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Kill Pen Scams

Position Statement Regarding Equine Slaughter Trade

SKE does NOT support the equine slaughter trade due to the harm this industry brings equines. We are actively fighting to improve the equine industry as a whole, including fighting issues relating to the equine slaughter trade. 

A summary of SKE's position on equine slaughter trade includes:

  • Acknowledgement of the cultural history and context of equine slaughter.

  • Advocacy for transparency within the slaughter trade, including exposure of the fraudulent "kill pen" scams.

  • Skepticism regarding the limited benefits of purchasing horses from kill pen scams, auction houses, and slaughter traders.

  • Condemnation of commercial breeding and trading practices.

  • Support for and promotion of sustainable equestrian practices.

THE HISTORY OF EQUINE SLAUGHTER 

The idea of slaughtering horses for consumption is older than the idea of riding them. For as long as equines have existed alongside people, there have been those who used them for food. As civilizations grew and industry boomed, the slaughter industry was no exception.

There was once a time where the equine slaughter industry consisted of slaughterhouses, breeders, and traders. Breeders would raise and sell horses to slaughter, often through auctions, similar to goat, cow, or pig farmers. Traders, often called "meat buyers" or "kill buyers," would purchase horses at a low cost or obtain them for free, then transport them to slaughterhouses, where they were sold per pound at a profit to the trader. 

When slaughter became illegal in the US, it became much more difficult for breeders to sell directly to slaughter, as the horses had to be exported to Mexico or Canada. Conditions and regulations going into Mexico made it easier for traders to export horses there, and the overpopulation due to excessive breeding in the south provided a perfect opportunity for traders to form a new business model - obtain horses in the US, export to slaughter in Mexico. 

 
Many traders developed a lucrative technique - start at low-cost, small-town auctions in areas with oversaturated horse markets (ie, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, etc.) and purchase horses for minimal cost. From there, a trader could haul directly to Mexico, or he could stop by higher-dollar auctions to flip the horses at a higher price. With plenty of equine auctions in the south, there has always been ample opportunity to flip horses between them. Many traders will visit a variety of auctions on their way to the Mexican border, selectively flipping horses to make a profit along the way. At times, they would layover at facilities where they could house horses overnight. Some of these traders had their own layover farms where they would regularly house horses waiting to hop between the next auction house or ship to the border - these facilities became known as kill pens.

Before the internet, some equine rescuers would develop relationships with kill buyers, allowing them to step in and rescue horses out of these kill pens. Due to regulations regarding export of stallions, injured horses, mares in foal, young horses, and diseased horses, many of horses could not qualify for export and would be given to rescues instead. Horses who do qualify for export could also be purchased for extremely low cost (ie, their value per pound, or that value minus the travel costs to get to the border). 

As with most industries, the internet changed everything. Rescues started using the internet to connect kill pen horses with homes and begin fundraising initiatives. There was an outpour of support for these rescue initiatives, and it didn't take long for the kill pens to exploit this opportunity - thus the modern "kill pen" scam was born.

In the modern day, the same traders who ship the horses to slaughter man the "kill pen" webpages and social media campaigns. They purposefully select horses in poor condition, foals, mini's, and any other horses who will pull on heartstrings and elicit the most donations. They then list them well over the value per pound, making a huge profit - more than selling to slaughter could have ever achieved. The majority of their income today comes from flipping horses into "rescue" homes.

TRANSPARENCY & FRAUD IN THE SLAUGHTER TRADE

While writing this article in 2024, horse meat is valued at approximately $0.68-$2.22 per pound on the meat market (use this link to view current prices). Foals, mini's, and emaciated/underweight horses are not profitable on the meat market and not worth the fuel to get them to the slaughterhouse - flipping these horses provides profit to the kill pens despite them being at no risk of shipping to slaughter.

A publication reviewing equine slaughter practices (content warning: this publication contains graphic images of equine slaughter, carcasses, and horse meat) found that the average horse produces a carcass that is 50% of their body weight, and 70% of the carcass contains usable meat. This means only 35% of the equine's body weight is usable meat. Using this information, we can calculate the slaughter value of an equine based on their weight:

 

  • A smaller/average horse (900 lbs) has 300 lbs of usable meat ($200-700 value)

  • A larger/average horse (1200 lbs) has 400 lbs of usable meat ($300-900 value)

  • A larger/draft horse (1800 lbs) has 600 lbs of usable meat ($400-1,300 value)


Travel costs are estimated to be between $0.68-$2.22 / mile (source, we excluded "driver compensation," assuming the driver is the kill trader). Using popular kill pen locations and the closest commercial border crossing, a single trip would cost the following:

  • Peabody, KS to Laredo (850 miles) would cost $600-1,900

  • Quitman, AR to Laredo (800 miles) would cost $550-1,800

  • Bastrop, LA to Laredo (700 miles) would cost $500-1,600

  • Stroud, OK to Laredo (650 miles) would cost $450-1,500

  • Decatur, TX to Laredo (500 miles) would cost $350-1,200


Keep in mind, the cost does not depend on how "thrifty" the driver is, but rather depends on the model of truck/trailer and how often they encounter mechanical issues. Fuel costs also vary greatly. 

Slaughter traders are known to "sardine" a large number of horses onto one trailer, to maximize profits. A survey study noted an average of 22-28 horses per trailer load. This makes the travel cost per horse as follows:

 

  • Peabody, KS ($600-1,900 per trailer load) would cost $20-100 per horse

  • Quitman, AR ($550-1,800 per trailer load) would cost $20-80 per horse

  • Bastrop, LA ($500-1,600 per trailer load) would cost $20-75 per horse

  • Stroud, OK ($450-1,500 per trailer load) would cost $15-70 per horse

  • Decatur, TX ($350-1,200 per trailer load) would cost $15-60 per horse


From the same survey study, 2% of the horses arrived "unfit for transport" (dead or dying), and 8% arrived with "severe welfare problems" (in need of immediate vet care and likely euthanasia). This means 10% of horses arrive at the border unable to be sold to slaughter, meaning the 22-28 horses hauled would only net the profit of 20-25 horses. Considering this 10% loss in value, the net profit after transport ranges as follows:
 

  • Smaller/average horses ($180-630 value) would net a low-end of $80-120 depending on the distance to Mexico, or around $600 on the high end.

 

  • Larger/average horses ($270-670 value) would net a low-end of $170-210 depending on the distance to Mexico, or around $650 on the high end.

 

  • Larger/draft horses ($360-1,200 value) would net a low-end of $260-300 depending on the distance to Mexico, or around $1,100 on the high end.


These prices also don't consider additional expenses - hauling between auction houses, auction fees, housing costs during layovers, etc. It is glaringly obvious that the slaughter trade is not a lucrative business. Kill pen scamming is. A quick survey of one of these kill pens found them selling horses for the following amounts:
 

  • Smaller/average horses ($80-600 net value) at an average of $900 (ranging from $475-2,750)

 

  • Larger/average horses ($170-650 net value) at an average of $1,500 (ranging $650-5,600)

 

  • Larger/draft horses ($260-1,100 net value) at an average of $2,600 (ranging $1,450-2,850)

These slaughter traders are making 10x the amount they would on slaughter trade by scamming well-intentioned equine enthusiasts into donating to fake 'rescues' and/or purchasing equines from them. 

Steph recounts her experience at a high-kill auction house:

"I remember standing in the back of the auction house looking over the horses who would soon get run through the sale. A woman was standing in front of one of the pens, on the phone with someone. The conversation caught my ear, it sounded like she was on the phone with someone interested in one of these horses. I heard her explain that the "bail" - a common way kill pen scammers refer to purchase price - was set by the kill buyer, not by her or her rescue. I distinctly remember her stating how she does not make any money at all, and that this was her 'labor of love.' The phone call seemed to go well, from what I heard it sounded like the person on the phone decided to 'adopt' the horse.

"I remember her hanging up the phone, smiling at the man standing next to her, who had his hand around her waist, him grinning back, and them exchanging a kiss. I knew I recognized the man, but I've never been good at putting a face to a name. Later on, when he was bidding on horses, the auctioneer referred to him by name - he is one of the most prominent kill buyers, who runs one of the largest kill pens in the US. 

"I can't quite look at the kill pen ads the same way after that interaction. The social media for that specific pen appears to be run by a woman who is not affiliated with the kill buyers, saying all the same things I heard the kill buyer's wife say over the phone that day."

SKEPTICISM OF COMMON 'SOLUTIONS'

Commonly proposed solutions to equine slaughter include the following:

1. "Rescue them from the pens"

Purchasing, 'adopting,' or 'rescuing' horses from kill pens isn't even a band-aid solution - it's more like wiping the blood from a gushing wound. It does nothing to stop the problem, if anything it just makes room for more bleeding. 

The Equine Info Exchange has a wonderful article addressing many issues in the equine slaughter trade.  They shared this "Kill Pen Rescue Circle" infographic, a great visual highlighting one of the many problems with purchasing horses at such a high profit margin from kill pen scams. 

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Gentle Giants Draft Rescue shared the following passage, excellently summarizing many of the key issues with purchasing horses from kill pen scams:

Your love is killing America’s horses.   Literally.

It’s time we talked about “Kill Pens”.  It’s time to take the gloves off and share some painful truths with you all. 

You can call them “kill pens” if you want… or you can call them brokers.   It’s the same thing.  The one thing you CAN’T call them is RESCUE, and here’s the many reasons why-

1.  Buying a “kill pen” horse doesn’t save horses.  True kill buyers hold a contract with a slaughterhouse which demands how many horses they must provide.  A kill buyer with a contract for 40 horses will ship 40 horses, every time.  You buying that horse does not mean he will ship 39.  He will just ship one you didn’t see. 

2. Most kill buyers don’t sell their slaughter horses.  Most get their slaughter horses USDA export tagged at the sale and ship out quickly.  The longer they hold the horse, the more it costs them in food and housing.  Holding a group of horses for any amount of time significantly multiplies the chances that the horse will get sick or get injured and will fail EU inspection.

3. No reputable, ethical, honest rescue or “rescuer” is acting on behalf of the kill pen to try to save horses.  This is not altruism, it is capitalism.  If anyone claims that they are advertising kill pen horses to save the horses or from the bottom of their heart…. Think three times about that and then think once more.  These “rescuers” are often hired people working on behalf of the kill pen to make them huge profits selling B grade horses who have no other profitable market. 

4. “Kill pen” horses are often grossly misrepresented.  There is no accountability for the description or condition of the horse.  A kill buyer is not dealing in honesty and the value of their good name.  They are dealing in a world of a-sucker-born-every-minute and huge profits with no repercussions.  If they tell you the horse is 10, dead broke, and sound then it is more likely 25, dead lame, and an ex-bronc rodeo horse.  Use some common sense- if the horse WAS 10, sound, and dead broke why wouldn’t they sell it themselves for $5,000? Because that is what a horse like that would be worth. It’s certainly not because they have gentle hearts, it’s because they are LYING. 

5. The “kill pen” horses you see online are often  not even slated for slaughter.  They are the cast-offs of the auctions which sell dirt cheap.  They sell even cheaper than the slaughter horses.  These are the lame horses, the thin horses, the old horses.  They are purchased for this intent specifically- to be sold at huge profits sight-unseen online under threat of slaughter.  It’s an emotional manipulation that pays huge dividends. 

6. Despite the literally MILLIONS of dollars well meaning people have spent “bailing” these kill pen horses; slaughter rates are largely unaffected.  The same number of horses get slaughtered, you just don’t see those horses online. 

7. Kill pens are stupidity at its finest.  The concept that buying kill pen horses will end slaughter is like saying PURCHASING ALL THE PUPPIES WOULD CLOSE THE PUPPY MILL!!!!  No it WON’T!!!!  All it does it train these guys to do this more and make more money!

8. Horse slaughter is not really all that profitable right now, and your support of “kill pens” is keeping these guys in business. 

And it’s killing our horses.  Literally.  

People aren’t adopting.  The adrenaline rush of making offers to meet fake deadlines all the while with a cheering social media crowd adding to the frenzy and excitement is almost an addictive high.  It’s not thrilling to make an appointment, visit a rescue, test ride a horse or two or three, have the one you like vet checked, fill out an application, and have your farm visited, and sign a contract to adopt.   I mean…. That’s RESPONSIBLE.  And responsible stuff is BORING.

And a second trend has started that is even worse.  Well-meaning horse lovers are crowdfunding the “bail” of horses on behalf of strangers they don’t know who openly say they CAN’T AFFORD THE HORSE!!!!  Why on god’s green earth would you want to BUY a horse for someone who admits they can’t AFFORD a horse??  What happens once it arrives?  What happens when it needs a vet?  What happens when it needs training?  What if it is pregnant and now there are two?  What happens when the “gelding” is actually a cryptorchid stallion and needs a $1200 surgery?

This is how hoarding happens.  This is how some lunatic yahoo ends up with 180 horses on their 40 acre farm that they can’t feed.  This is how horses end up starved and dead.  

So please…. If you love horses STOP supporting kill pens.  

Supporting kill pens is giving money to the devil.  Support your reputable rescues who outbid in the auction ring and won’t give a $1 of your money to a kill buyer.  

Let’s put these guys out of business.

2. "Outbid them at auction"

Outbidding kill buyers at auction is a band-aid solution. So many kill buyers flip at auction houses that it's very possible for rescuers to inadvertently purchase a horse from one kill buyer while outbidding another.

If the horse is successfully intercepted before entering the slaughter pipeline, the money spent goes in the pocket of the owner who sent them to auction, with a commission to the auction house - both of these being indirect supporters of the kill pen industry (or, in many situations, direct supporters). 

3. "Ban slaughter" / "Legalize slaughter"

Many argue that a complete ban would force the industry to address overpopulation - however, the slaughter trade is already highly regulated, and that has not improved welfare. More regulation is not necessarily the answer - further regulations could improve things, or they could make it easier & more profitable for the slaughter networks and more challenging for rescues. 


Some argue that legalizing/deregulating slaughter in the US would improve welfare by eliminating the long hauls to Mexico and cruel conditions in Mexican slaughterhouses. Others argue that slaughter is inherently cruel itself, and that it should not be an option at all.

Regardless, banning practices that have been ever-present in human culture, like horse slaughter, tends to result in criminalization and stigma for those working in banned industries. Even if the goal is to eliminate slaughter, banning it does not accomplish that - it simply pushes it underground and makes it more dangerous for the animals and people involved.

Most importantly, the solutions to these problems do not lie in regulation of the slaughter industry. The modern slaughter industry is no longer driven by the demand for horse meat - it's funded by the money poured into kill pen scams. 

The root of this problem is in overpopulation, largely due to overbreeding. Commercial (for-profit) breeding operations continue to churn out more horses than the equestrian community can effectively care for, and the result is a large number of discarded, unwanted horses. 
Slaughter trading is now a lucrative, unsustainable compliment to the already-unsustainable breeding industry.

CONDEMNING COMMERCIAL BREEDING

Equine breeding cannot be done ethically on a commercial scale until the overpopulation crisis is resolved. Much like dogs and cats, horses are so severely overpopulated that rescues everywhere are struggling due to the sheer volume of animals in need of homes. It is unethical to intentionally creating more horses for a profit while so many others are neglected, abused, and slaughtered due to overpopulation.

SKE does
not condemn breeding altogether - we have homebred foals on property and have assisted clients in accomplishing ethical breeding. This is done on a private/personal scale and is foal-centered, without profit margins directing decisions. Ethical breeders are committed to obtaining all the necessary information - research, certifications, and/or professional consultations - so they can make informed, constructive decisions regarding equine reproduction. They have savings set aside and are prepared to assume lifelong responsibility for the foal, as well as both mare and stallion. They understand the commitment they are making and are mindful every step of the way. 

CONDEMNING COMMERCIAL TRADING

Equine trading cannot be done ethically on a commercial scale until the overpopulations crisis is resolved. Equine rehoming can be done ethically when it is a horse-centered decision, not when it is done on commercial deadlines with profit-centered decisions. 

Equine rehoming can absolutely be done ethically - as is done by many rescues, trainers, and private equine "matchmakers." These practices usually operate on a "break even" financial model, but may collect a small commission. This is greatly different than commercial trading practices like those seen at auction houses and commercial breeding farms. 

SO, HOW DO WE ACTUALLY HELP THE HORSES?

We treat the issue, not the symptoms. The following is a list of ways that rescuers, owners, and enthusiasts can help to end the neglect and abuse within the slaughter pipeline.

Keep Your Horses - The industry standard involves routine sale and trade of horses. Horses do NOT need to be ridable or able to "work" in order to provide benefit to people. They are beneficial as companions/pets, therapy animals, and most can compete in low-impact and/or non-ridden sports (ie, equine agility and TECS) even with other physical limitations, in old age, etc. 

In commercial settings (ie, equine therapy programs, summer camps, lesson strings, carriage rides, rodeo, trail rentals, etc.), the cost of retirement MUST be factored into the cost of using horses commercially. Business models need to account for these costs, either by increasing prices on existing services to cover cost of retirement, or by restructuring to offer income-generating activities with equines who can no longer ride or do high-impact activities. 

Support Sustainable Equestrianism - Promote sustainable practices, support ethical rehoming & breeding, and condone commercial breeding & trading. Provide outreach & support to owners who would otherwise need to give up their horses. Rescues can make a bigger impact at a lower cost by helping struggling owners before they have to surrender their equine, rather than waiting until the situation is dire enough to warrant surrender.

Advocacy & Legislation - SKE is not affiliated with any current legislative initiatives. That said, we have reviewed and discussed many of the proposed changes. If SKE could recommend any legislative initiative, we would advocate for a rather simple one: if a good home is willing to take the equine, they should have priority over slaughter traders. This would disrupt the slaughter trade by allowing equine homes/rescues to take in horses in need without interception/price inflation by slaughter buyers (for example, if a private home or rescue bids on a horse at auction, a kill buyer can not bid. Kill buyers would only be able to bid on horses when no other home/rescue does).

This course is intended to help equine enthusiasts, owners, and caretakers deepen their understanding of equine dentistry. This course does not provide any professional credentials, certification, etc. This course does not replace advice from qualified, relevant equine professionals, experts, and/or veterinarians.

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