When I was a teenager (eons ago) I used to accompany my dad to buy horses. It was a part-time hobby of his - finding good family horses for people and turning a small profit on them. Usually he dealt with a dealer whose job was to find such horses (and most came from ranches in Texas, Oklahoma, and Idaho.) But sometimes I'd go with him to one of the horse sales in California's central valley, where we would look for good buys on gentle, well-trained horses. My job was to jump on them (as the owners were showing them off) before the sale started and ride them around the parking lot, through mud puddles and between trucks and trailers and past dogs tied in the back of pick-ups. If the horse did well, appeared gentle, and was kinda pretty, my dad would try and make a deal and we would bring it home before it went through the sale.
I got quite an education back in those days. I not only learned how to ride a variety of horses (and it was also my job to show them off to customers back at home) but this was the time when I learned about the "kill buyers." The sad fact was that those horses at the auction who didn't find new jobs as riding horses would usually be bought by kill buyers and sent to slaughter.
Things haven't changed an awful lot today. There are still horse auctions where many horses get sold for meat. At the moment, there are no equine slaughter houses operating in the United States, and horses are now sent over the border to either Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered. There is a proposal right now to build a new horse slaughter plant in Missouri, and also a movement amongst horses lovers to stop it. But the sad fact is that many thousands of horses are still slaughtered and sold for meat every year, most of it shipped overseas.
What has changed from the time when I attended auctions? Technology. Cell phones, social media, twitter, and facebook help spread the word about horses that are available and horses in need. Is this helping some horses? I think so. At least a few of them.
There are many rescue groups now that scour auction yards ahead of the actual sale time, looking for horses that might be rideable or usable or registered stock. They can then post these horses on facebook, with pictures, and even get identification of tattoos of certain breeds, and find out the horse's name and history. With the abundance of smart phones, you can take a picture of horse, post it on facebook, and maybe find someone to fall in love with it and offer its purchase price or donation toward its rescue immediately.
There are a lot of soft-hearted people out there, and many follow these auctions from home computers. They can save a horse by sending money to pay pal, or by calling or emailing or posting that they'd like to donate. Amazing, huh?
If you'd like to follow some of their attempts to save horses from auctions, here are some sites:
Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue
Horse Plus Humane Society
Pony Up Rescue for Equines
These mostly deal with auctions and horses on the West Coast, but I know there are many in other parts of the country as well.
If you want to save a horse in person, you can go to one of these auctions yourself. Bring your checkbook and your horse trailer. I've done so in the past, and brought home not only an emaciated pony that I took home and fattened up, but also a 6-month-old weanling filly that was separated from her mother in the pen and sold separately, price $50. She found a new home the next day with my best friend.
If you prefer to get involved in horse rescue from the comfort of your living room, that's okay, too. Look up some of the sites above, or feel free to post any other rescues or links you know of in the comments below.
Have you ever been to one of these small-time horse auctions, or saved a horse from slaughter? Tell us about it.