Since draft horses were selling high, Mom decided we should show our Belgian plowman-style, in a harness and with lines attached to her bridle. Dad with his gimpy leg couldn’t do it, but an Amish man would know how to stand behind the mare, tugging the lines to direct her forward and back, right and left. Dad hobbled off, returning with two men in buttons and beards. The younger man unsmilingly agreed to help. As we cued up, his father-in-law, Chris, helped me hold Darlin’, the 4-year-old, who pawed the ground, upset that she’d been separated from the Belgian. I would lead the untrained horse through her paces. Chris, a father of 12, asked me about our stock and our family, gazing at me with such frank appraisal that I looked away.
Dad walked into the ring, the better to give the rundown on each horse or mule. When Darlin’ and I were up, I tried to work her into a trot, but she broke for the Belgian outside the ring. I spun her around and she stood. I managed to pick up one of her feet to show prospective buyers: she’d shoe perfect. We ran out, and Dusty handed me the quarter horse. He skittered and stomped, landing hard on my foot. My father pretended not to notice.
Then it was over. “Ain’t hardly any good horses here,” Chris, the Amish patriarch, confided. He liked me, though, and wrote his address on a slip of paper—no phone number, of course—so I could send him my writing. I asked why he’d chosen to talk to me, a woman and an outsider. “Honestly? You’re pretty.”
Now that we were all being honest, I tracked down Chester Palmer for more straight talk. Our Belgian had gone high, $800, but the others had sold for much less. Gorgeous as she was, Darlin’ had brought a humiliating $60. All told, my parents cleared $1,300 after commissions. Palmer wasn’t surprised. “You all run out of hay, probably gettin’ out of water. They were thin,” he said. “Some of them brought almost twice what I thought they might. I’m glad they did, because I’m sure your dad could use every penny he could get out of ’em.”
In November, not long after the disheartening sale, Congress unexpectedly reinstated funding for inspections of slaughterhouses that process horse meat, on the recommendation of the Government Accountability Office. As of this writing, none have yet opened, but a couple are slated to do so within the year. Many pet lovers are furious, but PETA actually supports the reversal, arguing that the suffering of unwanted horses increased after the demise of the kill plants.
It’s cruel that industrial slaughter should be an ally to the agrarian holdouts whose lives are tied to the animals they raise. Cruel, too, when fate makes loosening those ties a relief. At the October sale, we were determined to leave with empty trailers, and how lightly they rattled over the highway home. Still, my parents must sell most of their remaining horses. They hope to do so privately, but some may end up at auction. And with the kill plants back, an empty trailer may carry a new, unhappy burden on the drive back to the farm.