Skip to main content
Home World U.S. Weather Business Sports Analysis Politics Law Tech Science Health Entertainment Offbeat Travel Education Specials Autos I-Reports
U.S. News
CNN Exchange: Commentary

Willie Nelson: We have a lot to learn from horses

By Willie Nelson
Special to CNN
Adjust font size:
Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font

Editor's note: Willie Nelson is a legendary singer and songwriter. His new CD is called "Songbird."

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Will Rogers said, "You know horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people."

However, the horses are counting on the people more than ever now. Nearly 100,000 horses are killed annually in foreign-owned slaughterhouses in America for human consumption in other countries.

With the upcoming Senate vote on the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, Americans have a small window of opportunity to save a living legend.

Horses are all the things a truly evolved human should be. There are countless examples of their innate ability and desire to heal people.

Consider the therapeutic riding programs across the country, where horses can have more progress with children with various physical and mental disabilities than their own doctors. The most superhuman thing about horses is the contrast between their unearthly strength and inherent gentleness. Humans abuse their power while horses use theirs only for good. I'd rather be a horse.

With no disrespect to the eagle, I've always thought that the horse should be our national emblem. When horse accepted man onto his back and chose to carry his burdens, it changed the world. Horses have aided mankind through his most arduous and treacherous endeavors, from the sword to the plowshare. Humanity owes an incalculable debt to the horse. In Native American teachings, Horse enables shamans to fly through the air and reach heaven. To steal someone's horse is to steal their power.

Contrary to what some people are saying, slaughter is not a humane form of euthanasia, and these are not unwanted horses. The treatment of slaughter-bound horses is most often inhumane, and more than 90 percent of those slaughtered are young and in good health. Many are sold to slaughterhouses at closed auctions, while others are stolen pets.

Humans are not smart to eat horses. Horses are treated daily with products such as fly spray, wormers, hoof dressings, etc. These products have labels warning against use on animals used for food. Anyone with horse sense would not be exporting this toxic product.

The passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/S. 1915) would put in place a permanent and immediate ban on both the slaughter of horses in the U.S. and the exportation of live horses for slaughter abroad.

Thanks to the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, which started the national campaign to end horse slaughter, and to those who got involved and called their legislators, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass H.R. 503. But the fight is not over. The Senate will vote on S. 1915, hopefully in November. Call or write your senators today. Each week our elected officials fail to act on this bill, thousands of horses are subjected to unimaginable cruelty.

For information on horse slaughter, to read my public letter to Congress and to find your senators, go to the Society for Animal Protective Legislationexternal link.

There has never been a better time to adopt. I just adopted 11 horses from Habitat for Horses. For information on how you can adopt a horse or give to this great cause, visit Habitat for Horsesexternal link.

Join me and more than 500 leading horse industry groups, humane organizations, equine rescues and veterinarians in our effort to end horse slaughter.

What is your take on this commentary? E-mail us

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. This is part of an occasional series of commentaries on that offers a broad range of perspectives, thoughts and points of view.

Your responses asked readers for their thoughts on this commentary. We received a lot of excellent responses. Below you will find a small selection of those e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and spelling.

Jane Hamilton, Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada
Right On, Willie ... Your article is an eloquent testament to the inherent goodness of the majestic horse. Modern humankind is shamelessly addicted to the quest for wealth, but the spiritual connection amongst all species should surely be recognized as the true heart of life on Earth. I just spent the morning with my 23-year-old adopted Rescue Horse, Estrella. She sighed and rested her muzzle on my arm as I wiped her face with a warm sponge, and my 56-year-old heart swelled with happiness. Horses should never be considered as commodities. Their beauty, grace and willingness to co-exist with us -- on our terms -- should forever be held up as an example of how much we humans have yet to learn.

Shelia Short, Wright City, Missouri
While all of us find the idea of slaughter distasteful, it is also a necessary part of our life. I myself have sold horses through auctions that have gone for slaughter, and I can tell you first hand that these horses were either old, crippled or had behavior problem that made them unfit as family horses. Yes, even I have bought a few "good horses" out of Killer pens, but most of the horses standing in those pens are right where they belonged!

Daniel Archer, Winchester, Virginia
With all respect to Mr. Nelson, of whom I am a casual fan, his statement about horses' "inherent gentleness" that they only use for good is a bit naive. I grew up on a farm in Western New York and have spent a good deal of time around large animals, including some time with horses on a ranch in Wyoming. Horses are capable of a remarkable docility. But Mr. Nelson fails to point out that, like all animals, they must be trained by humans before that gentleness shows. Without gentle care and persistent training, horses and the other domesticated animals humans have relied on for centuries remain wild, unruly beasts, prompt to lash out vindictively at the slightest annoyance. That said, Mr. Nelson should be commended for defending the nobility of the horse and what he perceives as its abuse. His defense is long on passion, but a little light on both facts and balance.

Matthew Barba, Miller Place, New York
I was completely unaware that within our own country we are slaughtering an unbelievable amount of horses. These majestic creatures that have provided humans with the means to advance civilization, seem to be given no respect any longer. This is an absolute shame, for all they have done for us, this is how we repay them? Kill our horses and send them to other countries to be eaten? It's unamerican, it's inhumane, it's perhaps even ungodly. Especially considering when one sees a horse in person, one can't help but tip their hat towards science and religion for making such a beautiful animal. The loyalty and help these animals have provided us make them more than qualified to be spared the slaughterhouse.

Diane Coker, Austin, Texas
Thank you CNN for bringing this issue to more wide-spread attention. A lot of people aren't even aware that the U.S. does this (exports horse meat for human consumption and slaughters horses). And I don't see how someone who becomes aware of it, could possibly think it is OK. Except the companies that benefit financially - that greed thing again. C'mon companies, can't you think of any other way to make money? Killing horses for financial gain should definitely not be something a civilized society does.

Gregg, New Canaan, Connecticut
Today a ban on slaughtering horses. Tomorrow cattle, pigs, sheep, bison, ducks, chickens and fish. These people want to change the food chain. Just because horses are great pets, doesn't mean the world should stop eating them. By all means keep their treatment and slaughter humane, but don't impose your vegetarian lifestyle on me or others.

David Akerly, Vancouver, British Columbia
Eventually this slaughter will end, as have previous atrocities in history that are now viewed with revulsion. It's just a question of time, but until it does we'll all be viewed with disgust by future generations.

C. Jaffe, Hammond, Indiana
Yay and Amen! I couldn't agree more with Willie. Thank you, CNN, for publishing this piece. I am a lifelong horseowner. Would never send a horse to slaughter. Willie (with your help) is bringing "America's dirty little secret" to the forefront so people who don't know the slaughter situation even exists, will be calling their Senators to try to get S 1915 passed before the end of the year.

Calvin Koeller, Peru, Illinois
Willie isn't a bad guy and I support a lot of what he does but this is a little out there. I enjoy horses and hate to see them suffer if not properly euthanized. However, what do we plan on doing w/ the horses after they die? Just bury them? Seems pretty inefficient to me. Obviously, if someone is selling the horses for $$$ it is a good trade for both the buyer and the seller. Not everyone can afford to adopt 11 horses and put them in their apartment so they can live a "happy" life.

James Stevens, West Branch, Michigan
Thank you, Willie, for your illumination of this important humanitarian acknowledgement of our brothers of this Earth, the horse.

Magnus Hedemark, Durham, North Carolina
Horses are no doubt special animals in the hearts of many people around the world. But there is nothing about them that should elevate them above chattle in terms of legal protection. Are some animals more important than others, and thus less worthy of protection from slaughterhouses? America is supposed to be the home of the free, and a great cultural melting pot. So who is Willy Nelson to tell someone that their culinary traditions of eating horses is somehow less human than his own practice of eating pigs and cows? Pigs are, after all, smarter than horses so shouldn't they be protected? The arrogance, xenophobia, and intolerance of this proposed legislation astounds me.

Charles Numbers, Larkspur, California
Thank you for this illuminating commentary. I am 48 years old and have believed my entire life that the sale of horse products for food is illegal in this country so never would have considered that horses are slaughtered for export. I would bet that at least 90 percent of the people in this country would be shocked to learn this. If legislators cannot be convinced of the cruelty involved, they should at least understand that it is inhumane to allow horse products to be sold for human consumption abroad because of the health risks to others from all of the chemicals used to keep horses healthy.

Paula Riggen, Essex Junction, Vermont
I commend Willie Nelson for an excellent article supporting horses. The things we allow to happen under our noses regarding cruelty to these amazing creatures is despicable. I stand beside Willie Nelson and anyone else who is in favor of outlawing the abhorrent manner in which we allow creatures over which we have dominion, such as horses, to suffer needlessly.

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson writes, "Horses are all the things a truly evolved human should be."



Quick Job Search
  More Options
International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise with Us About Us Contact Us
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
SERVICES » E-mails RSSRSS Feed PodcastsRadio News Icon CNNtoGo CNN Pipeline
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more