Sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, thieves entered an equestrian barn on a 27-acre ranch outside of Parrish, Florida, and stole away with Phedra de Blondel, a champion show horse.
Their interests had nothing to do with the horse’s athletic renown. The award-winning Grand Prix jumper had been flown in from Europe two days earlier to compete in the U.S. They only saw 1,500 pounds on the hoof.
The criminals led the 12-year-old chestnut gelding down a trail into a remote paddock and butchered the horse alive.
It was a crime that made national news. And it shocked Manatee County.
South Florida . . . not so much.
Dozens of horses have been stolen in Miami-Dade County and butchered for their meat, with the remnants later discovered in fields or alongside roads in the western reaches of the county. The equestrian blog TheHorse.com counts 50 of these grisly killings since 2009.
Just three months ago, thieves took a 3-year-old filly named Smart Amanda Wiz from her stable near Hialeah. The shocked owners found their pet’s head and other remnants in a nearby field at the end of a long, bloody trail, indicating to investigators that there was nothing humane about the killer’s methods. The New Times ran photographs of what was left of Smart Amanda Wiz. I don’t recommend looking.
I admit, this visceral reaction, my mix of horror and sputtering anger, is not without a measure of hypocrisy. I’m appalled by horse slaughter but don’t have much to say about the awful cruelties endured by pigs, cows and chickens on industrial farms.
But however illogical for a carnivorous nation, slaughtering and devouring horses remains a cultural taboo. “Horses are a national symbol,” said Laurie Waggoner of the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “We settled this country on the back of horses. It’s appalling to us to even consider eating them.”
Yet, the national taboo doesn’t quite hold in South Florida. For years, horses have been slaughtered in illegal operations in places like the C-9 Basin, a woodsy conservation area in northwest Miami-Dade County. The Miami Herald has been running reports of discarded horse carcasses discovered on lonely gravel roads in the C-9 Basin since the 1980s.
In 2010, I accompanied county inspectors on a raid into the basin enclaves that shut down dozens of cockfighting arenas and ramshackle slaughter houses. It was like venturing into some third-world outpost. Because we don’t do that stuff in America — fight chickens and butcher horses.
Except in South Florida. Waggoner, who has been with the South Florida SPCA for 24 years, is sure our illicit horse meat isn’t shipped to markets in Europe or Asia. “We think most of it is sold and consumed locally,” she said.
Waggoner, choosing her words carefully, explained: “We’re a multicultural community, in which many of the immigrants are coming from societies where eating horse meat is acceptable.”
She added, “Unfortunately, the people buying this meat seem to have no problem with stealing, torturing, butchering horses alive.”