Bo Derek in conversation with the Barbi Twins
Barbi Twins: Most people know you as the “Perfect 10” and the biggest sex symbol in history. Few know how dedicated you are to helping horses. What inspired you to dedicate your life to helping horses and, more specifically, to ban horse slaughter? When did you get into this?
Bo Derek: It wasn’t until 2002, just after I had written my autobiography, Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned from Horses. I met Chris Heyde, from the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), who was the first to take the idea for a bill to Congress that would ban the industry in the U.S. I have owned and ridden horses for most of my life, but had no clue this was taking place right here in the U.S. At first, I thought this would be a simple campaign that would be over in a few months. Who would want to allow this cruel practice to continue? Certainly not horse owners and the public.
Boy, was I surprised.
Until AWI brought the issue of horse slaughter to Congress, nobody was really aware the practice existed. It operated in the shadows of the horse community and allowed bad behavior to continue. Before going to Congress, Chris wanted to make sure he understood what was going on so he could explain the industry. With the help of a veterinarian, Chris went into Cavel Horse Slaughter Plant, which was the last operating horse slaughter plant in the U.S. There, he witnessed firsthand the unimaginable abuse being inflicted on our horses, while no USDA oversight was even at the plant. He has followed trucks hauling horses to slaughter, and frequently visits livestock auctions to see how horses are bought by slaughterhouse middlemen, right in front of an unknowing public.
BT: You have been lobbying hands-on for twelve years trying to pass this anti-horse slaughter bill. With all your media attention and lobby efforts, why has this bill been so difficult to pass?
BD: Money and special interest groups. While there is no real money in horse slaughter from the American side, there can be a great deal of money for some of the foreign companies looking to tap into the huge American horse market. We have seen in documents that these foreign companies can operate in the U.S. with little expense, while taxpayers and horse owners pay the price. Once they leave the U.S., they can sell our horses to restaurants, illegally, for a healthy profit. Horses are a symbol of America and can be marketed that way overseas. I was also surprised to learn, firsthand, that some special-interest groups oppose modest measures like this, just because they are advocating animal welfare. One representative told me that they don’t even need to read a bill sponsored by animal protection groups – they will automatically oppose it. That approach is very disheartening. Agree or disagree with an issue, but the political process should be based on fact and support, not just plain disagreement with a concept.
Those opposing the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to ban horse slaughter often do so based on two basic arguments. The first argument is that by banning horse slaughter, abuse and neglect will increase. The second is that horses are private property, and their owners can do with them what they choose.
BT: What would be the argument to be pro-horse slaughter, since horses were never meant to be bred for meat and over 80% of poll results favor the horse?
BD: Neither of those issues holds up under any serious review, which is why support for the bill is so high. California, home to the second largest population of horses in any state, banned horse slaughter back in 1998, so it is a good measure of how the issue will play out following a national ban. Following the 1998 ban, we saw a 34% drop in horse thefts, which is significant given the overall population. We also didn’t see an increase in abuse or neglect. That excuse is simply that – an excuse to try and derail this important bill. It is true that under existing laws, horses are considered property. However, as T. Boone Pickens noted during a hearing a few years ago, that still doesn’t give anyone the right to abuse an animal. Laws exist in every state that make animal cruelty a crime. Horse slaughter is simply another form of animal abuse and we are working to stop it.
BT: If you could give one main message to our nation to motivate people to help you end horse slaughter, what would it be?
BD: With or without horse slaughter, horse rescues need our help and support. That can involve financial donations, volunteering, or even donating items like brushes and blankets. Horse rescues operate with little money, so every little thing you can do to help goes a long way.
It is also important to educate others about horses. Having a horse is a huge responsibility, so people should be very careful before they consider getting one. If things don’t work out, you can always visit a rescue to be around lots of wonderful horses.
Finally, everybody needs to get involved in AWI’s campaign to end horse slaughter. To take action, sign up for eAlerts, and learn more about the issue, please visit www.awionline.org. If we all speak out and unite as one, we can pass the SAFE Act and end horse slaughter once and for all. The only way this brutal industry will continue is if a few in Congress continue to block passage of the SAFE Act. Together we can end horse slaughter.
PHOTOS: KERRY PEREZ