Van E. Harl


A white elephant is a valuable possession that an owner cannot get rid of and the cost to maintain it is off the chart in expense, in proportion to its usefulness.

On the eve of Buddha’s birth his mother dreamed of a white elephant and made the animal a prized, but very expensive living thing to own in that culture. Being so valuable and sacred you could not put the animal to work to help pay for its food and upkeep. So when the King wanted to give you a white elephant, you truly did not know if it was a good thing or a long term bad thing.

Sadly the horse is becoming a white elephant in this country because of the politics of some and the misdirected actions of others. People who will not have to take on the burden of feeding and caring for horses, long after they have outlived their usefulness in the farming and ranching industry. The last horse slaughter houses were closed down in 2007. There is no Federal law that prohibits slaughtering horses, so the pressure was put on at the state level to eliminate the butchering and selling of horse meat. Political pressure from special interests groups, who have gotten their way and then they went home and forgot the horse, they alleged they wanted to help.

We have a problem in this country separating the horse from being a tool of ranching and a pet. We will send everything else that lives on a farm to the butcher but there is something about the horse that causes some to go to great lengths, to stop this practice. I am not a horse owner. In fact I have not been on the back of a horse since I was in grade school. I do however have horses on my property in Jackson County, Oklahoma right now. They are there because a horse owner needs the pasture space to help feed his animals and I have lots of tall grass that needs to be eaten down. I must admit that when I was back in Altus a few weeks ago standing on my land watching those horses, it was delightful. They were young and healthy and they wanted to come up to me and have their noses scratched.

However hard times in this country are coming and hard times for horses are already here. That $500 horse you own is worth $50 and you can’t sell it even if you wanted to. There are too many horses in the US and it has driven the price dramatically down. When owners cannot sell their horses, feeding them becomes even more expensive. Then feed gets hard to find and the first one to suffer is the animal. Those good looking young horses on my land are doing fine but what happens in the years to come when they grow old and sick and they cannot be sold off because the market is flooded – flooded because there is no way to dispose of the un-wanted and un-needed animals.

When my dogs get old and sick I have not only the right but the moral obligation to euthanize them to stop their suffering. I do this because I care for them and I want to end their pain. How is it we understand that for cats and dogs, but not for horses? I know, I am not sending Rover or Fluffy off to a butcher where they will be killed and cut up to be eaten by Frenchmen (France did import the highest percentage of our horse meat), but I stopped their suffering. Horses are being shipped to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered at about the numbers they were slaughtered in the US in recent years before the ban (at great transportation expense).

The factor, that is not being looked at is the economy, is in the tank and there are just too many horse. The official/law enforcement rescues for horses are going up dramatically in this country, just as criminal home invasions are, because of hard times. In stressful times people will hurt animals even faster than they will hurt their fellow humans and hurting humans does not take long. One positive side of the impending oil shortage is that horses will be coming back stronger than ever as a form of desperately needed transportation. Be nice to the horse you will need him in the future, but don’t let them suffer now.