Spain’s horses are becoming the latest victim of the country’s ongoing economic crisis. With unemployment at levels not seen since the fascist regime of Franco in the 1930s — youth unemployment is around 56 percent — keeping a horse is a luxury that is simply impossible. A real estate crisis that devastated the country’s banks has left many people, unable to pay their mortgages and debts, facing eviction or ending up homeless.
Unable to pay for the costs of boarding and feeding, and caring for a horse, many are offloading their horses and sending them to the slaughterhouse, a tragic and horrendous fate. Other horses are simply being abandoned and even illegally killed, animal welfare advocates tell the New York Times. Their bodies are then discarded, often after decapitation as the horses’ heads are implanted with an identifying microchip.
The number of horses slaughtered in recent years in Andalusia, home to about a third of Spain’s horses, is staggering. 6,256 were killed in 2011, but 16,391 horses — three times as many — were killed last year. Animal welfare advocates from organizations including Asociación CYD Santa María contend that these numbers are understated, as, under Spanish law, only horses that are officially registered can be brought to slaughterhouses.
Many horses were purchased at the height of boom times when, as the New York Times notes, owning one was “seen by some buyers as a way to gain social status and join the ranks of Spain’s landed gentry.” A horse veterinarian, Miguel Alonso, comments that too many did so without a clear understanding of responsibility and costs of maintaining a horse for some 300 euros a month.
One third-generation breeder of horses, Alberto Martín, has had to sell 50 of his 70 mares for just a few hundred dollars to slaughterhouses. Some of the horses had been worth as much as $24,000 at the start of the financial crisis. “It sadly makes more sense to sacrifice horses for close to zero money rather than continue to pay for their upkeep, knowing that nobody seems to want to buy horses anymore,” Martin comments.
A greater percentage of horses slaughtered include those in the prime of their lives. The result is that the “quality of Spanish horse meat is also much higher than before,” says Luis Vázquez, head of the animal inspection department in Seville, the capital of Andalusia. In a sickening twist of fate, other parts of Europe where horse meat is considered a delicacy — France and Italy — are, it could be said, benefiting from the slaughter of so many Spanish horses. Horse meat is eaten in very few places in Spain itself; the Agriculture Ministry indeed reports that horse meat exports have increased six-fold since 2011.
The mass slaughter of horses in a country where horses have been bred and prized for thousands of years is yet another distressing sign of the recession that Spain has yet been unable to lift itself out of. The Asociación CYD Santa María, which is is based in Malaga and does not receive any public funding, enables adoptions of unwanted horses and encourages people to report cases of abandoned animals to the police, in accordance with the province’s laws for protecting animals — laws that, in an ongoing climate of austerity measures that have been particularly harsh on regional budgets, are in danger of being severely undermined.
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