E.J. Snider raises draft horses, bred for heavy lifting around the farm, and cares deeply about their welfare, from birth to death.
The Rogers County cattleman joined about 100 others from around rural Oklahoma on Wednesday at the state Capitol to say bills allowing horse slaughtering to resume in Oklahoma would benefit horses and horse owners.
“We support these bills because there needs to be a reasonable, humane way to care for aging and disabled horses,” said Snider, whose gentle Belgians pull wagons in parades and for events including birthday parties and weddings.
Led by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, a coalition of agriculture and wildlife groups sponsored a news conference and day of lobbying on behalf of two bills, SB375 and HB1999. They would end a 50-year-old prohibition on slaughtering horses in Oklahoma.
The bills would give horse owners options, protect private property rights, and assure rural Oklahomans that they can assert their know-how in deciding rural issues, advocates said.
“It is our responsibility to take care of our horses,” said Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, author of one of the bills. “It is not a hobby for us.”
Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers and Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union, said options were limited for horse owners who can no longer care for aging or unwanted animals.
A federal study showed a 60 percent increase in incidents of starved or neglected horses after Congress withdrew funding for federal horse slaughter inspections in 2006, he said.
The last U.S. horse processing plants closed not long after inspections ended.
A line in the sand
An estimated 160,000 U.S. horses, including 21,000 from Oklahoma, are trucked to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico each year.
A slaughterhouse proposed in Roswell, N.M., could be the first in the United States since Congress reauthorized inspections.
The rights of Oklahomans to manage their property as they see fit would be protected by the Oklahoma bills, House Speaker T.W. Shannon told advocates at the Capitol.
Out-of-state groups led an anti-slaughter rally earlier this month in Oklahoma City, said Shannon, R-Lawton.
“We are drawing a line in the sand and we are doing that this morning,” he said.
Mike Spradling, the Farm Bureau president, said slaughter would be an “option, not a mandate.”
Horse owners are best equipped to manage their animals, he said.
“We know what's best for their well-being from conception to termination,” he said.
Cynthia Armstrong, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, asserted horse owners have options — from selling their horses or donating them to organizations such as horse rescue groups to having them put down by a veterinarian.
She argued out-of-state interests are “trying to dupe the people of Oklahoma into thinking this is a homegrown idea.”
“In fact what they're really up to is they want to start raising horses for meat and ship them elsewhere,” Armstrong said.
Snider said he has a 24-year-old Belgian draft horse that he will care for at home the rest of her life “and she will die and be buried there.”
But he favors letting horse owners decide whether slaughter is right for their animals.
“We don't believe that leaving them in the highway right of way and national park rights of way is a viable solution,” he said.
Bill advocates released letters expressing support for slaughter from the American Quarter Horse Association and the Pinto Horse Association of America. Both sponsor horse shows in Oklahoma.