From Race Horse to Main Course

Horses are being poached and slaughtered for their meat on the black market

By Jeff Burnside and Todd Wright
|  Wednesday, Mar 18, 2009  |  Updated 9:36 AM EDT
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Slaughter horse

NBC6

These lucky horses were saved in a raid of a slaughterhouse in Miami.

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Slaughter horse

Horse owner outraged after finding her horse butchered in a nearby field.
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The story sounds like the summary of a bad horror flick.

Dozens of horses disappearing in the dead of night only to be found stripped of skin and meat on a roadside. Other horses are discovered butchered in their stables by mortified owners.

But the culprit isn't some half-wolf, half-man abomination that preys on thoroughbreds during the full moon.

They are poachers from Miami's black market who sell the horses' meat, which is a popular delicacy among new arrivals from other countries to the area. The horse meat can go for as much as $20 per pound and based on the number of bloody horse remains and meat-stripped carcasses found on the side of dirt roads and in stables across Miami-Dade, harvesting horses for meat is a lucrative business.

The sale of horse meat for human consumption is illegal in the U.S., but that hasn't stopped the meat from being in high demand by natives of the Caribbean, Cuba and other European countries who crave horse cuisine.

Some U.S. cattle ranchers have worked around the law by exporting horses to Mexico or Canada, where killing horses for dinner is legal.

Fostering some of the boom in slaughterhouses has been the horse-racing industry and some owners of race horses. Some discard a horse after it's out-lived its racing life or is injured. They are usually sold to the first person who offers a few bucks for the animal, as was the case for Freedom's Flight, a horse rescued during a raid at a Miami area slaughterhouse.

"Freedom's Flight would have definitely ended up on someone's plate. Absolutely. And we've seen it too many times," said Richard Cuoto, who volunteers for the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Freedom's Flight's blood line includes Secretariat and Seattle Slew, two of the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time. But his wealthy owner, Herman Heinlein, gave the horse to a handler after it broke a leg in a race at Gulfstream Park. The handler, Marian Brill, sold Freedom's Flight for $500, but refuses to say to whom. Police believe Freedom's Flight eventually ended up at a pony ride show before he wound up at the slaughterhouse.

"I've already told you, I can't and I won't," she said in an interview with NBC6. 

Freedom's Flight's saga and salvation is the exception to the rule, animal rights advocates said. Other race horses have had a less than ceremonial retirement.

The real horror may be that no arrests have been made in the deaths. Authorities claim it would be hard to charge someone with a crime because it's difficult to tell if a horse found butchered on the side of the road was killed by a poacher or an owner.

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