Jane Duckworth spent what must have been five incredibly gruelling and disheartening years researching this book, but has managed to publish her findings on how horses are treated in an objective manner. What a difficult task it must have been.
Even though this book is written from an Australian perspective, it would be ignorant to think that the mistreatment, neglect, and ignorance about horse care does not occur here in New Zealand. Maybe our "dog-tucker" horses don't fetch the same kind of money as they do in Australia, but surely the day is coming. One example in the book is of a horse selling at auction for $A1000 - for human consumption. It is, to date, the highest price a horse sold for meat has fetched in Australia and is surely an indication of a worrying trend. Imagine selling your horse at auction for a few hundred dollars only to discover that it is destined to be shipped to Europe or Asia to be eaten. Add to that the fact that in the 1991-92 period two million kilograms of horse hide (valued at $A1.5 million) was exported to Japan, and during the same time 32 tonnes of horse hair (value $A183,000) was exported from Australia.
With Foot and Mouth and BSE crippling the sheep and beef markets in Europe, the path is opened even wider for "safe" horse meat to increase in sales and popularity in that continent. Will horses eventually be farmed in Australia (and New Zealand) only for their meat?
Duckworth delves into the methods of "collection" of horses, the conditions at abattoirs, and methods of handling and killing horses for slaughter. It is a sad fact that despite legal requirements many establishments do not follow the letter of the law in terms of welfare. It is advised that if you must send a horse to a knackery you should inspect it first and "stay with your companion while the deed is done". Some will kill only at certain times so it must pay to check ahead. This is sound advice, considering recent reports from a New Zealand horse slaughter house which wintered over several dozen horses, only to lose 50 to starvation.
Chapters in the book include the use of the horse in disciplines including racing, rodeo, and western and english riding, and how these areas are affected by welfare issues. There are many case studies, web links, and addresses of organisations world-wide. Information is given in easy-to-read and digest paragraphs, with facts bullet-pointed or broken out on the page.
I read this book from cover to cover and was utterly amazed at the darker side of the horse industry. I don't consider myself ignorant of welfare issues, but am amazed by some of Duckworth's findings and conclusions. Our welfare organisations have their work cut out for them.