Letter to the Editor: Shipping Horses by Cargo
I’m Shelley Blodgett, Co-Founder of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare Inc. (CTA), a non-profit (501c3) organization that helps thoroughbreds run in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. I live in the Americas and have also worked here to help thoroughbreds and other breeds of horses in need. I wrote a letter to the editor published in TDN in September 2017, asking for help following the devastation of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria and its racetrack, Hipodromo Camarero. The response was swift and impactful. So many individuals and entities in the industry have been moved to help out, I believe, because of the love and respect of our running athletes. This generosity and timely action saved the lives of many horses.
I am writing again to seek the support and help of your readers. Thoroughbreds are shipped from Florida to Puerto Rico, a distance of 1,200 miles, in a dangerous and inhumane way: a multi-day journey on a freighter over the Atlantic Ocean open in a metal container. I hope your readers, including the good people in the racing industry, will speak up and perhaps use their considerable influence to help end this cruel mode of transportation for good. Thousands of people have added their names to support an end to this cruel practice, including some in the industry both in the Caribbean and on the Americas.
There has already been one tragedy and it is important to avoid another. Eric Mitchell has written a powerful investigative article detailing the April 2019 deaths of nine thoroughbreds, ages two to five. Eight of the horses died inside their 40-foot metal freight container which was upgraded to a 12-stall horse shipping system. The horses died of catastrophic injuries: they trampled each other to death crossing the Atlantic Ocean. A ninth horse was so badly injured that it was euthanized shortly after arriving in Puerto Rico. Only six horses survived this trip. And, yes, 15 horses were squeezed into the 12-stall system.
Following this terrible accident, the Saltchuk company and its subsidiaries, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and Lagos Transport, implemented what has been described as a moratorium on the transport of horses on cargo ships on their ships. It is understood that they intended to implement changes to avoid future accidents. Only two known changes have been made: respecting one stall per horse (i.e. a maximum of 12 horses at a time) and modifying pre-departure practices so that horses sitting on the dock have more access to water while waiting to be embarked on the sail. ship. Despite these changes, it is obvious that the dangers remain for this mode of transport. Since the resumption, some horses have sustained injuries and / or become very ill, and some have had to be euthanized as a result. It is difficult to get a complete picture of the number of horses, the number of injuries and the number of deaths, as the people involved are not clear or transparent. Still, cargo transportation appears to be a growing practice for importing horses into Puerto Rico, possibly due to the cost savings over the cost of flying horses. In fact, the feeling of sending the “cheap horses” by freighter while flying those horses considered more valuable implies that those who ship their horses via the old mode of transport know that it is more risky and inhumane.
Why is this inhuman?
Equines are very sensitive prey with a strong flight or flight response, have acute hearing and are always very attentive and sensitive to their surroundings. The shipping containers in which they are confined for the duration of their journey are not intended for living beings. Imagine a 40ft metal freight container that has been upgraded to a 12-stall system. It has cutout windows, attached hay racks, and small plywood dividers separating the horses. A single fan “helps” to circulate the air. Horses have roughly three feet of space each and cannot roll over or lie down for the duration of their journey. In addition, there is no immediate and safe access to the horses along the way. Horses can become transport sick (seasick), but they cannot vomit, which is also a risk. Everywhere, access to food and water is allegedly poor or non-existent. Horses are found standing in their own feces and urine as well as in any ocean or rainwater that collects in the container. At the end of the trip, the horses are standing in the damp and mud.
Horses sent by cargo ship often arrive in Puerto Rico severely dehydrated, and many lose between 50 and 75 pounds during the trip, are traumatized and sleep deprived. Some horses are injured and / or become ill (eg colic, respiratory infections). Dr Jose Garcia Blanco, VMD, a leading equine veterinarian in Puerto Rico who has long worked with the thoroughbreds and the racing industry in the Caribbean and the Americas, was forced to write a letter explaining why he considers the sea transport of horses to be dangerous and inhumane.
There is always some risk involved in shipping horses, whether it’s within the Americas or across an ocean. However, there are safer and more humane methods. Standard practice for shipping horses long distances to the mainland via a semi-trailer (e.g., Kentucky to California, a 44 hour direct trip), is often accomplished with horses in stalls with, can -be, a stopover in a barn en route. so that the horses can stretch their legs more and eat and drink. On these trips, hay and water are available and an attendant is present throughout the trip. Another example is when horses are shipped by air from Miami to Puerto Rico. At the airport, horses are loaded into three-stall shipping containers or boarded the plane via a ramp and placed in stalls. They are then transported for a 2.5 hour flight with an attendant at their disposal during the flight then unloaded at the airport and put on a trailer, with hay and water offered, for their final destination.
There is a more humane method of transporting horses
As noted above, a 2.5 hour airplane flight, also operated by a Saltchuk company, Northern Air Cargo, is a much faster, safer, and more humane method of transportation to and out of the country. island of Puerto Rico. It appears that owners who choose to transport horses by freighter are attracted to a savings of around $ 1,100 per horse. Regardless of the rationale, the money savings do not justify the increased risk for horses to suffer and possibly die. Each of our equine athletes deserves better!
I ask readers and the horse racing industry to take a stand against the cargo transport of American Thoroughbreds between the Americas and the Caribbean. Here are some ways to do it. Thank you.
How can we stop this?
- Sign and share the petition.
- Ask the Saltchuk group and its subsidiary TOTE Maritime to stop shipping equines because it is dangerous and inhuman. Saltchuk already has a more humane way of shipping horses as Saltchuk also owns the air freight plane that ships horses to and from Puerto Rico. Use the Saltchuk Ethics Hotline to let them know how you feel.
- These shipments are approved by Dr Alejandro E. Pérez Ramírez, Interino Director, Laboratorio de Diagnóstico Veterinario, via an import certificate. Dr Perez can simply decide not to issue import licenses to horses traveling by cargo. Make a request to [email protected]
- The government of Puerto Rico can implement a ban on this type of shipment of horses. Contact them here.