29.3.08

HORSESENSE OR THE LACK OF IT.

PANIC AND PATHOLOGY. A Look Back at Horse Maiming in the 1990s.
by Chris Powell, Department of Criminology, University of Southern Maine, USA and Roger Yates, School of Sociology, University College Dublin, Ireland.

If one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to a lot of animals, especially in the name if commerce, the cruelty is condoned, and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people. Ruth Harrison, in Animal Machines, 1964.

This paper is an analysis of the ways in which various individuals, groups or social organisations (including humans who felt they had a stake in animal welfare, the police and the media) attempted to ‘make sense of’ events which to many people seemed outrageously ‘deviant’, ‘criminal’ and/or ‘irrational’. Its focus is the phenomenon of horse maiming, or ‘horse ripping’ in tabloid journalese. Horses are frequently attacked in a variety of ways in fields and stables,[1] and sometimes waves of attacks make the national news. For example, in the early 1990’s a number of attacks on horses occurred mainly in the South of England and especially in the counties of Surrey and Hampshire. These events were reported by national and local tabloid and broadsheet press. One national newspaper, the Daily Mail, added a reward of £10,000 to the £8,000 pledged by the International League for the Protection of Horses, Essex-based Naturewatch Trust, and the equestrian magazine, Horse & Hound, to anyone able to provide information which would lead to the conviction of the person or persons responsible.[2]

In the course of the discussion we will suggest that the framework used for ‘understanding’ horse-maiming casts some light not only on the relationships currently in place between human beings and other species (‘the animal deal’?) but also between humans and ‘nature’ in more general terms, and between human beings themselves. We stress at the outset that we have tried to limit ourselves to as narrow a focus as possible - but feel obliged to point out that the ramifications of this project are rather broad. Hence we will also seek to identify a series of further issues which seemed to emerge from the work.

By 1993, the Times[3] felt able to identify 27 horse attacks in Hampshire alone and referred to ‘scores of reports’ coming in. What seems unquestionable (even given routine media hyperbole) is that a number of horses clearly experienced pain, sexualised assault, and in one or two cases, death. For example, reports refer to:

• a pregnant Welsh cob mare called Daphne who was attacked with a Stanley knife strapped to a pole (Sunday Times, 31 Nov 93);
• a 23 year old mare called Chiltern Hills who had her genitals mutilated (Times, 5 Jan 93);
• a 31 year old mare called Gay Minstrel who was slashed across the quarters and had her genitals mutilated (Times, 23 May 97);
• an 11 year old thoroughbred called Kerry who was stabbed in the genitals (ibid);
• a 20 year old mare cut into with a 5-inch knife (ibid);
• a 4 year old ‘working horse’ stabbed in the shoulder (Alton Herald, 10 Jul 92);
• a mare called Chrissie had her genitals slashed and a fencepost driven inside her (Observer, 12 Nov 97);
• ponies burnt with caustic soda (Borden Times & Mail, 2 Feb 93);
• and (most notoriously)…
• an Irish ‘hunter mare’ called Mountbatten found dead in her stable with cuts to her genitals (Times, 25 Jan 93; Alton Herald, 29 Jan 93).

How are we led to ‘understand’ such attacks, and what are the implications of such understandings? The first and rather obvious thing to say is that these attacks were almost universally regarded as reprehensible. Indeed, as far as we are aware, absolutely no-one attempted to justify them. The condemnation of the attackers was as unequivocal as it would be later for ‘spree killer’ Thomas Hamilton and serial killer Fred West, and arguably (sotto voce) slightly more so than the indictment of the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, Peter Sutcliffe, when it was believed that his victims were all prostitutes.

Why was this? The answer is perhaps not quite as obvious as it might appear to be. Were the British simply living up to their stereotype of being sentimental ‘animal lovers’? What is clear is that the attacks triggered off a series of questions aimed at resolving what was seen as both abhorrent and aberrant events, questions which for brevity can be summarised by just one: ‘What kind of person could do this kind of thing to horses and why?’

It was - and remains - a valid question. As ethnomethodologists and others have observed, people who initially regard an event as ‘senseless’, are liable (if it concerns them enough) to spend rather a lot of time and energy ‘making sense’ of it. Interestingly, whilst the acts (the kind of thing) are described, rather more time is spent trying to identify the characteristics of the ‘offender’ (the who) and on detailing the experiences of the ‘victim’. [Unless an animal rights position based on rights bearing and rights violations is taken, defining the ‘victim’ in horse-maiming cases is rather problematic, as seen later in the paper - however, we start with investigating points about ‘the offender’].

An emphasis on the ‘offender’ is understandable enough: After all: ‘Everyone wants him or her stopped from doing it again’. Owners of horses expressed their feelings of loss and fear, clearly not wanting to go through a similar experience again; the horse-keeping community were anxious and wanted the police to quickly apprehend the culprit(s).

The Offender(s).

As soon as the attacks on horses became constituted as a series of ‘seriously deviant events’, questions were inevitably raised concerning the identity - and the motivation - of the perpetrator(s). The key voices allowed to publicly speculate on that question were those we have called ‘victim-owners’, the police and various ‘experts’ attached to the investigation or consulted by the media. What does seem clear is that the vast majority of the significant definers of the events, albeit with varying degrees of sophistication, immediately assumed that the offender was pathological. To repeat, the primary questions were the ones asked by or on behalf of the ‘victim-owners’:-

• ‘What sort of person would do that?’[4]
• ‘What kind of human being could do this?’[5]

Maybe this pathological man (the police assumed that the offender was male) came from that pathological world beyond the ‘normal’ and ‘pleasant’ world of village halls and country fetes? The police warned people to be on the look-out for ‘shady looking characters’ and officers were reported to be seeking information on ‘unfamiliar cars’ parked in the ‘wrong place’. As someone observed, ‘it is sick society we live in today’, from which, presumably, even places such as Four Marks, the small village in Hampshire where the 10-year old Irish mare Mountbatten was killed, were not immune.

We are suggesting that one strand of interpretation of these events was that they constituted a metaphor. The bad world of ‘shady characters’ was insinuating itself into the hitherto solid, respectable, world of Middle England. There was a fear of the enemy without. However, alongside with this fear was a further, different, and even more worrying thought: maybe the enemy was within. One resident of Four Marks was frightened, ‘to think that somebody could be living next door to this person or just down the road from them’ (Alton Herald, 29 Jan 93), while a speaker at a meeting about the horse attacks at Four Marks’ village hall put it in classic Agatha Christie vein: ‘The person carrying out these attacks could be anyone. They could even be in this room tonight’ (Alton Herald, 4 Feb 93). The openly stated consensus view, though, was clearly the pathological one. Indeed, what does ‘drive people to do this to an animal’?

It has been suggested that the designation of an offender as pathological serves to preclude further consideration as to the conceivable ‘rationality’ of his/her action. Certainly, for those who are not either ‘professionally’ or personally involved in any specific case, it is relatively easy to simply dismiss some acts as ‘purely pathological’. These horse-maimings could be dismissed as the work of a ‘maniac’,[6] a ‘psychopath’,[7] a ‘lunatic’[8] or a ‘pervert’,[9] or a ‘disturbed’[10] and ‘sick’[11] person ‘who needs help’[12] in the course of a conversation which could flow easily into a discussion into the state of world soccer or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. We raise our eyebrows in horror and express our contempt for what the Sunday Times[13] termed ‘madman or madmen...the most hated men in Britain’ and pass on to other things.

The closer one was to the event, however, the greater the need to reflect on the meaning of it all. At the very least people wanted some sort of ‘understanding’ as to the precise nature of the pathology. We are suggesting that such reflection tends to place into question a simple ‘sane/insane’ polarity. That polarity is only a starting point. One victim-owner spoke of the perpetrator as, ‘dreadfully sick mentally’.[14] An RSPCA spokesperson said: ‘Whoever is doing this must have a sick, disturbed mind’,[15] but at least they are ‘credited’ with some sort of a mind! The ‘sane/insane’ distinction, we are suggesting, is altogether too neat in the sense that, in practice, people offer viewpoints which allude to their awareness of the ‘kernels of rationality’ which might lie within the pathology. We mean that given an individual’s ‘crazed assumptions’, a kind of reason might well be engaged in order to guide ‘crazed’ actions. If, for example, one believes (insanely) X, then the flow of thought which leads to insane action Y might - internally - be quite rational. Personally motivated and professional investigators of ‘truth’, when confronted by an insane act, may seek to pursue the insane beliefs which are held to explain that act. Thus, with regard to the horse maiming cases, Tony Black, a retired Chief Psychologist at Broadmoor Hospital, speculated that the offender suffered from ‘bizarre mental delusions’ who furthermore ‘saw horses as devil-carriers’.[16] In other words, the delusional belief that horses were devil-carriers led to a somewhat ‘rational’ wish to destroy them. From the offender’s perspective, Black implied, the victim was the Devil, not really the horses at all.

There was an alternative (and contradictory) version of this kind of symbolic hypothesisation. One official of the Portsmouth-based horse protection organisation, Horsewatch, noted that many people in the area believed that the attacks might be the work of Satanists, who were intent on ‘sacrificing’ innocent horse victims to the Devil.[17] Presumably, if one believes in Satan, such sacrifices might ‘make sense’. A police officer suggested that maybe the perpetrator was a Hunt Saboteur.[18] Presumably, for ‘fanatics’ opposed to hunting, it would be quite ‘rational’ to leave a series of animals dead and maimed around the countryside of Southern England!

This brings us on to rather less publicly voiced suspicions held by some victim-owners as to the meaning of these ‘crimes’. This was the thought that they rather than the horses were the ‘real’ targets. Whilst universally rejecting any idea that they had done anything which might ‘justify’ revenge attacks, one of the author’s interviews with a Horsewatch representative indicated that several people were worried that the perpetrator’s ‘real’ target was their way of life. Such anxieties are a manifestation of ‘respectable fears’ which arguably are a feature of middle and upper-middle class life in contemporary rural England. Common-sense theory on ‘deviance’ takes an act and then pursues assumptions about the characteristics of the actor. The ideological function of the process tends to render those sections of the population who seem to have those characteristics highly suspicious. In the case at hand, this may have interesting negative implications for Satanists and (rather more seriously) for those opposed to the norms, values and practices of rural England’s upper-middle classes. Essentially, we are observing an ideological process in which the pursuit of comprehension of the ‘rationality’ which lies behind the ‘pathology’ diverts attention away from what might arguably be conceived of as the pathological within the rational.

Seriousness.

It is significant that the attacks on horses are portrayed as ‘serious’ events. There are a number of ways in which we come to comprehend the seriousness. One is via straightforward descriptions of the injuries incurred by the horses cited above. However, injury is injury. We need to understand that these injuries matter. An isolated incident can perhaps be written off or denied relatively easily. Hence, the primary definers here are at pains to observe that it is not a case of an isolated incident but rather a sequence of events which have a pattern. Again, though, why should we care? We are invited to care because we are convinced that these events are at one and the same time ‘random’ and ‘systematic’. They are ‘random’ in that we do not really know when or where the perpetrator(s) will strike next. They are ‘systematic’ because it appears to be the case that he, she, or they, are serially focused on horses. But who cares - we aren’t horses, are we?

One of the reasons why we should care is because the media tells us it is a serious matter. It’s serious because very many people seem to think it is serious. Significant sections of local communities take these sorts of occurrences seriously. In the case of the 1990s horse maiming attacks, Four Marks’ village hall was ‘packed’ for a meeting on horse security. The local paper tells us that, ‘hundreds of people crowded into Four Marks village hall, whilst others were forced to stand outside straining to hear through open windows’.[19] The Horsewatch organisation was established at this meeting, the first of 85 such groups formed within eighteen months.[20] Some residents started to employ private security companies whilst others blocked the police switchboard in search of advice. The police certainly took it seriously. They established ‘the Mountbatten Operation’ (named after the early ‘victim’), which had twelve officers attached to it. It should be noted that, regardless of the feelings of individual officers concerning horses, these events provided the police with a heaven-sent opportunity to be seen to be responding to demands placed upon them by significant members of an influential middle-class community. Referring to the ‘overwhelming’ response from the public, the police spoke of a general need for the police and the public to ‘bond’ together, whilst the Horsewatch co-ordinator said: ‘Hopefully, by all of us being a bit more vigilant, we can start to make a hole in the crime rates of Hampshire’.[21] Crime prevention officer, Bill Slater, in the same vein, told horsekeepers: ‘The police are the professionals in detecting crime, but you are our eyes and ears of the equestrian community’.[22] Speaking about public vigilance, Slater also said, ‘This incident shows that they are out there watching and caring’.[23] We see essentially the construction of a ‘moral community’ integrated around the fear of and antagonism towards an offender/stranger.

Victims.

As noted above, one of the most interesting issues arising out of horse maiming cases concerns the question of victim identity and status. From a critical criminological perspective, victim identification can by no means be assumed. To be a ‘victim’ requires the ability to be successfully constituted as such. Victimhood is an ascribed status - but one which can be instigated by effective claims-making. What this essentially boils down to is that some sections of society have acquired the ability to establish that their ‘suffering’ is unnecessary, serious and caused by ‘dangerous people’. The process is helped if their ‘innocence’ can be dramatically contrasted with their ‘assailants’ malevolence. Put bluntly, some victims are ‘worthy’, and the worthier the victim, the more reprehensible the offender.

With regard to human beings, modern legal frameworks assume a principle of individual worth and rights, even if social structural factors and routine administrative practices insure a basic reality whereby the rights and worthiness of some are amplified, whilst others are rendered invisible. However, if all humans have at least theoretical legal rights, what of other animals in general and, in this case, of horses in particular? Can a horse be a victim and why should we care about a horse’s suffering? Certainly, in the sense of animal welfare legislation, it is illegal to cause ‘unnecessary suffering’ to horses. (What constitutes ‘unnecessary’ is, of course, an issue we explore later). However, the ‘master status’ of horses is that of the property of human beings. Therefore, in practice, the attacks were interpreted by the police as constituting incidents of ‘criminal damage’.[24] They were, in fact, property offenses.[25] What appears to be the case is that victimhood is legally ascribed to the owners of the property. It is probably fair to say that the horse owners in question tended to come from the higher echelons of their communities and, as such, had a reasonable amount of income, status and indeed ‘clout’. They were, therefore, well located in terms of the local hierarchy of credibility. It is their victimhood which in one sense enables the ‘attacks on horses’ to be treated seriously. This is quite logical. After all, the horses themselves do not and cannot complain, humans do - but on whose (or what’s) behalf? What seems evident is that an attack on a horse is, in a social sense at least, not regarded as the equivalent to an attack on, for instance, a car. Yet, why not?

People invest a lot of time and money in, and arguably obtain emotional satisfaction from, their cars. However, the words used by horse owners would sound rather absurd if the people concerned were referring to their cars. Some would transfer relatively easily - those which place stress on the purely instrumental purpose of the ownership. Owner statements included, for example, the following:

• Last season, he did well in dressage. Obviously, this is going to slow things down a bit;
• [He was] a very expensive show jumper;[26]
• A well-bred potential superstar;
• Wonderful to ride.

However, what is often combined with these kinds of observations seems (on the surface at least) to raise question marks about whether these offenses are in fact ‘just’ about property. Would people say of a damaged or destroyed car:

• It left a great gap in my life;
• I’d owned her since a yearling;
• She was almost a member of the family.

These comments might be made (just) with regard to cars, though it is clear that they constitute additional claims making on the behalf of ‘owner-victims’. To understand this more fully, we must return to the meaning of British animal welfare legislation which contains an explicit acknowledgement of animal sentiency.[27] As noted, the majority of British nonhuman protection legislation is based on the concept of not causing ‘unnecessary suffering’ (after 1822, British animal welfare legislation established the principle that nonhuman animals, including horses, could be treated ‘cruelly’[28]). Therefore, it does seem clear that the law recognises that nonhuman animals can be ‘victims’ - or recipients at least - of ‘suffering’ and ‘cruelty’. Protection legislation affecting Britain may accept that animals other than human are feeling living beings, yet it still remains true that harming a nonhuman animal puts one at risk of being charged with damaging property. With regard to nonhumans, it is possible in law to violate the property rights of persons[29] whether or not ‘unnecessary suffering’ is caused to the property in question. In this sense, any suffering caused to the nonhuman becomes a separate - and perhaps a secondary - matter to the original property offense. It seems that nonhuman animals, like human slaves before them, are afforded in law the strange and peculiar status of ‘sentient property’. Does such a status go some way to explain why, when police officers stress the property nature of the offenses, victim-owners place an emphasis on the non-instrumental ‘qualities’ or ‘characteristics’ of their horses? Why else does the owner of Mountbatten bother to tell reporters: ‘I hate the thought that a helpless animal, who has grown to trust and love in their own little way, could suffer at the hands of a human like this?’[30] Why did another victim-owner tell us: ‘He was a nice horse’? (telephone interview). Maybe, after all, the horse is the victim, or can have her share of victimhood?

Certainly the Detective Superintendent investigating the Hampshire attacks implied this by his observation that, ‘the victims can’t talk to you’.[31] Yet, nor can human murder victims. Their victimhood is socially recognised and usually extended and transported beyond themselves. Their family and friends suffer, so might their ‘community’ and indeed, on occasions, we are told ‘the nation grieves’. It has also been argued that the whole world (at least the ‘decent’ bit of it) shares the pain of the Kosovo dead or those killed by tsunami.

In theory, we recognise the right of people to attempt to draw attention to the victimhood of others and in practice we usually depend on them doing so. With regard to the attacks on horses, there is clearly considerable ambiguity concerning the identification of the (principal) victim. This, in practical terms, is partially smoothed over by a general consensus that something ‘very wrong’ had occurred. However, the ambiguity is an indication of the ‘unsettled’ nature of human-nonhuman relations. As historian Keith Thomas puts it: ‘If we look below the surface we shall find many traces of guilt, unease and defensiveness about the treatment of animals’.[32]

There is yet another sense in which we are invited to think that we should take attacks upon horses seriously. The suggestion was made that an attack on a horse should be envisaged as a precursor to an attack on a human.[33] This view might seem to hold ‘credibility’ regardless of whether the perpetrator is perceived as ‘purely pathological’ or as ‘pathologically rational’. The out-and-out psychopath, sufficiently deranged as to seek to attack ‘innocent’ horses may well be inclined to ‘up the ante’ on a future occasion and turn ‘his’ attention to humans. On the other hand, a resentment of ‘privileged’ people may mean that the ‘real’ victims may be targeted next time around, not ‘just’ their horses as items of property or their proxy. What is implied in this form of ad-hoc lay (and indeed professional) theorising is that the meaning of the act needs to be taken even more seriously than the act itself. After all, the logic goes - ‘a killer is a killer is a killer’. Hence, strident warnings are given to vulnerable young (especially female) owners not to take risks by watching over horses and ponies during the night.[34] If ‘seriousness’ may not be accorded on the basis of principle, then maybe it can be on the basis of pragmatic self-interest. Clearly, this kind of projection functions to sharpen broader perceptions and intensify the magnitude of the sense of threat and anxiety. At the same time, it blunts and disintensifies our ability to see attacks on horses as serious in their own right. From a speciesist perspective, ‘it’s all about ‘Us’’.

The telling of the horse-maiming story, for all the confusion which surrounds it, actually seems to provide us with hints as to ‘answers’ to a series of essential questions with regards to the currently asymmetrical relationship existing between human and other animals. Let’s be perverse and state the ‘answer’ first!

There are circumstances in which human beings are permitted to injure and kill horses and other nonhuman animals and, indeed, they are often rewarded for so doing. What we have seen, however, seems to go beyond such ‘legitimate’ circumstances. The ‘horse-ripping’ attacks in which crime/deviance categories come to be invoked apparently involve the wrong person, the wrong place, the wrong reasons/intentions, the wrong methods, the wrong time, and the wrong targets. The hand-wringing engaged with the pursuit of explanation for such ‘deviance’ theoretically might lead us to inquire more broadly into the ways in which humans use other animals. In practice, it seems to distract us from asking such questions.

The rest of this paper, therefore, problematises the ‘rightness’ of person, place, reason, methods, time and target. In the remaining section we have (in no particular order) attempted to identify various situations in which undoubted, routine and systematic suffering and harm is caused to many horses, yet which are not generally characterised as absolutely illegitimate as were the attacks we have described above. Moreover, we suggest that in these locations of ‘horse-harm’ (laboratories, racetracks, farms, abattoirs), it somehow seems much harder and certainly a great deal less appropriate to pathologise the perpetrators of any harm caused.

Therefore, in the examples which follow, it simply does not appear quite correct to ask what ‘drives’ the humans involved to do what they do; or to ask ‘who would’ (and stronger: ‘who could’) do it, and it also appears to cast a shadow on the putative logic within the statement that ‘a killer is a killer is a killer.’ It seems, then, possible to identify times and places in which harm - very serious harm including death - can occur to large numbers of horses - but without either the degree of social censure, nor a social construction, comparable to that which accompanied attacks on horses like ‘Mountbatten’. This may seem strange since, on the face of things, it does appear that the activities we are about to describe cause more harm and suffering to horses than the activities we have already outlined, if only because they happen routinely and in many locations. Finally, we will note that this inappropriateness appears even more marked if one considers what routinely happens to animals other than horses in similar ‘harmful settings’.

We have seen how members of the public, police officers, criminal psychologists and animal welfare officials have all concentrated their analysis on individual perpetrators of harm, individual acts of animal abuse and on individual animals. Cazaux has noted that the majority of academics - criminologists in particular - have also traditionally concentrated on individual nonhumans. There appears to have been a convergence of attention on nonhuman animals considered as individuals ‘with a visible and acknowledged personality and biography’.[35] In contrast, she argues, millions upon millions of nonhumans are exploited in large scale commercial processes in which the individual is utterly lost in cold production quotas and stark mortality rates. Without being identified as individuals, literally billions of nonhumans are seemingly rendered virtually invisible.

Cazaux is among a growing number of theorists who attempt to adopt a ‘non-speciesist’ approach in which the types of attacks we have detailed here are placed into a wider context which explores the myriad of human-nonhuman relations.[36] In the case of horses, such a view would acknowledge the widespread commercial exploitation of other animals and outline the many ways in which the nonhuman world is routinely devalued. With this wider perspective in mind, we conclude with the following examples.

Horse racing is one of the largest industries in Britain. This industry sees horses as the producers of a saleable product: speed. In horse racing, owners ‘are encouraged to view horses as commodities’ and ‘not be sentimental about them’.[37] Since racehorses are financially valuable, the horse racing industry spends up to £1m per year through the Racehorse Betting Levy Board with the aim of protecting its ‘assets’. This involves commissioning vivisection experiments on lesser-valued horses. For example, at the ‘Animal Health Trust’ in Newmarket, England in 1993, 12 pregnant Welsh mountain ponies were injected with equine herpes, resulting in aborted pregnancies and paralysis. Following the experiments, the ponies were killed in order that post mortem examinations could take place. The researcher who performed these experiments - not, note, widely dismissively regarded as an insane ‘nutter’ or ‘pervert’ - explained that the tests were conducted for economic reasons, since ‘equine herpes is an important source of loss to the horse industry’.[38] Further experiments are carried out on horses to study their reproduction process and investigate the treatment of the injuries associated with racing.[39]

In relation to the actual racing of horses, more than 200 horses die each year on racetracks in Britain.[40] Racing is hard on horses because they have to run in short and fast bursts which free-living horses in nature do not do.[41] Flat racing depends on the use of young (meaning 2-year old) horses which places a great deal of pressure on their developing limbs. Until their skeletal growth plates fuse, horses are regarded as ‘immature’ in terms of the development of both their bones and muscles.[42] Racing horses at a young age results in a high burn-out rate and ‘near epidemics of tendon and ligament damage’.[43] Racing ‘over the jumps’ also causes animal welfare concerns, even though these ‘national hunt’ horses are older. The chance of injury is heightened because national hunt horses run longer races and can experience many falls.[44] It is rare even for showpiece events such as the Grand National to pass without fatalities every year. Between 1997 and 2001, 27 horses died at Aintree near Liverpool where the Grand National is run, with 14 deaths on the National course itself.[45] This is despite the fact that animal welfare standards and regulations are closely monitored and enforced at the Grand National meeting due to the increased attention of the media and members of the animal protection movement. At the prestigious Cheltenham (Gold Cup) meeting, as many as ten horse deaths have occurred in one week.[46]

According to Davies and Grant, the controversial practice of ‘tubing’ (the insertion of a tube in a horse’s neck to increase air intake) and ‘firing’ tendons (‘pinfiring’) is still ‘commonplace’ in the racing industry.[47] The outcome of this practice is twofold - it can facilitate actual racing or activate an insurance claim: the scars formed by placing burning irons on the tendons may act as an adequate support to permit racing. However, if the scar tissue does not hold for the entire length of a race, once horses are run in official events, insurance payments can be claimed if they ‘break-down’ and are subsequently ‘destroyed’ on the track. In 1993, the Sunday Times reported that the FBI had discovered another fraudulent insurance operation in which ex-racing horses in North America were killed by electrocuting them in the ear and the anus. This killing method allowed owners to declare that the horses had died of colic, enabling them to claim payouts running to tens of millions of dollars. The investigators said this scam involved horse owners, trainers, vets and riders in eight states.[48] After their racing days are over, the plight of ex-racing horses in Britain may be ‘a debilitating downward spiral of sale, resale and neglect’,[49] including ending up in one of the three British abattoirs licensed to slaughter horses, or being sold to overseas slaughterhouses (25,000 horses are killed for meat every year in Britain).[50]

3,000 horses drop out of British racing each year, their value quickly dropping from £100,000s to just a few hundred. Legislation stipulates that horses worth less than £175 cannot be exported. However, horsemeat dealers have avoided this restriction by claiming that horses are going overseas to race. Once abroad, they are diverted to abattoirs. The small livestock market in Llangefni, on the island of Anglesey in North Wales, has periodically held sales of Welsh mountain ponies rounded up by farmers from the local hills. These horses are often purchased by dealers from the North of England and, along with ex-racing horses, are sold to slaughterhouses in France and Belgium. Belgium was also the destination of consignments of horse meat originating in the USA, when animal welfare investigator Gail Eisnitz studied slaughterhouse methods.[51]

Around 300,000 ‘pleasure’ and race horses are killed legally for meat each year in the United States, she states, but Eisnitz also interviewed a slaughterhouse worker who claims that stolen horses are often killed for meat.[52] Stolen horses were killed at night and sent to Europe when government meat inspectors were absent, the informant says.

‘And the inspector wouldn’t notice the extra horses in the morning?’ I asked.
‘Everything's moving so fast’, he replied. ‘He’d never know’.
‘How many times did you do this?’
‘Quite a few. Maybe ten times’.
‘How’d they handle horses that couldn’t walk?’ I asked.
‘If he’s down on the truck, down in the manure, and he don’t want to move’, he said, ‘or if the horse is injured or sick or pregnant, or maybe he’s done a split and can’t get up - you try to pull him up by the tail. Or stick a two-by-four under him, try to pick him up. Or hit him with a shocker. There are times we took a knife and stuck them in the rectum till they bleed to make them get up’.
‘Does this happen much?’
‘A lot’, he replied. ‘Because he’s holding up progress. Plus you don’t want the other horses to run all over him and trample him and bruise the meat up. So we’d take a hoist, put a chain around the horse’s neck and drag him all the way to the building pen. Or if we kick a horse and he is 2D - downed and disabled - and we can’t move him, I’d split his throat in the pens and let him bleed, cut his nerves off at the back of his neck. Because you could work with him better when he’s dead. You can bend his legs and you ain’t got to worry about getting kicked. You can hold him and flip him and drag him to the knocking box [a metal enclose in which large animals are ‘stunned’.] Either way, as long as we can get them to the kill floor’.[53]

Speaking about the legal killing of horses in the daytime, the slaughterman says:

‘There’s a certain way to shoot or knock an animal...I seen them shoot them five times, hit them all in the eye. Hit them in the neck. I seen horses get shot wrong and get right back up and walk around the kill floor, kind of dazed. And they run up on them and just hit them with the knife in the neck, anywhere, and just let them suffer, walk around bleeding’.
‘Sometimes they can’t get close enough with the knocking gun’, he continued. ‘It don't work right sometimes, sometimes the gun gets wet, gets blood on it, and it don’t shoot. The boss tells us, “Run and cut his throat”. I’ve seen my boss grab a knife and run and cut its throat’.
‘What about the inspector?’ I asked. ‘Does he ever see any of this?’
‘Yes’.
‘How do you know? You’ve seen him?’
‘We all on the kill floor together’, he said, ‘we all watching this.
Sometimes he'd complain about it. But you’ve got a lot of guys there, new, inexperienced, and they think it’s a game’.
‘Do any of the horses regain consciousness after they’re hung?’
‘Some’. he said. ‘They still be kicking, they still be alive’.
‘Does anyone get hurt?’
‘People get their arms broke, get kicked - I got kicked in the nuts. People been bit by them. And they beat the hell out of them. I’ve seen horses get beat with pipes’.
‘If the horse is kicking, how do you know it’s not just muscle reaction?’
‘See, that was my department. I did it so long’, he replied. ‘He’d cry out. Cry and kick. And he’d be choking from the blood, still blowing out air, and I’d start skinning the head’.
‘How long do they usually have to bleed out?’ I asked.
‘The sticker and the header is the same person’, he said. ‘You move so fast you don’t have time to wait till a horse bleed[s] out. You skin him as he bleeds. Sometimes horses’ heads are still down in the blood, sucking up the same blood from some other horse. ‘Cause a horse is so long, his nose is down in the blood, blowing bubbles, and he suffocate[s]’.
‘See’, he continued ‘a job like that, it’s a job of cruelty. You don’t have no conscience. All you think about is you making your money, you doing your job’.[54]

Eisnitz’s informant described how the slaughterhouse boss had access to an official stamp, so he could stamp any portion of meat as correctly inspected. Often then the horsemeat is mixed and sold as beef: ‘You mix it with beef, cook it right, people don’t know the difference. I could decorate a piece of horsemeat and you’d think it’s roast beef. In restaurants, people eat what you put in front of them’.[55]

The estrogen drug Premarin (the most widely prescribed drug in the USA) is worth about $1 billion per year to the manufacturer Wyeth-Ayerst. This drug is derived from the urine of pregnant mares held on some 500 ‘pregnant mare urine farms’ in North Dakota and in Manitoba, Canada. In these farms mares are impregnated about 20 times during urine production, after that they are sent for slaughter. The urine collection takes place between October and May, during which time the horses are placed in crates to limit their movement. This measure, along with restricted access to water, helps to concentrate the estrogens in the urine. According to writer, historian and activist, Catherine Grant,[56] the production of urine results in the births of around 75,000 foals every year.

The majority of these are regarded as unwanted by-products and are also sent to slaughter. However, if we consider all the other-than-human animal species, this slaughter of foals (or of adult horses) does not even register in the annual tally of animals killed for human consumption generally, simply because the figures are so staggeringly huge. For example, according to the US organisation, Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM), the total number of nonhuman animals killed for food world-wide in 1998 was 43.2 billion,[57] the kill rate being approximately 285 animals per second in the USA alone.[58]

While this paper does not attempt to minimize either the harm caused to individual horses, or the trauma or fears of the ‘victim-owners’ in the cases of horse maiming cited, its cognisance of a more critical perspective helps to situate the activity of horse maiming within a culture in which causing serious harm and death to nonhuman animals is, and long has been, routine, systematic and commonplace. In the light of a fast growing interest in ‘animal issues’ from scholars of many different disciplines, accompanying as it does the evident public unease about some limited aspects of the treatment of other animals, and the intensification of animal advocacy of various types (mainly welfarist in orientation), we have essentially sought to problematise ‘common-sense’ knowledge frequently (and especially initially) used to understand social issues. Bauman notes that sociology has a special relationship with ‘common-sense knowledge’. Whereas scientific disciplines such as chemistry and geology take little heed of common sense knowledge, sociology cannot share such indifference. Indeed, much of the ‘raw material’ of sociological inquiry - ‘the experience of ordinary people in ordinary, daily life’[59] - has already been lived by the persons concerned. Understandably, they do not sit around hoping for a sociologist to happen along; instead, they get down to the business of making sense of their social experiences. What sociology can do - what we have attempted to do here - is to bring into focus the social in the individual and to emphasise the general in the particular. As far as animal advocacy goes, we suggest the paper serves to illustrate how and why people may be attracted to the ‘easy answer’ of pathologising perpetrators of harm and suffering (how often have animal experimenters simply been dismissed as ‘evil’, notwithstanding their long years of training in the scientific method and their immersion in the ideology of the nature of human-nonhuman relationships). For ‘animal campaigners’, as for all, we believe our sociological approach assists in placing matters into context and suggest that the answers to the questions raised here benefit from critical thought and analysis, be it about ‘animal issues’ or anything else.

Newspapers concentrating on the Hampshire attacks and ‘Operation Mountbatten’.

Alton Herald, ‘Horse hit by attack’, 3 Jul 92.
‘Second horse stabbed’, 10 Jul 92.
‘More horses attacked’, 15 Jan 93
‘Outrage as horse dies in savage attack’, 29 Jan 93.
‘RSPCA’s help for horse owners’, 29 Jan 93.
‘Switchboard jammed as horse-owners seek security advice’, 29 Jan 93.
‘Hunt for horse attacker increases’, 4 Feb 93
‘Horse-owners warned: Be alert but be careful’, 4 Feb 93
‘The horse attacker finds another victim’, 26 Feb 93.
‘Horse attacks - latest’, 5 Mar 93.
‘Another vicious attack on a horse’, 7 May 93.
Borden Times & Mail, ‘Hunt for horse ripper’, 2 Feb 93.
Observer, ‘Horse rippers run to ground’, 12 Nov 97.
Sunday Times, ‘Mare killed by ‘horse ripper’’, 24 Jan 93.
‘Chasing hares on the Horse Ripper's trail’, 31 Jan 93.
‘Sinister forces that stalked the ideal daughter’, 31 Oct 93.
Times, ‘Police link sex attacks on horses with bizarre cult’, 5 Jan 93.
‘Attackers mutilate two mares’, 23 Jan 93.
‘Mare killed as RSPCA steps up hunt’, 25 Jan 93.
‘Home Counties horse owners mount a 24hr guard against attackers’, 6 Feb 93.
‘Suspect freed’, 24 Feb 93.
‘Man arrested’. 2 Mar 93.
‘Attack suspect’, 1 Apr 93.
‘Horse link ruled out’, 13 May 93.
‘Horse cautions issued’, 17 May 93.
‘Sadist returns to prey on horses after four years’, 23 Jun 97.


Newspapers covering horse attacks in general and in other areas or countries.

Daily Express, ‘Laughing schoolboys stone a pony to death’, 25 Apr 91.
Daily Mail, ‘Nail thug leaves horse in agony’, 20 May 97.
Daily Telegraph, ‘18 horses killed in arson attack’, 6 Mar 96.
‘Three horses killed in arson attack’, 19 Sep 97.
Guardian, ‘Horse attack ‘mirrored’ TV show’, 30 Jun 97.
Sunday Times, ‘Horse mutilated’, 19 Jun 93.
Times, ‘Police seek two men after spate of bloody attacks on horses’, 29 Jan 93.
‘Mare in foal latest victim of sex attack’, 5 Feb 93.
‘Stable attacks’, 16 Feb 93.
‘More horse attacks’, 20 Feb 93.
‘Horse stabbed’, 8 Mar 93.
‘Two horses wounded’, 15 Mar 93.
‘Mare knifed’, 25 Mar 93.
‘Injured mare put down’, 15 May 93.
‘Schoolgirl stabbed in ‘frenzied attack’ while feeding horses’, 25 Oct 93.
‘German fear grow over horse attacks’, 2 Aug 97.


[1] For analysis of early such horse attacks, see Archer, J.E. (1985) ‘A Fiendish Outrage? A Study of Animal Maiming in East Anglia: 1830-1870, The Agricultural History Review, 33(2): 147-157.
[2] Alton Herald, 29 Jan, 1993; Times, 6 Feb, 1993.
[3] Times 6th Feb, 1993 - basing its figures on comments from a police spokesperson.
[4] Sunday Times, 31 Nov, 1993.
[5] Sunday Times, 31 Jan, 1993.
[6] Alton Herald, 3 July, 1992; Times, 5 Jan, 1993.
[7] Times, 6 Feb, 1993.
[8] Observer, 12 Nov, 1997.
[9] Alton Herald, 29 Jan, 1993.
[10] Alton Herald, 29 Jan, 1993.
[11] Daily Telegraph, 6 Mar, 1996.
[12] Times, 6 Feb, 1993.
[13] Sunday Times, 31 Jan, 1993.
[14] Alton Herald, 29 Jan, 1993: 1.
[15] Alton Herald, ibid.: 2.
[16] Times, 25 Jan, 1993.
[17] Sunday Times, 31 Nov, 1993.
[18] Police Inspector Mike Clanfield provided an interesting list of potential ‘horse rippers’: ‘It could be a pervert, a psychopath, a hunt saboteur or an animal hater’ (Times, 6 Feb, 1993).
[19] Alton Herald, 4 Feb, 1993.
[20] Times, 9 Apr, 1993.
[21] Alton Herald, 4 Feb, 1993.
[22] Alton Herald, ibid.
[23] Alton Herald, 5 Mar, 1993.
[24] The Sunday Times (31 Jan, 1993). However, according to the Times (Aug 2, 1997) in Germany it appears that horse attackers may be charged with ‘animal torture’, carrying a maximum sentence of 2-years imprisonment
[25] Writers such as Mary Daly have alluded to the ‘portability’ of victimhood. For example, in a case of rape, the ‘victim’ of the attack is sometimes seen as the husband of the woman in question. However, it is important to recognise that this shared victimhood is often not derived from assumed male empathy towards female suffering, but rather that ‘his property’ as been damaged or ‘polluted’ by the rape, making him the ‘real’ victim (as the ‘property owner’) of the attack (see Daly, M. (1973) Beyond God the Father: Towards a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, London: The Women’s Press: 118). The ‘transportability’ of victimhood in relation to attacks on horses has resulted in our use of the term ‘victim-owner’ to describe keepers of horses throughout this paper.
[26] Expensive horses are often tattooed on the inside surface of their lips in order to identify them (cited in Cazaux, G. (2007) ‘Labelling animals: non-speciesist criminology and techniques to identify other animals’ in P. Beirne & N. South (eds.) Issues in Green Criminology: Confronting Harms Against Environments, Humanity and Other Animals, Cullompton: Willan: 92.
[27] Radford, M. (1999) ‘“Unnecessary Suffering”, The cornerstone of animal protection legislation considered’, Criminal Law Review, Sept: 702-13. According to Joyce De’Silva (D’Silva, J. (1997) ‘Sentient beings at last!’, Agscene, The quarterly magazine of Compassion In World Farming, No. 127, Autumn: 6) ministers of the European Union also agreed in 1997 to adopt a legally-binding Protocol which transferred the status of animals from ‘goods’ or ‘agricultural products’ to that of ‘sentient beings’.
[28] Hills, A. (2005) Do Animals Have Rights? Cambridge: Icon Books: 86.
[29] Some commentators, such as philosopher Mary Midgley (Midgley, M. (1985) ‘Persons and non-persons’, in P. Singer (ed.), In Defence of Animals, Oxford: Blackwell: 54), have noted with irony that, while corporations and cities may be regarded as persons in law, animals other than human are not. Further, ‘the law...can, if it choses, create persons’.
[30] Alton Herald, 29 Jan, 1993.
[31] Alton Herald, 4 Feb, 1993.
[32] Thomas, K. (1983) Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800, London: Allen Lane: 50).
[33] There is a considerable and rapidly growing amount of comment and research about whether the abuse of other animals promotes the later or concomitant abuse of humans. See, for example, Ascione, F.R. (1994) ‘Children who are cruel to animals: A review of research and implications for developmental psychopathology,’ Anthrozoos, Vol 6(4), 226-47; (1998) ‘Battered women’s report of their partners’ and their children’s cruelty to animals,’ Journal of Emotional Abuse, Vol 1, 119-33; Ascione, F.R., Weber, C.V. and Wood, D.S. (1997) ‘The abuse of animals and domestic violence: A national survey of shelters for women who are battered,’ Society & Animals, Vol 5(3), 205-18; Kellert, S.R. and Felthous, A.R. (1985) ‘Childhood cruelty towards animals among criminals and noncriminals,’ Human Relations, (38), 1113-29; Felthous, A.R. and Kellert, S.R. (1987) ‘Childhood cruelty to animals and later aggression against people,’ American Journal of Psychiatry, (144), 710-17.
[34] For example, the Times (6 Feb, 1993) on its front page reports: ‘Home Counties horse owners mount a 24hr guard against attackers’, continues on page 3 under the heading, ‘Pony children told to stay at home.’
[35] Cazaux, G. (1999) ‘Beauty and the beast: Animal abuse from a non-speciesist criminological perspective’, Crime, Law & Social Change, 31, 105-26.
[36] Only the rev. professor Andrew Linzey, of all the commentators of the horse attacks - in all the publications we have cited, took this wider perspective, stating that the attacks must be understood in the context of horses’ being regarded as ‘little more than things’ in Christian thought (Times, 1977).
[37] Davies, C. (1998) ‘They Save Horses, Don’t They?’, Big Issue, Cymru (Welsh) edition: 9.
[38] Quoted in Gold, M. (1993) ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth,’ Animal Aid Report, August.
[39] Gold, M. (1996) ‘Racing’s dead end,’ Outrage, the magazine of Animal Aid, Dec/Jan: 11.
[40] Gold, M. (1995) Animal Rights: Extending the Circle of Compassion, Oxford: Carpenter.
[41] Grant, C. (2006) The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights, Oxford: New Internationalist: 55.
[42] Davies, C. (1998) ‘They Save Horses, Don’t They?’
[43] Gold, M. (1995) Animal Rights: 115.
[44] British animal protectionists Animal Aid conducted a survey of national hunt racing in the 1999/2000 season and claim that 247 died or were euthanised as the result of injury. According to Animal Aid’s director, Andrew Tyler (Tyler, A. (2001) ‘The Not So Grand National’, Arcnews, May: 18), this means that for every 31 raced one horse died or was killed.
[45] Tyler, A. (2001) ‘The Not So Grand National'.
[46] Saunders, K. (1996) ‘What’s so grand about the National?’, Wildlife Guardian, the magazine of the League Against Cruel Sports, No 34, Summer: 8.
[47] Davies, C. (1998) ‘They Save Horses, Don’t They?’: 9; Grant, C. (2006) The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights: 56.
[48] Cited in Gold, M. (1995) Animal Rights.
[49] Gold, M. (1995) Animal Rights: 115.
[50] Davies, C. (1998) ‘They Save Horses, Don’t They?’: 9. According to an official at the Food Standards Agency (telephone interview), currently there may be as many as 10 British slaughterhouses licenced to kill horses outside of Scotland.
[51] Eisnitz, G. (1997) Slaughterhouse: The shocking story of greed, neglect, and inhumane treatment inside the U.S. meat industry, New York: Prometheus: 109. Although we have detailed Eisnitz’s interviews concerning horse slaughter, she reveals that other nonhuman animals such as pigs (‘hogs’) and ‘cattle’ experience a similar fate in US slaughterhouses.
[52] Eisnitz, G. (1997) Slaughterhouse: 136.
[53] Eisnitz, G. (1997) Slaughterhouse: 137-38.
[54] Eisnitz, G. (1997) Slaughterhouse: 139-140.
[55] Eisnitz, G. (1997) Slaughterhouse: 141.
[56] Grant, C. (2006) The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights: 81.
[57] 290 million ‘cattle’, buffalo and calves; 1.1 billion pigs; 802 million sheep and goats; 41.1 billion chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese.
[58] Animals’ Agenda, 1999, Vol 19(2): 8.
[59] Bauman, Z. (1990) Thinking Sociologically, Oxford: Blackwell: 8, 9.

An expanded version of this paper is available online at http://www.psyeta.org/sa/sa9.1/sa9-1.shtml

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