Once a horse's race career is over, they are at risk for an uncertain future. Sometimes it is due to the lack of concern of the owner, but there are times despite the owner's best intentions, the horse ends up meeting an unfortunate demise.
The problem? We have horsemen and owners who don't have the time to do due diligence like a rescue and due to overcrowding, getting rescues involved in placement is not an option as well as being an industry where a person's word and handshake is often all that is needed. Couple this with the nature of the kill industry where there are some brokers who are less than honorable and an industry where Federal oversight is lacking and "Don't ask, don't tell" is their version of the Golden Rule.
Here is a real life situation which occurs far too often. A horse gets hurt and the owner is responsible and rehabilitates the horse. Not being able to keep every horse, the owner's trainer finds a person who promises to take the horse in with the understanding it will never race again. The horse goes to the individual who promises a forever home and all of a sudden, the horse somehow ends in the hands of someone else. Often, the original owner finds out too late that the horse is in the hands of a kill buyer or having met an unfortunate end.
Everyone talks about the owner and trainer doing due diligence with regards to the person who is trying to place the horse. Let's be realistic, the owner and trainer does not have the ability to do due diligence, especially when it comes to a person willing to adopt the horse. Can we expect every trainer/owner to do a proper investigation on an individual who is willing to take a horse in? No.
Unfortunately, the breed registries (AQHA, Jockey Club, USTA and others), take the attitude a horse is property and admittedly, they are backed up by law which considers an animal property. As a result, while they offer programs to ensure a horse never races or breeds again or have a registry of people willing to adopt certain horses, these programs are voluntary. There are no mandatory requirements to protect horses. Even the transfer of horses don't have to be recorded. It is time steps need to be taken to mandate the owner takes some steps to allow for a horse to be tracked and protected.
What should be done? Ideally, the Federal government would pass legislation to outlaw horse slaughter as well ban the exporting of horses for slaughter such as Senate Bill 1176. Failing that, here are some ideas.
Microchipping - Every horse should be microchipped and a national database should be created to record the owners of each horse as well as provide for alerts, such as a horse is stolen and the such.
Transfer of Ownership - The breed registries including the USTA should mandate that any horse for whom ownership is being transferred, it is the responsibility of the original owner to record the ownership change instead of the current rule which requires the purchaser to file the transfer. The transfer should be treated like a property deed, when the transfer takes place, any restriction such as a horse not being able to be sold, sent to slaughter, not transferable without permission of the original owner, not to be used for racing or breeding, etc. Therefore, if the horse is being used or sold contrary to the title, a transfer would be rejected. Registration databases must be made available for outside access and merged with the microchip database..
Federal licensing of Lifestock Brokers - Any person who sells or supplies horses for slaughter must be registered as a broker and a database be established.
Breed Registries Fund Regional Transfer Groups - The breed registries jointly fund regional transfer groups, possibly outsourcing to an Animal Protection group. This group would provide screening services for existing owners who wish to check on potential owners/adopters and assist in formating adoption agreements. This group would have access to the USDA lifestock broker database to ensure horses are not being transfered unknowingly to a broker agent. They would also review subsequent transfers against breed databases to make sure the 'deed restrictions' are not violated and route ownership changes to the appropriate breeds.
Require Sales and Slaughterhouses to Check Microchips - Each lifestock auction and slaughterhoues will be required to check microchips to make sure no restrictions against sales and slaughter are recorded. When scanned, restrictions and current owners on databases would be displayed. The USDA would have the right to suspend a lifestock sale or brokers' permit up to a year for failing to scan and/or allow a horse to improperly be slaughtered.
Will this stop all instances of horses being sold against the wishes of an original owner, but it would be a start. As well as protecting the horses directly, it will help owners to form proper sales agreements so they would not have to accpet a handshake agreement.