Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains of southeastern Arizona, Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary is home to horses and burros rescued from neglect, abuse, abandonment, and slaughter. When most people read the word “abuse,” mental images of beatings, whippings, withholding food/water, and any number of other cringeworthy scenarios come to mind.
Sometimes, however, it’s more akin to stuff that was never even on your radar. Abuse was definitely at the forefront of Karen Pomroy’s decision to found the nonprofit Equine Voices. Many years ago, Pomroy began volunteering for a wild horse sanctuary in California. The experience she gained working with horses there was beyond anything she’d ever imagined.
It was during this time that she learned about the Premarin industry, PMU farms, and the plight of the mares and foals caught up in it. The more she learned, the more she was determined to do something about it. If you’re not familiar with the Premarin industry and the resultant pony skin trade, you might want to take a seat for this story, it’s that messed up.
For starters, PMU stands for pregnant mares’ urine. The estrogen it contains is used as an ingredient in Premarin, a hormone replacement therapy for women that’s prescribed for treating moderate to severe hot flashes due to menopause or early hysterectomies. The horses are used as broodmares to harvest the estrogen, so they’re kept pregnant on a nearly continual basis. These farms are in many ways the equine equivalent of puppy mills.
From the time they become pregnant, the mares are hooked up daily to urine collection devices for long periods, which in turn deprives them of the freedom and exercise they might be getting otherwise. The practice generally takes place October through March, when they give birth in the spring. With little downtime, they’re typically re-inseminated within a few weeks of foaling.
If that’s not bad enough, the foals are then sent to auction. For some real eye-opening stats, it’s estimated that 10,000 foals die each year for reasons that include early weaning, being sold for meat to foreign countries, and — the real hair-raiser — the horrific pony-skin industry.
Pony Skin Leather Goods
“Pony Skin” is skin removed from a young foal’s hindquarters and then turned into high-end leather goods. In essence, the animals are merely byproducts of the estrogen-harvesting process and basically bred for disposal. This is heartbreaking to think about.
Pomroy knew that, when she started her own rescue/sanctuary, she wanted to help these horses but also educate women about Premarin and the natural alternatives to it, thereby negating the demand. As a non-profit organization, she began by rescuing four very young PMU farm horses in April 2004. Since then, many more horses in need have found their way to the sanctuary to live out their lives free of constraints with room to roam.
Canada’s Pregnant Mare Problem
While there are no longer any PMU farms operating in the United States as of this writing, the unnecessary practice is still taking place on PMU farms in Canada, according to The North American Equine Ranching Information Council, (NAERIC).
In the 1990s, PMU production was a major industry in Canada. By 1999, there were 430 PMU farms in the country with 125 mares at each facility. Today, there are only 20 equine ranches remaining in Canada which produce less than 1,300 foals per year. But they also have PMSG blood farms there as well. The industry is heavily regulated by a Code of Practice, and some people claim the animals are “well cared for,” but not everyone agrees — particularly veterinarians.
PMSG Blood Farms
The same oversight is reportedly not in place in Iceland, where blood farms are extremely controversial. According to a letter written to the National Library of Medicine by Cecily Grant, B.Sc., DVM:
“In March 2022, a complaint was lodged against Iceland to the European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority by 17 NGOs (2) regarding the legality of producing PMSG in that country. There is even opposition to the practice in Iceland itself, with the People’s Party proposing a bill to ban the so-called ‘blood farms.’ Clearly, there is widespread and growing concern, at least in Europe, about the production of PMSG.”
The SG in PMSG stands for serum gonadotropin, which has been shown to stimulate ovulation in livestock. This hormone is produced by collecting a substantial volume of blood from early pregnant mares once or twice a week for 11 to 12 weeks. The mares are then aborted and re-bred for another collection cycle. Regardless of what these hormones are used for, they’re not life-saving medications but more of a convenience for the recipients and those that administer the products.
Helping the Voiceless
If you’d like to support Pomroy’s mission, you can visit equinevoices.org. You can also take a stand by signing this Greater Good petition to let lawmakers know you’ve had enough of animal cruelty in all its many forms and that it’s time they do something about it.