Dark Horse

“Among the very best essays… [is] Lisa Couturier’s Dark Horse, a disturbing depiction of horse auctions and the fate of those horses that fall to the ‘kill buyers.’”

East Hampton Star, review of Pushcart Prize XXXVI

The inspiration to write “Dark Horse” came from the life of my grandfather’s thoroughbred racehorse, Fast Smile, who, most likely, died in a slaughterhouse. Fast Smile ran more than 100 races and won high sums of money. Yet when he was injured he was sold and shipped to Louisiana, where his performance declined quickly. When Fast Smile was not on the track, he spent his life in a dark stall, his window covered with wire mesh, a black pony by his side. The circumstances of his life, and the life of the pony, did not faze a single human heart, or daunt anyone’s delight in attending the races. If deep inside the powerful Fast Smile lurked a lonely, insecure, and undefended racehorse, no one gave it a thought.

Darby is my Off-The-Track-Thoroughbred (OTTB) whose racing days ended when his left knee shattered. His former owner and trainer, unlike many, did not dump him at auction, where numerous other failing, injured ex-racehorses turn up regularly and are sold to ‘kill buyers’—men who buy horses cheap and drag them into the last leg of what is known as the ‘slaughter pipeline.’ After horses run for us, compete for us, carry us on trails, and teach our children to ride at camp (all such horses, by the way, can be given pain meds that are known carcinogens to humans) they suffer deeply during the last weeks of their lives (from abuse, hunger, thirst, injury, betrayal). Kill buyers deliver horses—by the tens to hundreds of thousands—to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, where ‘humane slaughter’ is an oxymoron and a lie, for horses as well as for all animals eaten by humans. Who eats horses? Citizens of China, Belgium, France, and Japan, among others.