Warning: Graphic Content

L to R: Captive Bolt, Bleeding Out, Dismembering, Kill Chute — US Slaughterhouse
© Humane Farming Association

Slaughterhouse Images from Croatia

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Rendering Horses Unconscious for Slaughter


The penetrating captive bolt is the most commonly used "stunning method" for horse slaughter in the U.S.

The penetrating captive bolt uses a pointed bolt which is propelled by pressurized air or a blank cartridge. The bolt itself is a heavy rod made of non-rusting alloys, such as stainless steel.

The bolt penetrates the skull, enters the cranium, and catastrophically damages the cerebrum and part of the cerebellum.

Due to concussion, destruction of vital centers of the brain, and an increase of intra-cranial pressure, the horses loses consciousness.

This method  physically destroys brain matter (increasing probability of a successful stun), while also leaving the brain stem intact, thus ensuring the heart continues to beat, facilitating a successful bleed out.

The captive bolt was designed for cattle and other food animals and not intended for horses.

Production lines must continue to move and move quickly in order to meet its quotas, and workers regularly do not have time to strike the horses accurately enough to stun them.

Terrified horses have longer necks than cattle, and throw their heads around wildly, trying to avoid being struck by the captive bolt, causing workers to make hurried and repeated blows.

Severed heads recovered from slaughter plants butchering horses have shown as many as 8 to 10 blows in areas of the head, neck and even the shoulder, from the captive bolt.

Studies shows that even properly stunned horses often regain consciousness within minutes, able to feel pain and terror but little to no motor skills to respond physically.

Horses have not been slaughtered on U.S. soil since 2007. The remaining horse slaughter plants — two in Texas and one in Illinois — were shut down by State laws.

However, virtuallythe same number of American horses are exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter for human consumption since those closures. 


Gunshot is the most common method to render slaughter horses unconscious in plants where the meat is for human consumption.

Undercover footage taken at two abattoirs in 2010 exposed numerous instances of horses who were not rendered unconscious, even though some were shot several times. Many showed signs of returning to consciousness during the butchering process.

Workers were caught standing at inappropriate angles, making inaccurate shots, some failing to strike their targets to the degree that the terrified horses were able to scramble to their feet to try to escape.

This occurred without mandatory supervision of slaughterhouse inspectors.


Neither the captive bolt nor gunshot is always used in Mexico.

A 2007 investigation by The San Antonio News-Express revealed that slaughterhouses in Mexico use a "puntilla" knife to severe the spines of horses prior to slaughter.

Footage obtained by the paper shows horses being stabbed repeatedly in the neck with these knives.

This barbaric practice simply paralyzes the animal. The horse is still fully conscious during the slaughter process until he is bled out.

There are a number of plants slaughtering horses in Mexico, only two of which are EU regulated (though this number changes from time to time as one is shut down and another re-opens.

The horse meat is processed, frozen and pressure sealed before it is sent to Canada for inspection and export. To say it is lax is being kind. Inspection typically means staff check to make sure it is horse meat they are shipping out.

• Other Countries

The prevailing method in the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia, Japan and Latin America for rendering horses unconscious prior to slaughter is the gunshot, although the captive bolt has gained some popularity as it speeds up production.

Kill Chute

Once horses have been rendered unconscious (if done properly), they are dropped or lowered onto the kill floor through a kill chute.

Stunned horses can regain consciousness, and go through the bleeding out process fully aware and experiencing excruciating pain. 

Kill Floor

Horses arriving on the kill floor from the kill chute, they are hoisted by a chain attached to a hind leg, their throats slit and bled out. 


Once a horse is bled out, his hooves are sawed off or removed with cutters, decapitated, skinned, dismembered, and butchered. 

Fear, Cruelty and Terror Inherent to Horse Slaughter

As you can see, the argument that slaughtering horses is done "better" or more humanely in some countries over others has no foundation.

The slaughter process shown and described here is the final act of betrayal of innocent horses by irresponsible owners and this cruel and predatory industry.

The "horse slaughter pipeline" begins when the meat buyer gets the horse, whether directly or at auction, and continues throughout transport, until their arrival and the gateway to a grisly death.  Each step has its horrors.

Horse slaughter is a brutal and terrifying end to a horse's life no matter where it occurs.

Horse slaughter is not humane and is clearly not euthanasia as the pro-horse slaughter faction continues to claim.

Yes, there are alternatives.  Find out more our Resources page.

Animals' Angels Investigations

•  The Export of American Horses for Slaughter  - »

•  Horse Slaughter: The Facts - »

•  Three Year Investigation Shows Inherent Cruelty of the Horse Slaughter Industry - »

Canadian Horse Defence Coalition Investigations