Disagreement has shaped the horse world as we know it.

"My horse is faster than yours," uttered centuries ago in a language that almost certainly wasn’t English, led to the first horse race. Similar boasts about a horse’s ability to jump, or cut cattle, or cover enormous distances, or perform a series of intricate movements, or simply look good likely were the basis for many of the other competitions we see today.

Sometimes the disagreements take on national proportions. Think of the Zenyatta-Rachel Alexandra debate. Or the disastrous match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure that was promoted as a battle of the sexes and turned into a clash between proponents and opponents of the feminist movement of the 1970s.

Nothing, though, has divided the horse world like the question of equine slaughter. The common perception is that you must either be for slaughter or against it, with little room for a middle ground. Even the American Horse Council, the industry’s voice in Washington, stays neutral when slaughter regulations are proposed in Congress because the organization’s members are split on the issue.

The level of polarization engendered by slaughter is apparent in the comments to "Horses and the Law." The first posting on the Government Accounting Office report of welfare and slaughter generated a dozen comments; there were 41 comments about last week’s follow-up on the GAO report, and almost a hundred recommendations. I don’t keep track of numbers, and I’m not even adding the Facebook comments into the total, but 41 comments must be a record. And with very few exceptions, the comments weren’t rants dashed off in a minute or two. Most were well-reasoned arguments for one side of the question or the other. Some of the comments were longer than my posts, a few by a wide margin, and the passion of the writers for their positions—pro or con—was apparent.

For reading, and for taking the time to post your comments—Thank you!

I generally don’t add my own comment on the comments, but readers’ contributions are not ignored. I read all of the comments, and I appreciate the effort that goes into posting them. I get a perspective that hadn’t occurred to me, I learn things I didn’t know, and I sometimes get an idea for a future blog. So please keep the comments coming.

One legal aspect of the slaughter debate that has not received the attention I think it deserves is this—should horses have a different legal status than other animals when it comes to slaughter for human consumption? And if so, why? An argument against horse slaughter based strictly on the inhumane aspects of the process fails to address the millions and millions of food animals slaughtered under similar conditions in this country every year. Can a non-vegan logically oppose horse slaughter without also complaining about the slaughter of other species?

A confounding factor is that our relationship with animals is a complex one, not necessarily guided by logic. A good book on the subject is Hal Herzog’s Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

I lived in China for almost two years in the mid-1980s, and one of the on-going arguments in the hotel where we were housed was whether a new restaurant planned for the facility should be a western-style pizza parlor or a restaurant that served dog. It was a cultural debate as much as a culinary one.

Horses clearly have a special place in our culture. Is it justified?