Wednesday is horse day at the Cookstown Stockyards.
The day when people bring their unwanted horses and try to get them auctioned off.
Sometimes they go to homes, sometimes they go to slaughter.
That is where my horse Pumpkin was on a snowy November day back in 2006.
He was picked up and brought to the farm where I was boarding my first horse Cheyenne.
I remember feeling a little put out that another horse was brought to our co-operative boarding arrangement, where we would have to do all the looking after him, too.
But his kind eyes and curious, friendly nature got the better of me.
He was nameless at the time, and his nickname at the barn was Meat, since he escaped the stockyard auction.
But I came to call him The Little Black Horse.
One day I went to the barn and noticed that his droopy leather halter had stretched to the point that it was actually in his mouth, like a bit.
He walked right over to me as if to know I could help him, and fix it.
Well, that sealed the deal.
When my first horse Cheyenne passed away, The Little Black Horse just happened to come up for adoption.
I immediately and officially renamed him Pumpkin.
And we have been together ever since.
I often think of Wednesdays at the Cookstown Stockyards.
Ever since the only equine slaughter house in Ontario closed down in Owen Sound several years ago, those horses that are purchased for meat have to travel an arduously long journey in crowded trucks to the closest abbatoir in Quebec.
There are now only two equine slaughterhouses in all of Canada: Alberta and Quebec.
That means long hours in transport trucks for these horses – horses that no doubt experience such high levels of stress during the ordeal I am surprised that they don’t die from panic along the way.
Not much of a thank you for all that they have contributed to their owners before they decided to sell them off for a few bucks.
When my mother was growing up in London during World War II, she told me that their food rations offered a choice of horse meat. Her mother always refused it. I’m not sure if it was because of ethics or because at the time horse meat was considered the poor man’s beef.
I am sure that horses have never forgotten that the first time they crossed the paths of humans, they were eaten.
Every time I look into the eyes of a horse, I see him scanning me as if to see if I am friend or foe.
To be trusted or not.
As prey animals, that is their only means of survival.
To assess the situation to see if they feel safe.
As companion animals in 2022, I view their consumption akin to eating those of other companion animals, namely cats and dogs.
Some cultures feel it is appropriate perhaps. An age old tradition and the utmost definition of recycling and not laying anything to waste.
And I get it that not all horses can be euthanized and buried or cremated.
I do know that every time I open a can of cat food for my cats I am probably offering them something that would not normally be on their food chain.
Labelled as a meat byproduct, equines are not even given the dignity of acknowledgement on a pet food tin. Something that pigs, cows and even chickens and fish receive.
I will admit that I have tasted horseflesh in my day. When living in Montreal I worked with some colleagues who consumed it quite frequently. Prepared as a type of proscuitto, it was very sweet. Not something I would ever want to eat again.
I know that I cannot get the world to stop eating horsemeat.
There will always be people and cultures who consider it a necessity and even a delicacy.
What I would like to suggest is that we find a way to make it less stressful and traumatic.
All that stress being triggered into their systems cannot be good for the end product.
As with cows, thanks to Dr. Temple Grandin’s work with slaughterhouses, ensuring that cows make as calm a transition as possible, with as little stress as possible, perhaps we can do that with equines.
Ensuring that the process and transition is as calm as possible.
To lessen the effect of stress hormones, and ultimately the quality of the end product.
And as everything always comes down to money, the quality of the final product could be jeopardized with the infusion of too much cortisol.
And in the end, the horses have it right.
To be wary of us humans as prey animals.
We used to eat them.
And some still do.