Each year over 100,000 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules are marked for slaughter, according to an article in Tampa Bay’s 83 Degrees online magazine – among them saddlebreds.
Saddlebred horses are valued by Amish for their roadworthiness, but as with any physical asset, they have a limited useful life:
Because they are often trained to harness before they are ridden, saddlebreds are prized in Amish country as road-ready transportation, possessed of the grit and temperament to trot 50 or more miles a day, every day — until they simply can’t.
“The Amish will pay thousands for a saddlebred advertised as ‘ready for miles’,” says Gilbert.
By the time they reach their teens — middle-aged by horse standards — many can no longer maintain the grueling pace and distance required. They are driven to a local auction, unhooked from the buggy and traded in on a younger road-ready model.
The kill buyers snap up the exhausted road warriors for a few hundred dollars, to be re-sold by the pound.
Some Amish don’t like the idea of sending a horse to which they’ve grown emotionally attached to be killed; for others, it’s accepted.
But Saddlebred Rescues are now making inroads in Amish communities, convincing them of an alternative buyer:
“Word is starting to get out in the Amish community that they can sell their horses to us rather than send them off to auction,” says Nealia McCracken, founder of Saddlebred Rescue, Inc., a New Jersey nonprofit that operates out of North Wind Stables, a renowned show stable based in rural Warren County.
McCracken offers free seminars in nearby Amish communities, where she explains the importance of proper feeding and care.
“Many of them don’t know much about horses other than what was passed down from their father or grandfather,” she says. “They ask a lot of good questions.”
The informal gatherings are well attended and serve the dual purpose of improving the horses’ current lives, while letting their owners know there is an alternative to slaughter when their buggy days are over.
McCracken says there is a waiting list of Amish people willing to hold onto their horses until the organization can take them.
I have heard Amish speak of their horses before in warm terms, almost as if the animal is a member of the family. On that count I am not surprised that some are interested in cooperating with these organizations.
But limited resources hamper the effort – Gilbert notes that having to pay the “kill buyers’ markup” prevents them from saving more. It appears some Amish are at least bearing some of that cost in the meantime, in order to keep their faithful equines out of the slaughterhouse.