help horse owners keep their horses through hay banks, etc. will be necessary for the future. He concluded by highlighting three steps to take on the road to ending horse slaughter: 1) Discourage overbreeding of race and rodeo horses; 2) support recreational horse ownership; 3) get rid of breeding subsidies.

For a complete list of speakers and more information on the conference please click here.

Next year the conference will take place in Sante Fe, New Mexico.