Mon, Dec 22, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Italians save horses from slaughter in awareness push

AFP, VIGONE, Italy

Considered taboo in many parts of the world, eating horse meat remains sufficiently widespread in Italy for the country to have to import live animals destined for the slaughterhouse.

However, contrary to popular perception, not all horses set for slaughter are tired old specimens on their last legs, according to a horse-loving couple based in the country village of Vigone, near Turin in northern Italy, who are seeking to raise awareness of the trade with neighboring France.

Over the past four years, Tony Gerardi and his wife, Miky Daidone, have saved about 40 healthy young horses from the butcher’s knife by training the animals for roles ranging from plowing fields to helping hyperactive kids learn how to concentrate and relax.

“People think that slaughtered horses are all mature adults, even old and worn out,” Daidone told reporters. “However, in the vast majority of cases, it is young horses that are eaten because their meat is more tender.

“That’s why every year there are thousands of colts and fillies imported from France to be slaughtered in Italy,” she added.

Gerardi and Daidone know they are not going to stop the long-lived trade.

Instead, their goal is to demonstrate a practical alternative through their “Save the Working Horse” project.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

Once they have identified someone willing to take a horse, they make a date with local importers to choose the animal which will get a last-minute reprieve.

Daidone said the selection process can be difficult.

“Obviously, we can only take one at a time and the others will go to the slaughterhouse. However, that is how it is, and not all of the horses have the psychological or physical characteristics required for a working life,” she said.

They are not out to change the world, she said.

“As far as I am concerned, people can eat what they like and it is not realistic to try to ban something that has been done for so long,” Daidone said.

“Rather, the concept is to try to make people revalue these animals and say: ‘Look: See what they can do,’” she added.

CAVALRY LEGEND

Most of the horses they take are of the Comtois breed, a medium-sized French working horse that was used in the cavalries of Louis XIV and Napoleon, and is famed for its docile temperament.

After arriving at Gerardi and Daidone’s ranch L’Estancia, the horses are allowed to recover from what have often been traumatic journeys before the initial phase of breaking them in begins.

VARIOUS FUTURES

“Tony takes care of that, because most of these horses are wild, they can be skittish and it can be dangerous,” Daidone said. “Then I help him, and in the final phase the new owners come to learn how to continue the training. Usually, that all takes about three weeks.”

The horses that pass through L’Estancia are bound for a variety of roles.

Some will simply become riding horses, either as family pets or at country trekking centers and farms offering holiday accommodation. Others are trained to pull sight-seeing carriages or provide children’s pony rides in tourist spots.

There is also growing interest in Italy in the use of horses in therapy for people suffering from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems, including children with attention deficit disorder.

‘KEEN EYE’

One supporter of Gerardi and Daidone’s initiative is Henry Finzi-Constantine, who uses heavy horses rather than tractors to pull plows at the nearby Castello di Tassarolo, a wine estate.

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