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One-Way Ticket: The Tragic Fate of U.S. Racehorses Exported to South Korea
Update September 12, 2019: After a police investigation into footage released by PETA showing the widespread abuse and slaughter of horses in South Korea, three people at the Nonghyup slaughterhouse in South Korea have been charged as well as the company itself.
Update May 20, 2019: Following PETA’s exposé of the treatment of former U.S. racehorses and their offspring—which includes footage of horses trembling in fear and being beaten in the face as they’re forced into a slaughterhouse and killed for meat in South Korea—the Jeju Seobu police are investigating alleged violations of the Animal Protection Act. Additionally, both the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) and the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) have said that they’ll do as PETA has asked and work to implement a retirement program for racehorses.
South Korea, where horsemeat restaurants abound, hopes to become a major player in international horse racing—Koreans bet more than US$8 billion annually on races. Just as in the United States, racing takes place primarily on dirt tracks, so the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) imports hundreds of American horses each year for racing and breeding. While aggressively breeding and bringing in new blood to improve South Korean racing, the KRA discards those horses who get injured or don’t succeed. A KRA official stated in 2018 that of the 1,600 horses “retired” from the racing industry each year, only 50 (or about 3 percent) are deemed suitable for other equestrian uses.
Where do all the rest go? Horse flesh is sold at restaurants and grocery stores, and horse fat or “oil” is used in beauty products. PETA U.S. investigators traveled to Jeju, South Korea, to expose the fate of these American horses and their offspring.
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PETA U.S. eyewitness investigators captured footage of horses at the largest horse slaughterhouse in South Korea on nine dates between April 2018 and February 2019 and were able to identify 22 Thoroughbred racehorses. They ranged from almost 2 years old to 13 years old when they were slaughtered, with a median age of 4.
'Praise the Winner' and Eat the Loser
Seungja Yechan means “Praise the Winner” in Korean—little consolation to this son of American legend Medaglia d’Oro, filmed at the Nonghyup slaughterhouse on May 8, 2018. Freeze brands on his shoulders tipped off the investigators to his identity. Records show that he raced four times and was scratched from his fifth race.
Seungja Yechan as a foal, with his mom, Quality Coup
Seungja Yechan stands at the slaughterhouse. To his left is one of the black poles used to strike the horses.
Horse Racing: Not the 'Sport of Kings'—Just Another Livestock Industry
Part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), the KRA tries to gain respect for South Korea as a serious racing nation while also supporting horsemeat consumption. KRA’s chair stated in 2012, “Unlike other livestock raised mostly for eating, horses can meet multiple purposes.… [H]orse meat is good and we will work on ways of encouraging people to eat it in the future.” MAFRA’s recent five-year plan for bolstering the horse industry included promoting “horse meat, cosmetics and other commercial products.” An official said, “Horse breeding will create jobs, such as horse trainers and veterinarians. Horse meat and other products made from horses will be more readily available.”
Meat from horses seen at the Nonghyup slaughterhouse on April 30, 2018.
Moisturizers containing horse fat.
Some of the horses arriving at the slaughterhouse appeared to have come straight off the racetrack; one of them, Cape Magic, arrived on a Monday morning with a huge bandage on his leg. Records showed that he had raced on Friday in Busan—and he was killed less than 72 hours after finishing out of the money.
Five-year-old Cape Magic raced on a Friday afternoon and was slaughtered on the following Monday morning, after winning no money in his last four starts.
Other Thoroughbreds PETA U.S. saw at the slaughterhouse were ungroomed, mud-covered, matted, or patchy. After seeing 4-year-old filly Winning Design arrive in poor condition, PETA U.S’ investigators visited the farm that she had just come from.
Four-year-old Winning Design on May 4, 2018, less than six weeks after coming in second to last in her final race.
Owned by a family that also operates a horsemeat restaurant, the farm confined dozens of dirty, unkempt horses to small manure-filled pens and stalls. The stench of feces predominated. One thin horse looked gravely ill—she had an ulcerated eye, hair loss, and sores.
This farm had a variety of equines, from local Jeju ponies to draft horses imported from Canada.
Horses appear in poor condition at a horsemeat farm.
At the slaughterhouse, PETA U.S’ investigators were shocked to see workers beating the horses with sticks to get them to turn around and step out of the trucks and through the doorway. The horses huddled together, clearly panicked, as the men whacked them, including in the face. Slaughter expert Dr. Temple Grandin watched the footage and concluded, “The handling of the horses during truck unloading was not acceptable. Hitting a horse on the face is abusive. … It is obvious that the people unloading the horses had never had any training in stockmanship.”
Three men took turns beating these terrified mares for almost three minutes.
This 3-year-old filly was repeatedly struck in the face during unloading.
Inside the slaughterhouse, workers prodded horses up chutes and into a kill box designed for cattle. An official with the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency told The Korea Observer, “We knock out horses with the same hammer that we use for cows. Things may get a little messy if they do not pass out at the first blow.”
Horse in a slaughter chute, just before entering the kill box.
However, beyond the obvious anatomical differences, horses are also generally more nervous and skittish and may jerk away when a captive-bolt gun comes at their head. Inadequately restrained horses make it very difficult for the slaughterer to administer an accurate shot. Even worse, many of the horses arrived in pairs, and PETA U.S.' investigator saw filly Royal River shot right in front of her companion, Air Blade, who had to see her being hoisted into the air. This violated the Korean Animal Protection Act, and PETA U.S. and a Korean animal protection group have submitted a complaint about this and the beatings to the District Public Prosecutors’ Office in Jeju City.
The KRA’s ambition to raise the quality of South Korean racing has led it to import over 3,600 American horses for racing and breeding in the past 10 years. At the KRA’s massive breeding facility and private farms across the country, stallions are treated like semen machines, made to mount mares multiple times a day in the breeding season. Mares are restrained, washed, tail-wrapped, lubricated, and led to a chest board. Workers apply twitches—rope loops twisted tightly with a rod—to the mares’ upper lips to hold them in place. Others strap breeding boots onto the mares’ back feet so they can’t injure the stallions by kicking. Injuries appeared to be common. PETA U.S’ investigators saw the following: American broodmare Catch Me Later, whose left hind foot was so painful that she couldn’t put weight on it so workers couldn’t put a breeding boot on her other foot, was still forced to bear the weight of both a teaser stallion and Colonel John during breeding. She limped badly as workers led her out of the breeding shed. Stallion Sadamu Patek’s right eye was grossly swollen, ulcerated, and weeping pus. Broodmare Annika Queen’s laminitis (foot disease) was so severe that she could barely walk, but her owners made her nurse a second foal in addition to her own. (Because of her lameness, she wasn’t able to push the other foal away.) A farm manager said that she would be sent to slaughter when no longer needed for nursing.
Broodmare Ignite was restrained with a twitch twisted around her top lip while stallion Testa Matta ‘covered’ her (the industry’s term for breeding). When he didn’t ejaculate during copulation, workers kept Ignite twitched while Testa Matta was made to perform a second time.
After covering (mounting) one mare in the morning, American stallion Take Charge Indy reappeared with a huge leg wrap but still had to mount another mare in the afternoon.
You Can Help Stop This!
Please demand that the KRA implement a comprehensive retirement plan for unwanted horses in South Korea.