Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Secret Behind Kill Pen Rescues (and How Much a Slaughter Horse Really Sells For)

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up, gather 'round! I'm about to tell you a great secret. Once you know this secret thing, you can decode many, many situations, giving you power and confidence.
You can use it to see the truth, avoid bad relationships, and save money.

This thing is one of life's most powerful mechanisms, driving events both insignificant and enormous. Psychologists and sociologists study it, marketers strive to create it, and Hollywood feeds off of it.
It is the thing compelling some of your very own behavior.
You already know this secret, but you don't know that you know it.
Like most great truths, it hides in plain sight.
And today, it is more prevalent in the horse world than ever before, especially in kill pen rescues.

This thing is made up of four key ingredients. By themselves, each of these things can be compelling. Together, they create an absolutely enormously potent force called...

HYPE has made people millions upon millions of dollars with insanely popular, yet silly products such as the Pet Rock, Tickle-Me-Elmo, and Beanie Babies, all of which have caused physical fights between shoppers.

HYPE is why everyone remembers the sinking of the Titanic (1,500 dead) but no one remembers the more recent sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff (9,500 dead) or the much more recent Doña Paz ferry disaster (4,400 dead).

HYPE is why every serious adventurer hopes to climb Mount Everest, but no one has even heard of
Chimborazo (technically two miles higher) or K2 and Annapurna, which are only slightly lower than Mount Everest, but much, much more challenging and deadly.*

HYPE is the reason this Guicci brand backpack sells for $1,980, but you can buy the exact same thing direct from China for $187.

And finally, of course, HYPE is the secret behind the success of kill pen rescues.

Let's take a look at how hype is created. Here are the four ingredients:

Excitement: Drama, thrill, turmoil.
This can be positive or negative; it can feel good or bad.

: Time pressure. A ticking clock. Stress.

Exclusivity: You get to be THE ONE. The one that gets to be the hero, or gets the best deal, the one in the spotlight, the person with a unique experience, or being a part of a special group.

Pathos: Emotions, especially feelings of guilt, sorrow, empathy, pity, and compassion.

Let's take a look at how the ingredients of Hype are applied in Kill Pen "rescue" situations. Here's a typical post from a kill pen rescue operator:

At the end of this ad, you are left feeling like you would really, really, like to give the horse a home, or at least donate. You feel sympathetic, guilty, and sad, because you get the impression that this poor "defeated" horse is suffering. And you may be a little panicked because there seems to be so little time ("DEADLINE!" "Slaughter!" "Before it's too late!") You also want to feel like you are a special part of a group of rescuers ("he has NO ONE BUT US TO COUNT ON"), donating money to save this special horse (an abandoned racehorse "robbed of his identity!"). But let's see what the ad would look like without all the hype, and with a shot of plain old truth thrown in:

how do you feel?
Disgusted? Confused?
Do you feel like a used car salesman is trying to talk you into something?

Most of the time, kill pen "rescues" are little more than a scam. Unfortunately, good people get sucked in very easily, because of those four ingredients that make up hype. We all get sucked in by drama (Excitement), we all feel rather bad for slaughter-bound horses (Pathos), none of us are immune to feelings of Urgency, and we all like to feel we're a part of something special (Exclusiveness).

But you know the very worst part of these scams?

Good people are sometimes the very ones promoting them. The become blinded to the facts, even to the point of believing their own hype. What facts, you ask? Here's one:

1) The price for these kill pen horses is always significantly above slaughter price. This means that in the end, the kill-buyer profits greatly off of kill pen "rescues." Even if each horse only makes them $50-$300 more via the "rescue" than they would get via slaughter, that adds up to quite a profit over time. This is especially true considering the fact that almost nothing is known about the horse as a riding animal, the kill buyer does nothing at all to care for the horse, and by selling to "rescues," kill-buyers save themselves the cost of keeping the horse on a feedlot, or hauling it to a slaughter plant across the border. In fact, the "rescuer" often has to pay the kill-buyer or his agent a large amount of money for quarantine and shipping, further lining his pockets.

Slaughter price varies, but is, at the very most, about 70 cents per pound here in the United States. At this maximum price, a 1,000lb horse in good fat condition is worth $700 to a kill-buyer. Realistically though, the average slaughter-bound horse is worth more like 40 cents per pound, or $400 to a kill-buyer. Yet, kill pen "rescue" horses are often priced at $750-$900. In the pictures below, compare the "packing" price of a horse actually bound for slaughter with the "bail" price of a horse at a kill pen rescue.

Cwt means "hundred weight." 35cwt = $35 per 100 lbs = $2.86/lb, or $350 for an average/large 1,000lb horse.

Now compare that to a kill pen rescue's prices:

The prices for these kill pen "rescue" horses are at least $400 over "packer" (meat) price.

Let's move on to another example...

Here's a gelding at Ryon's Rescue Pen, a popular kill pen "rescue" in this area.

The gelding's front cannons look to be in bad shape, bowed with hard use. Although they talk about the gelding's "good condition" and abilities, there may be absolutely no truth to this, because as per their policy,
'All horses are sold "AS IS; WHERE IS' with no guarantees regarding temperament, age, soundness, health, discipline. There are NO exceptions."

I was easily able to Google this horse's breeder and see his original sale listing. According to the breeder, he's actually two years older and .1 hands shorter than Ryon's has listed him as.

Poor Cole Wimpy is being sold for $850, about three to five hundred dollars more than he'd probably bring at a slaughter house. Is he worth that? Maybe he is. Of course, you can't ride him and see, because unlike real rescues, Ryon's does not allow buyers to try horses.

A real horse rescue gives adopters more flexibility. You are encouraged to handle and ride the horse. If you begin to feel like a horse isn't the right fir for you, an adoption can be stopped at any time. Good rescues also take horses back. But at Ryon's Rescue Pen and other kill pen rescues, once you've even seriously considered buying a horse, you're stuck. Here's the policy for putting money down on horses at Ryon's Rescue Pen:

"If for ANY reason you back out on a horse you put credit card information on, that card will be charged 25% of the cost of the horse plus any board that may have accrued."
And of course there are NO refunds, under any circumstances. 

At a real rescue, horses are adopted out with up-to-date vaccinations, hoof trims, and Coggins, and adopters are given a good picture of the horse's existing medical problems (if any) and overall health. At Ryon's Rescue Pen and other kill pen rescues, you aren't even guaranteed a recent Coggins test. If the horse's was consigned without one, you are responsible for hiring a vet to have one done at the auction house.

Here's another fact that people completely disregard in their rush to help "slaughter" horses:

2) Ponies, minis, foals, and severely lame, sick, blind, or skinny horses almost never go to slaughter.

First of all, some basic federal laws apply: a horse bound for slaughter has to be able to stand on its own, can't be blind, and can't be under 6 months old or visibly pregnant.

Secondly, it's just not in the kill-buyer's best interests. Think about it. If you're a slaughter buyer, do you want to fill your trailer with small, skinny, or sick animals that may die on the journey and won't bring much money, or big, fat, healthy ones that will travel well and get you a higher price? Yet kill pen "rescues" often advertise these types of equines as "going to slaughter SOON!" That's because...

3) A local sale to a sucker always beats a long-distance sale to a factory.
A kill-buyer, like anyone in business, wants to get the best deal. So he will always sell an animal for the most money he can get. And of course, he can get the most money off of YOU, a caring member of the public. He would much rather take your $800 and make you pick up a horse, versus spending his own gas money to haul a horse to the meat processing plant and make $400. This is why so many kill pens and auction houses cooperate with rescues, or set up their own "rescue" pages to advertise horses. In fact, a "slaughter buyer" is actually just a horse dealer-- they don't exclusively sell to slaughter plants. They'll sell to anyone, and they make the most money from private sales.

"OK," you may be saying, "so what?" "So I paid more than slaughter price, I still saved a horse!" Well actually...

4) For every horse you "save" from a kill-pen "rescue," another takes its place. Sad but true.
  The kill buyer will load up his trailer with the least desirable horses first-- the unbroke, unsound, and older ones. But you can bet that there won't be any empty spots on that trailer. Why waste the space and gas? Besides, the kill buyer has to fill his quota-- he's likely under contract.

The Moral of the Story:
  • Don't fall for the HYPE of kill-pen "rescues."
    Don't let the excitement, fake urgency, emotional blackmail,
    and sense of exclusiveness get to you.
  • Don't impulse-buy a "slaughter-bound" horse from these rescues
    dealers, don't donate to them, and don't support local horse rescues
    that work with them.
  • Good people get sucked into the HYPE and try to help, but they
    just end up making slaughter-dealers richer.
  • Spend your money on adopting a horse from a real 501c3
    non-profit rescue that has put time and money into that horse,
    and knows its health, training, and temperament.
  • If you can't resist the excitement of buying a slaughter-bound horse,
    go to an auction yourself and buy one instead of paying a dealer extra.
  • If you absolutely can't resist buying from a "kill pen rescue,"
    be aware that you are supporting a horse dealer, not a real rescue.
  • Did you buy a kill-pen horse? Quarantine it.
    The horse is probably sick from being surrounded by many
    strange horses. Don't trust anything the dealer has said
    (or not said) about the horse's age, training, temperament, or soundness.

Want to read the saga of a woman who bought a kill-pen "rescue" horse and got in over her head? Click here. Her $350 horse ended up costing $2,200 to quarantine and transport! You could adopt 2-3 horses from real rescues for that price, and you would actually have some confidence in the rescue's descriptions of the horses.

Read more about kill-pen rescues here, here, and here.

About 72,000 horses went to slaughter in Mexico last year. In 2018, as of today (6/12/18),  29,220 horses have gone to slaughter in Mexico.   Source.

*Annapurna is the mountain with the highest fatality-to-summit rate (32% of people who go up never come down). The mountain called K2 is only 778 feet lower than Everest, but only 302 people have ever reached the summit it and lived to tell the tale, vs Everest's roughly 3,000 conquerers. K2 has never been climbed in winter.


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  2. Alpha Mare Rescue in Pauma Valley Ca. was Hi Caliber which was shut down. Alpha Mare needs to be shut down still killing and getting $$