Horse Transport

Horse Transport

Slaughter Horse Transport Program (SHTP)


Final Rule published and effective as of October 7, 2011. The final rule can be accessed here .

One of APHIS/VS responsibilities, under the 1996 Farm Bill, is to regulate the commercial transportation of horses to slaughter, an authority the Secretary of Agriculture delegated to the Deputy Administrator of Veterinary Services (VS).

VS began the SHTP with collaboration between the public and private sectors. The program gathered opinions from animal welfare groups and used research findings by leading experts in the fields of animal handling, animal stress, and transportation. The USDA working group included representatives from VS, USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service, Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Office of General Council. VS was invited to stakeholder meetings with representatives from the equine industry, horse welfare groups, auction terminals, horse processing plants, trucking industry, and the research and veterinary communities.

USDA funded research at Colorado State University on the physical conditions of horses arriving at slaughter plants, at Texas A&M University on the effects of water deprivation in equines, and at the University of California, Davis on stress in equines shipped to slaughter facilities. The recommendations and findings of the USDA, stakeholder, and research groups became part of the regulations in 2000. Under these regulations shippers must:

  • Separate stallions and other aggressive horses from the rest of the shipment.
  • Provide adequate food, water, and rest six (6) hours prior to loading onto a vehicle.
  • Confine horses in a vehicle no longer than 24 (+4?) hours without food and water.
  • Use an owner/shipper certificate.
  • Provide adequate floor space.
  • Phase out two-tier trailers.


Program Goal
The goal of SHTP is the same today as in 2001 when it was established: if a horse must be transported commercially to slaughter, then it will travel in a safe and humane fashion. The program is often cited as a model for the future development of humane transportation programs for other species.


Final Rule Provisions
The final rule on humane transportation of horses to slaughter was published in the Federal Register on December 7, 2001. The recommendations mentioned above were incorporated into the regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (9 CFR Part 88).

The regulations provide for complete domestic and international monitoring of the movement of U.S.-origin horses to slaughter through the use of owner /shipper certificates and corresponding backtags. The SHTP owner/shipper certificate is documentation that the shipper is in compliance with the regulations.

The regulations prohibit the transportation of a horse that is

a. unable to bear weight on four limbs,
b. unable to walk unassisted,
c. blind in both eyes,
d. a foal under 6 months of age, and
e. a pregnant mare that is likely to foal (give birth) during the trip.

The certificate must be signed by the owner/shipper. It is collected by the host country officials at the slaughter plants in Canada and the border crossings into Mexico. The certificate was designed as a trace-back tool to investigate and document program violations. Regardless of whether U.S.-origin horses are processed in Canada, or Mexico (by law, horses are no longer slaughtered in the United States) the owner/shipper certificates are returned to VS headquarters where the certificate information is entered into a database.


Violations Are Prosecuted
To date, 17 cases have been adjudicated, resulting in total civil penalties of $750,550, and 15 cases have been settled for total civil penalties of $161,450. The adjudicated amounts includes all Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions (Default Decision & Decision & Order), and the settlement amount includes all consent decisions.

Specific decisions and settlement agreements may be found at the website for ALJ decisions at:, and the website for Judicial Officer decisions:

Related Links

Temple Grandin (CSU)

Carolyn Stull (UC Davis)

Transportation of Horses to Slaughter
Separating Fact and Fiction

Fiction: Disturbing images of abused horses being shown on some websites and other media say they were taken during a 10 month period at one horse slaughter plant in Texas.

Fact: The photos were taken by a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) field coordinator for the Equine Transport program over a six year period at more than one slaughter location as documentation of abuse of the transport law. It should be noted that in 2007, the last year the Texas slaughter location was open, there were very few injuries as a result of transport because of the USDA regulatory program being enforced.

Fiction: The photographs are being depicted as though this horrible abuse was standard practice.

Fact: The photographs were taken and collected as evidence in cases against shippers who violated the Commercial Transport of Equines to Slaughter law. The photos are the basis by which APHIS prosecutes the violators. APHIS prosecutes to the full extent of the law, and the photographic evidence is a strong component of the way its cases are built.

Fiction: The majority of horse injuries occur during transport.

Fact: It is true, many injuries do occur during transportation. And that is why APHIS instituted the Slaughter Horse Transport Program, and why it continues its vigilance in ensuring that horses being transported to slaughter are treated humanely, and when they are not, violators are prosecuted.

But, that is not the whole story. In 1998, in preparation for the Slaughter Horse Transport Program rulemaking, APHIS commissioned Dr. Temple Grandin, a designer of livestock handling facilities and Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University to do a survey of trucking practices and injury to slaughter horses. Survey of Trucking Practices and Injury to Slaughter Horses.

Her survey showed “approximately 73% of the severe welfare problems observed at the slaughter plants did not occur during transport or marketing, but before the horses were transported. Some examples of severe welfare problems which were caused by the owner were severely foundered feet, emaciated, skinny, weak horses, animals which had became non-ambulatory and injuries to the legs such as bowed tendons. Four horses were loaded with broken legs…

“Welfare problems in slaughter horses are listed in order of priority: It is the authors' opinion that the top ranked problem causes the most suffering.

  1. Conditions caused by owner abuse or neglect.
  2. Injuries due to fighting when strange horses are mixed in the marketing and transport channels.
  3. Injuries directly attributed to the design of the trailer"

Dr. Grandin found that the majority of injuries she observed that were transportation related were caused by fighting.

Owner/Shipper Certificate

Final Rule ( txt 218kb) ( pdf 213kb)

Horse Transportation

Horse Transportation Video
 You Tube APHIS Channel
Total Runtime 17:27

"Common Sense,
Common Decency" 

Truckers Brochure (pdf 100kb)

Welfare Parameters of Horses

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