There was a time when I loved watching the Kentucky Derby and read books about thoroughbred horse racing, but the problem of racing is that you need more and more horses to race and the also-rans and never-rans must go somewhere. That somewhere is apparently the slaughter house. “Saving America’s Horses” isn’t just about race horses, but also about mustangs, donkeys and other equines who outlive their owners’ needs.

“Saving America’s Horses” is one of those documentaries that wears its heart on its sleeve. There’s no pretense of being objective and if you’re squeamish you’ll want to avoid this film (or at least avert your eyes at certain points).

“Saving America’s Horses: A Nation Betrayed” opens in Pasadena on Friday, Nov. 23.

I’ve volunteered for the Pasadena Humane Society and I know who easily people throw away dogs. There are just too many dogs and too few people who want to give them forever homes. The average life expectancy for a dog is 12.8 years.  The average for a cat is 12-15 years if they are kept indoors while an outdoor cat is only 2-5 years.

For a horse, however, it is between 20-25.  That’s a long time and a lot of hay and oats.

The horses that run the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and the Belmont are only three years old. The famous gelding John Henry was retired at age ten, but he lived until he was 32. Secretariat lived to be 19, dying of laminitis (a hoof disease).  These horses were the exceptions to the rule. Some horses just don’t run well. Gelding can be run until their almost crippled. What becomes of them?

What becomes of the horses whose owners lose interest in them? What happens to the  feral horses we call mustangs if they can’t be adopted.

According to this movie, they are taken to slaughter houses owned by foreign concerns to become meat sold in Europe. Even if you don’t object to the concept of eating horses, the documentary airs environmental, ethical and medical concerns. The factories don’t care about the disposal of used body parts and blood, contaminating water sources and land. While the slaughter of chicken and cattle has guidelines, the horse slaughter houses are not well inspected, often leading to cruel, torturous last hours or days for living horses. They might even be cruelly crippled before the reach the slaughter house. Because the horses are not raised with the goal of human consumption in mind, the horse meat may contain various chemicals that would not be allowed in beef, lamb or pork.

Even in the round up of horses, to think about the sweet, little foals being run until their hooves fall off is almost unbearable to consider. What a cruel nation this is and even with our affection for the horse and appreciation of their beauty, we allow this to go on. In the West, while we think of those animals running free, we don’t see them being tortured for days–it’s far worse than shooting an animal in the head.

This documentary includes interviews with celebrities like Paul Sorvino, Linday Gray, Tippi Hedren and Willie Nelson as well as veterinarians, trainers and policymakers.

In the city, we don’t see many horses. We don’t have to see them at all. Maybe we’ll go for a romantic ride in Central Park and not give a second thought to the future of that horse–young now, but eventually old. But we should wonder what’s happening to them. They aren’t being let out to pasture or given a good painless death.

Animal lovers, this documentary is worth seeing as a reality check. If you’d rather skip to the conclusion and open your heart and your pocketbook, check out the website for SavingAmericasHorses.org.

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