Eye Witness Accounts
Viva! has originated video footage of the Polish horse trade and has obtained a considerable quantity from other sources - principally the International League for the Protection of Horses (UK) and Animals’ Angels (Germany) - which provides disturbing visual evidence of the maltreatment handed out to horses and brings home its true horror. Filming took place over many months and at various places in Poland and en route to Italy. The consistency of the abuse reveals that it is an integral part of the trade.
- The back doors of a transporter are opened to reveal a scene of collapsed horses. Some are on their side, others are on their backs and they are tangled up with one another. Some are struggling. A man pulls fiercely on their tails and legs to try to move them.
- A horse has collapsed on the ramp of a truck. A man is pulling her tail hard to try to get her to stand.
- Hay is fed through the narrow ventilation slats in the lorry at a ‘rest’ stop. The hay is very dusty and it takes a long time to push just small amounts through the slats.
- Exhausted horses stand together in a market. One is so tired that his tongue hangs out of his mouth. This is before the journey to Italy has even started.
- A horse market and a white horse is being loaded into a very old truck with a rotten ramp. It is clearly afraid to go up the ramp so a man beats him with a long, heavy stick. Another man pulls the horses’ tail while a third pulls at his head. The beating continues, on his head as well as over his entire body. The horse struggles and crashes down on to the ramp. Additional men become involved and a metal bar is used to force the horse in to the truck. The reason for this abuse was entirely the steepness and condition of the ramp.
- Horses are tied in stalls in a line, waiting to be loaded into a truck. A man walks behind, counting them and hits each one with a stick as he does so.
- A horse with a severe chest injury is prostrate and struggles to move but is stuck under the bars of a pen. A vet administers a lethal injection.
- Extremely weak horses are surrounded by flies. One horse has an eye injury while another is beaten with a stick in an attempt to move him.
- A white horse has collapsed inside a truck. He lies there covered in sweat and filth and tries pathetically to nibble soiled hay. Workers arrive and force him to stand and he is shown to have a swollen, bloody eye.
- Horses have collapsed inside a transporter. Others are coughing and one has a bloody nose injury. Another animal is led out of the back of the transporter covered in excreta and collapses on the ramp. He is dragged off by his tail - first by men and then by a machine. He is destroyed.
- A prostrate horse struggles in the back of a truck while other horses trample over his body.
- a horse transporter is unloaded to gain access to a downed and struggling horse whose hoof has become wedged between the ventilation bars. Her leg is bent back double from the hock and is so badly broken that both bloody ends can be seen. Workers try to free her and after a long period of time a vet arrives to destroy her. Her hoof has to be severed before she can be dragged from the truck.
- A baby donkey lies dead under a layer of excrement. His body is then thrown out of a window in the side of the truck. Other donkeys lie, collapsed, while more are beaten up a steep, slippery ramp. They cannot manage it and struggle and fall.
- A collapsed donkey is forced to stand by having his tail pulled over his back.
- A dead horse lies with an eye ripped open revealing her eyeball, amidst a bloody mass. One of her ears has been ripped off.
- A collapsed horse is made to stand and is then led out of a truck covered in excreta. The next horse collapses as he tries to negotiate the ramp and is beaten and his tail pulled. At first he does not respond but then falls backwards off the ramp, trapping his leg under it. He is forced to sit up when his ear is pulled and eventually is made to stand up.
- A prostrate horse is stuck in the corner of a truck and is clearly panicking and struggling to stand. Workers force him to stand but when being unloaded he stumbles out of the lorry, falling down again and again.
- Many horses have collapsed inside a lorry. When the doors are opened, one horse stands on another to get out. Others exit from the truck trembling and shaking but more are trapped inside and continue to stand on the collapsed horses. A man pokes at them through the bars. They are covered in sweat and faeces.
The organisation which has most doggedly pursued live export transporters is Animals’ Angels of Germany. They have offered what comfort they can to the horses and have charted and logged every movement of particular trucks. One such journey which they monitored involved a consignment of 20 horses handled by a Polish company. In this instance the horses originated in Lithuania, were transited through Poland but their final destination was Sardinia. They were subjected to a road journey time of 95 hours, which included an eight-hour ferry crossing. The distance covered was 2,530 kilometres (1,520 miles). This is Animals’ Angels log.
2.00 pm. (hours travelled in brackets)
The horses, one of which is blind, are loaded in Kaunas, Lithuania, and the truck departs with two drivers in the cab.
6.15 pm (4 hours 15 min.)
The truck reaches the border crossing at Kursiai.
9.00 pm (7 hours)
It departs the border and heads into Poland.
3.55 am (13 hours 55 min.)
The truck stops for one hour to refuel at a service station near Plotrkov Tryb. When it leaves, there is only one driver in the cab.
8.35 am. (18 hours 35 min.)
It arrives at the main Polish lairage at Zebrzydowice near to the southern border. The horses are unloaded, given water and fresh hay. After only a short rest they are reloaded but in a different order so that animals which are incompatible are placed next to each other. They are later seen biting one another.
11.25 am. (21 hours 25 min.)
The truck departs Zebrzydowice lairage.
11.45 am. (21 hours 40 min.)
It arrives at the Polish/Czech border crossing.
1.30 pm. (23 hours 25 min.)
Departs and heads into the Czech Republic.
2.20 pm (24 hours 15 min.)
Arrival at the Czech/Slovak border crossing.
3.25 pm. (25hours 20 mins.)
Departs and heads into Slovakia.
5.30 pm. (27 hours 25 mins.)
The driver takes a short food break on a large parking lot about 80 kilometres from Bratislava. The horses appear increasingly exhausted. The two incompatible animals both have bitten mouths and nostrils, which are starting to swell. They cannot get out of each other’s way in the oppressive confinement of the truck. One is a mare and it is she who appears to suffering the worst wounds.
7.00 pm. (28 hours 55 mins.)
Arrives at the Slovak/Hungarian border crossing.
7.45 pm. (29 hours 40 mins.)
Leaves the border and heads for the Hungarian Vamosszabadi ‘rest’ stop five minutes away. The workers are all in the bar next door. When they arrive, just six small ‘hang-on’ watering bowls are suspended inside the truck from the ventilation slats - for 20 horses. The hay, which is supposed to be stuffed through the same slats, is of very poor quality and the driver rejects it, saying he is afraid it will cause colic. So the horses go hungry. The worker refuses to stamp the driver’s feed supply certificate and it leads to a heated discussion. In the end, the worker demands a pack of cigarettes, the driver supplies it and the certificate is stamped. After just a 40 minute ‘rest’, no feed and, for many of the horses, no water, the truck departs.
10.30 pm. (32 hours 25 mins.)
Driver stops at a gas station, has a look at the horses and takes a short break.
11.40 pm. (33 hours 35 mins.)
Arrival at the Redics rest stop. The quality of the hay is good and water is offered, but only a few of the animals drink (an indication of acute stress). All of them are clearly exhausted. The blind horse is particularly nervous while the animal loaded onto the vehicle last is engaging in stereotypical rocking motions (a sign of mental collapse).
The condition of the bitten mare has worsened. Her mouth is extremely swollen and again she is covered with fresh bite wounds on the left side of her, the side which faces the aggressive horse. She has also sustained a bleeding injury above the right eye, presumably caused by trying to get out of the way. She is obviously frightened and distraught and eats only a little hay and drinks a few drops of water. The ‘rest’ lasts just one hour and the truck departs for the border crossing just 1 kilometre away.
2.05 am. (36 hours).
Departs from the Hungarian/Slovenia border crossing and heads into Slovenia. The driver now drives markedly slower and smokes incessantly, apparently in order to stay awake.
3.20 am. (37 hours 15 mins.)
In Maribor, the truck remains standing at a traffic light through two green phases - presumably the driver has fallen asleep. There is a loud thud from the horse box and the truck sways violently. The driver proceeds through the traffic light and pulls on to the hard shoulder. The two incompatible horses have fallen and are lying on the ground on their sides, with their abdomens towards each other and their legs entangled. They do not move. Eventually the driver forces them back on to their feet by beating them with a stick and using an electric cattle prod.
All the horses tethers are checked and the two fallen horses, whose tethers had pulled loose, are retied. The driver clearly looks overtired and exhausted.
4.20 am. (38 hours 15 mins.)
The journey continues and the weather is partly foggy and cold along this mountainous route. Like most of the vehicles used to transport horses, this one has no heating and no forced ventilation or humidity controls.
6.20 am. (41 hours 15 mins.)
The truck stops at a rest area near to Pestojne and the driver takes a break. Liquid manure is running out of the body of the vehicle and puddles of it form on the ground.
9.50 am. (44 hours 45 mins.)
The journey continues down the twisting mountain roads towards Gorizia on the Italian border. The road continually bends back on itself in sweeping serpentines and the driver proceeds very slowly and stops regularly to check on the animals - presumably he can hear noises from the box indicating that the horses may have fallen.
12.30 pm. (46 hours 30 mins.)
The truck arrives in Gorizia and the driver unloads the horses. There is no veterinarian present and no sign of any workers. It is all done single-handedly. This the third day the horses have been on the road and there is still 1,700 kilometres to go to their final destination in Sardinia.
7. 45 am. (65 hours 45 mins.)
Not until more than 19 hours after their arrival do the workers arrive to begin feeding the horses. One worker hits a horse at least 10 times on the head with the back of a pitchfork.
8.05 am. (67 hours 5 mins.)
The windows to the veterinary office are opened, presumably meaning that the vets have arrived to begin work. Half-an-hour later, a Dr Demerin and another vet take a quick walk through the three stables where the horses are kept. They do not inspect any of them closely.
9.35 am. (68 hours 35 mins)
Reloading of the horses begins.
12.55 pm. (71 hours 55 mins.)
The truck leaves Gorizia and begins its journey down through Italy. This will probably be the last time the horses are rested, fed or watered despite the fact that they will be on the road for almost a further 24 hours.
1.30 pm. (72 hours 30 mins.)
The driver stops at the North Gonars gas station. The horses appear to be somewhat rested and the swelling on the injured mare’s face has started to go down. It appears that the truck was not cleaned out and straw was laid on top the accumulation of excreta because liquid manure is again beginning to pour out of the box.
10.35 pm. (81 hours 35 mins.)
The truck arrives at the port of Piombino and fortunately for the horses, the ferry is waiting. The truck drives straight on. This is where observation ends but timings for the rest of the journey are known.
7.00 am. (90 hours)
The ferry arrives in Olbia, Sardinia and the driver heads across the island towards the slaughterhouse, which is the final destination for the horses.
12.00 midday (95 hours)
The horses arrive at the slaughterhouse, where they will are all killed for meat. There is no way of knowing how long they had to wait to face their death but all were in an acute state of stress, dehydration, fear and utter exhaustion. It is not uncommon for horses to arrive dead or to have collapsed. When this happens, they are dragged off with chains and those still living are killed for meat.
This was just one of thousands of shipments of horses which travel the roads of Europe. A group of 20 unnamed and anonymous creatures travelling through seven countries - Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and finally the island of Sicily - and covering over 2,530 kilometres. The pain and suffering is profound, all so some people can indulge their taste for a particular kind of meat. It is cruelty without justification.