It’s funny how sometimes the most unexpected thing can jog a memory from the past.
Last week I was reading a news story from the city media about a Sherwood Park woman who bought two draft horses at an auction recently, only to discover they’d actually been property of the City of Edmonton, and specifically Fort Edmonton Park. The woman claimed that at least one other bidder at the livestock auction wanted the two horses for meat processing.
“I think the majority of people would feel the same way once they learned what’s actually going on. Now that I know what’s going to happen to the horses, I can’t just walk away,” said Cindy Thomas on Global News.
Obviously Cindy is an animal lover, and several people involved in the sale of those Fort Edmonton horses likely were not. Much the same situation faced me about 20 years ago, when I lived and worked in a southern Alberta community.
At that time I was president of a large historical society that also operated a museum along with other tourist attractions. The museum was very impressive, as was at least one of the tourist activities: a musical ride similar to what the RCMP offer.
The local museum of course didn’t have the resources to run a musical ride exactly like the RCMP, but by all accounts the local one was very impressive. The team of about half a dozen horses was expertly trained, along with summer students to do the riding. The horses were easily visible from the major highway, so anyone driving by, especially tourists, could see the historical costumes worn by the riders and witness the brilliant agility possessed by the horses. Those horses were responsible, at least in part, for much of the financial success of the museum. In my opinion the horses deserved to be treated with respect for that fact.
So it came as a surprise to me one evening at a board meeting when the subject of “horse retirement” came up. The agenda item was quickly explained in blunt terms: staff were letting the board members know what a meat plant was going to pay for horses deemed unsuitable for the musical ride.
It shocked me. I’m an animal lover, and I don’t hide that fact. But this also had to do with the dedication those horses gave the museum, the amount of life they still had in them and what the museum was ultimately getting in return.
I heard that the horses can only do the musical ride for so long, then they’re not capable of continuing. Apparently, the only solution considered was sending them to a glue factory, meat plant etc.
I pointed out these horses would be perfectly suitable for sale to families looking for a horse. The horses were already accustomed to people, very suitable for riding and many were not even 10 years old yet. They still have potentially 20 years of life left in them.
I pointed out that, certainly, a family looking for a ready-to-go riding horse would pay more than the meat plant which likely paid by the pound. Selling the horses as pets was a much better fate than becoming hamburger, especially considering everything those horses had done to help the community.
The board and staff looked at me with astonishment on their faces. Apparently, no one had ever considered selling them for pets.
The idea worked out very well: the horses were advertised in the newspaper and every single one of them was sold without serious issue.
It sometimes makes me wonder what other issues like this are being handled in a similar way, and what else that has great value and deserves respect is actually being shipped off to the glue factory.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.