Of Horses, People, and PMU

Photo 1
Little Miss and her baby Joy. This PMU mare was destined for a Texas slaughterhouse while pregnant; her baby was born at the sanctuary.

By Astrida S. Bertleson

If horses could talk, they would tell you of a place in Green Valley, Arizona and of Karen Pomroy, the founder of Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary. They would tell you of her dedication to saving the lives of mares and their foals, the victims of a heartless PREgnant MARes urIN (PMU) industry.

They would tell you how they came to this sanctuary from Canada, an exhausting journey of over 3000 miles to a place of promise. They would tell you of their wish to be loved once again and to return that love to you.

But we know that horses can’t talk. So let me be the voice for these beautiful animals and tell you how their plight came to pass.

It was 1942 and the FDA approved a drug using the urine of pregnant mares for the treatment of women’s menopausal symptoms. HRT, under the name Premarin, became a popular hormone replacement therapy drug.

As doctors looked to HRT as a miracle drug for millions of women, the PREgnant MARes urINe industry took hold. Thousands of mares were needed to fulfill the need, and the pharmaceutical company Wyeth signed contracts with countless farmers, mostly in western Canada, who were willing to supply the estrogen rich urine from pregnant mares.

It is here where the horror begins for these animals who find themselves in this unfortunate situation. In order to obtain the estrogen rich urine, the pregnant mares are confined in narrow stalls, harnessed with urine collection containers.

The manner of confinement is such that pregnant mares must sleep standing up. Or if they can no longer stand, they must lie on their chest with their legs tucked under. Exercise is minimal and at the discretion of the PMU farmer. For over six months they must endure such hardships.

In spring, the mares are turned out on community pastures to give birth. Their babies, these innocent foals, become the unwanted by-products of this industry.

Thousands of new foals have no place to go. Only to slaughter. Thousands of PMU mares who are no longer serviceable have no place to go. Only to slaughter.

Only to slaughter for a lucrative European and Japanese market, paying in excess of $35 a pound for their meat! Currently there are three foreign owned slaughterhouses in the United States that supply the overseas market with horsemeat.

{hoto 2
Young Joy

If only horses could talk….. They would tell you of a study by the National Institute of Health, released in 2002, linking increased risks of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots, strokes, ovarian cancer and dementia for women taking hormone replacement therapy over a long period of time.

They would tell you about alternatives to Premarin, such as synthetic estrogens, changes in diet and lifestyle, and plant-based natural sources. [Contact us for more information.] They would tell you about medical practitioners, among them, Dr. Ray Kellosami, a gynecologist and horse advocate, who would concur that these alternatives are just as effective in treating menopausal symptoms, without the increased risks attributed to taking estrogen replacement therapy derived by pregnant mares’ urine.

The study by the National Institute of Health resulted in the abrupt downsizing of 450 PMU farms due to plummeting sales, and the market was suddenly flooded with 20,000 mares and their foals. More cuts to PMU contracts followed as the Humane Society of the United States, along with other animal protectionists, pleaded with Wyeth Pharmaceutical (maker of Premarin/Prempro) for assistance on behalf of these animals.

Wyeth Pharmaceutical agreed to set up a $3.7 million trust fund to help transport the horses to equine rescues, recreational auctions, and provide assistance to those PMU farmers who lost contracts, in finding homes for their horses.

However, the subsidy program is difficult to work with and does not appear to be helpful to all rescue organizations. For example, last year, Wyeth did not subsidize the transport of the 43 horses Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary rescued, and the organization had to raise the $7,000 needed to cover the cost of hauling.

Many efforts are being made to end horse slaughter in the United States. In spite of these efforts, horse slaughter continues in the United States and increased from 42,312 in 2002 to 94,037 in 2005. These are not just PMU mares and foals, but also include wild horses and, most of all, our healthy companion animals that are bought at auctions by “killer-buyers” only to be resold to the slaughterhouses.

As studies of HRT abound, often disputing each other, the plight of the horses continues with approximately 74 PMU farms still operating in Canada.

Tragically, unwanted mares and their foals are still the by-products of this industry. Can you hear their cry for help?

Photo 3
Karen Pomroy and first PMU rescues Deuce and Spanky

Karen Pomroy did hear and responded by creating the Equine Voices Rescue and Sanctuary in Green Valley, Arizona. Incorporated in August of 2004 as a non-profit (501(c)3) organization, the sanctuary is situated at the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains, on her 10-acre Jumpin’ Jack Ranch. The organization is committed to saving as many horses from slaughter as possible.

The PMU horses are surprisingly well bred, representing a variety of breeds: the ever popular quarter horse, paints, drafts, appaloosas, and even Arabians. Some of the animals are also registered. Those who have adopted the mares and foals tell Karen of the joy in bringing them back to a healthier, useful life.

“We desperately need your help,” Karen explains. “We are filled to capacity, caring for 50 horses.  These animals need loving, adoptive homes. Others cannot be saved until there is vacated space on the ranch. Please pass the word along to family, friends and acquaintances. We also ask you to please help support Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary by adopting one of these wonderful equine friends, or by volunteering at the sanctuary, or by donating to this worthy cause.”

If horses could talk, they would say…..
“Give us a chance to live our lives with love and dignity once again. This is all we ask.”
For further information and to view adoptive horses, visit www.equinevoices.org.

Other ways to help horses:
Contact your Senators and Representatives, urging them to support HR 503, a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield that would outlaw the transportation of
American horses for slaughter.Hoofprint

Photo 4
PMU foal Elle D, born at the sanctuary - mother was headed to slaughter pregnant

Websites to visit for updates and further education, some of which offer petitions to sign in support and protection of the horse:
www.hsus.org (Humane Society of the United States) - Search horse slaughter.
www.fund4horses.org - provides a great deal of information, updates, and offers a perpetual virtual candle in remembrance of all horses that went to slaughter.
www.pmurescue.org - updated news, lists rescue groups and organizations nationwide.
www.AHDF.org - American Horse Defense Fund, Inc.
www.tracs-bc/pfc - Tracs - The Responsible Animal Care Society, British Columbia, Canada.
www.wildhorsepreservation.com - deals directly with the wild horse crises.

About the author:

Astrida Bertleson is an author and founder of Auce Publishing. Her early years were spent on a farm in Latvia where horses were a way of life. She now lives in Mesa, Arizona with her husband and nine delightful horses, four of which are PMU horses rescued by Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary.