Ontario race horses slaughtered for meat, vet says

An equine vet near Windsor, Ont., says thousands of horses have been slaughtered for meat in the wake of Ontario's decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program.

Race industry blames provincial government policy ending slots at tracks for leaving it no choice

Horse industry insiders claim race horses are now being slaughtered for meat because of lack of race purses and race dates in Ontario. 2:53

An equine veterinarian near Windsor, Ont., says thousands of horses have been slaughtered for meat in the wake of Ontario’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program.

Mark Biederman estimates 50 per cent of the province’s nearly 4,000 broodmares have been or will be slaughtered.

"Horses have been sent for meat, it’s that simple," Biederman said. "Euthanization is expensive. Disposal is expensive. A lot of people don’t have that option, so they have been sent to slaughter.

"I’d say 50 per cent of the people I know that had broodmares have already had them euthanized or sent to meat, unfortunately."

A local breeder also told CBC News several horses have been sent to slaughter this fall.

In Ontario, horses to be killed for meat are usually sent to the Ontario Livestock Exchange in Kitchener. Calls to the exchange were not immediately returned.

Business suffering

Biederman also said his business is down 60 per cent this race season. He laid off half his staff.

Windsor Raceway closed its doors Aug. 31, four months after the province announced the end of the slots program.

"If my wife wasn’t an Ontario native and loved Ontario, I might have been gone already because I don’t see with what’s left in Ontario that we’re going to be able to continue as we were," Biederman said.

Biederman said 90 per cent of his work involved standardbred horses.

Ontario announced the end of the slots program March 31. Money earned from slots at tracks was split between the horse industry, track owners and the province. It generated $345 million for the horse industry each year.

Biederman said the cancellation of the program "makes no sense."

"Everyone was benefiting. The horse industry was getting $300 million and the province was getting $1.2 billion [each year]," he said. "Ontario is no longer a desirable place to race or breed horses."

Biederman said some breeders and racers have taken their business to American states where gambling at racetracks is legal. Ohio, for example, just approved gambling at racetracks this year.

"All these states were envious of Ontario and said, ‘We would love to push for slots at racetracks and alt gambling to augment purses just like Ontario does.’ All those states' purses have risen and Ontario’s will drop," Biederman said. "You go where you can make the most money, but that is no longer Ontario. People will relocate where they can make money. It’s just like job hunting."

Expert recommend industry changes

Earlier this week, a panel of experts recommended to the provincial government that live race dates in Ontario be slashed in half, to 800 each year. It also recommended the business become "customer-driven" and purses become smaller.

"There’s absolutely no shot of us being able to continue. It won’t work," said second-generation horse breeder Mark Williams. "I can’t morally see how there’s an advantage to putting one citizen out of work, never mind tens of thousands.

"Not to mention what’s going to happen to all our horses."

The Ontario Harness Horse Association told CBC News the report marks the death of the industry.

"Rather than killing the industry off completely in one fell swoop, they’ve crippled it, which will ultimately lead to its death," said Brian Tropea of the OHHA. "It’s just going to be a slower death."

Adding to the difficulty in finding horses a new home is the fact feed and hay costs have skyrocketed because of an Ontario drought this summer.

Tropea said there is no choice but to "reduce the herd."