Captive bolt placement demonstrated on a sedated horse's head. This was a demonstration only. The horse was not killed.

Is the captive bolt a humane death for horses?

Is using a captive bolt to kill a horse just as humane, or perhaps more humane, than say killing a horse with chemicals — or chemical euthanization?

This issue is at the forefront yet again because a horse rescue is reportedly killing unadoptable horses with the captive bolt and incinerating their remains (the “horse rescue”). Unadoptable we hear is by definition at said rescue, a horse who cannot be ridden.

But let’s stay on point. That’s another story for another day.

What the Vets Say

Here’s a collection of professional opinions concerning the use of the captive bolt “gun” as a form of euthanasia for horses.

“I have seen it used hundreds of times on cattle and horses and know in my mind that it is very humane and much more instantaneous than (chemical) euthanasia. The animal literally knows nothing.–Jerry Black, DVM

“I would equate captive bolt with gunshot and consider both as humanely superior to lethal injection when performed properly. The public’s perception of lethal injection as being the only humane procedure parlays to the standards of the veterinary profession in this country–we simply do not teach instanteous lethal trauma.

“I do not randomly shoot my patients, but select gunshot for those where lethal injection is cardiovascularly inappropriate as a means of euthanasia or when horses and handlers are placed at risk by the less efficacious lethal injection.”–Doug Byars, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVECC

“In the UK (United Kingdom), the captive bolt is never used for horses. The only weapon designed for humane destruction of horses is the Cash humane pistol single shot. Intravenous agents are always preferred in the UK, but at equestrian events or racing there are circumstances that shooting with a free bullet may still be necessary. The captive bolt is used extensively and apparently quite safely for slaughter of farm animals, particularly cattle.–Leo Jeffcott, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, MA, DSc

“Captive bolt in the hands of an experienced person is completely humane because the horse is immediately rendered unconscious. It has the same effect as a gunshot when placed properly. I believe that it is more humane than chemical injection for two reasons. If you watch horses that are euthanized with an injection, many of them experience a period of bewilderment or confusion just before they lose consciousness. There is no doubt that they are aware that something strange is occurring. Second, many of the horses following chemical injection do not die quickly and require a second or third dose. With gunshot or captive bolt, the horses is rendered unconscious immediately.–Tom Lenz, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT H

“I practiced veterinary medicine from 1956 until recently, and I administered lethal doses of barbiturates for euthanasia countless times. This technique is much slower than captive bolt euthanasia, and frequently required additional injections.

“I had clients who would prefer a quicker method. On several occasions I used a pistol to euthanize horses. Aside from the danger of gunshot to bystanders (or administrators), the results are infinitely better with the pistol than with barbiturates.

“Also, I don’t buy the ‘fear and apprehension’ problems that the activists claim. There is no wild-eyed anticipation or screaming when the environment is managed correctly.”–Woody Asbury, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM.

“Both euthanasia by captive-bolt and lethal anaesthetic overdose have their pros and cons. A lot depends on training and skill. There can be disasters with either technique. A handgun equipped with a captive bolt, instead of a bullet, can wound instead of kill and produce a grisly result. However when placed properly the bolt enters the brain, destroys it in an instant and the horse falls dead to the ground. Although the horse is brain dead and insensible its heart beats for a while and its legs paddle–this can be very upsetting for people who don’t understand the physiology of what is going on. I’m certain that death by captive bolt, performed by a competent operator, is humane for horses. In the slaughter house the major blood vessels at the base of the neck are opened for meat quality reasons. There is no technical difference between a bullet and a captive bolt except there is more risk with the former should a miss occur. The very stringent gun laws in Australia limit ownership of handguns (a captive bolt pistol is classed as a handgun here) to very few people (although veterinarians are eligible) so not many horses are killed this way. Mismanaged lethal injections can be disastrous, too, but that’s anther story.–Chris Pollitt, BVSc, PhD

Please Note

A captive bolt pistol or gun (also variously known as a cattle gun, stunbolt gun, bolt gun, or stunner) is a device used for stunning animals prior to slaughter.

The goal of captive bolt stunning is to inflict a forceful strike on the forehead with the bolt in order to induce unconsciousness. The bolt may or may not destroy part of the brain.

By definition it was not and is not designed for end of life use, and certainly not a form of euthanasia.

What We Say

A serious point to consider concerning the euthanasia of large animals especially in the horse rescue’s scenario is this:

Is it ethical and humane to have workers and volunteers skilled and unskilled killing horses with a captive bolt, especially in light of the statements made above by licensed, practicing professional veterinarians. Attempting to accurately place a captive bolt in a conscious horse is very challenging. Horses are highly sensitive and intuitive animals. When their emotional level is high horses move and raise their head.

In the meantime, hearsay is that the horse rescue at the center of the current storm have a large animal incinerator at one of its premises.

What Do You Say?

Hearsay can be a dangerous thing. What is your take on all of this? Are you for or against the use of the captive bolt as a form of euthanasia? Do you think it can be a peaceful death? We look forward to your comments.

Fund for Horses Logo

FEATURED IMAGE: Horses and People Australia. No animal was harmed in the taking of this image. The horse was not about to be put down via the captive bolt. He had been gently sedated for castration and used to capture this image showing where the captive bolt must be placed to achieve its ultimate goal — instantaneous death.


FROM OUR WEBSITE: Insure Your Horse for a Humane End

Updated 2/27/2020 11:20 am

47 thoughts on “Is the captive bolt a humane death for horses?”

  1. After reading this article I have yet to know the stance that Tuesday’s Horse takes on the Captive Bolt Gun? Many of my friend think the article is Pro Captive Bolt Gun. I pray this is not true. Using a Captive Bolt Gun and putting them in an incinerator is slaughter!
    This is not heresay but the truth have proof!
    Sick and more sick !
    Also, it leaves no trace of the horse and money in the rescues pocket !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Our reputation speaks for itself. No one who knows us would even begin to think we could be pro slaughter or pro use of the captive bolt gun for any reason, in any scenario. We were highlighting the many views on the use of the captive bolt held by veterinarians — who you would typically consult for information — not just quote the ones who support our stand, which is the captive bolt gun is never to be used, ever, in any circumstance. How any vet could support the use of the captive bolt gun is beyond us. We have updated the post to make our views perfectly clear to everyone.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Will you be cremated or buried? My reading has said a properly placed bolt works immediately. All of the footage I’ve seen is of improperly placed. I’m going with that. The morons in the stall have as much skill and as much interest as my cigarette.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am not familiar with this rescue that is killing horses. I thought horse rescue was about saving horses and placing them in forever homes if possible and if that is not possible due to long term injury or such, they then live out their natural life at said rescue. Not killed to make room or for convenience. This sickens me! It is places like this that make people afraid to get involved with rescue, it seems for every one rescue that is doing good 3-4 are way bad. What is being done about this rescue and how/why are they allowed to take life and to have a incinerator on site? My mind is boggled. They must be stopped!
    Gun’s, Bolt’s, euthanasia, they should not be allowed to kill them by any means. Only a qualified trained person should be able to make the informed decision if a animal should be put down for a medical reason, not for anyones convenience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are living in a dream world. If every unsuitable, untrainable, wild, horse and dog had to be kept and looked after by the ‘rescues’ then they would need millions and millions of dollars, not to mention half the states land to house them on. People just like to believe that every animal is never killed because it makes them feel better.


      1. Wow! To get a response to a post from like 3+ years ago, mind blowing! Not living in a dream world at all, just was not aware it was happening at legitimate well known rescues!


  3. I am euthanasia certified for chemical euthanasia, we were not taught other methods at that time. However, as a horse owner in an emergency situation I am confident in my ability to use a bullet if needed. I am medically trained as well. With that being said, I feel a properly placed captive bolt or bullet is less tramatic for an animal that chemical euthanasia. Chemical euthanasia has so many variables when given, adrenaline, poor circulatory system, health issues often times make what should be a lethal dose nonlethal, even with sedation on board. When done correctly, a captive bolt or bullet, though less aesthetically pleasing, cause instantaneous brain death. There will be muscle reflexes, also happens with chemical euthanasia, however there will be no regaining of consciousness or feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So we’re quoting Tom Lenz, the king of slaughter, stating the captive bolt is humane. The AVMA stance is slaughter is also humane. SMDH.

    The penetrating bolt must be accompanied by another method as well, pithing the brain stem with a Mengele like tool, slicing the throat to please out or a shot of Sodium Chloride to cause cardiac arrest. Yea, really humane choice. Sick sick sick.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We witnessed Lenz stating publicly that slaughter is a form of euthanasia. We were stunned into silence for the next 10 minutes, trying to make heads or tails out of it. The pro slaughter movement is scary and unbelievable.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. “The penetrating bolt must….” I would really like to know the source of that information. Can you post it?


  5. Thank you for writing about this.

    The “horse rescue” told me themselves they have an incinerator on site to destroy the remains of the horses they euthanize. That’s not hearsay. You can read the conversation on my Facebook profile.

    A former employee has also come forward and admitted the captive bolt gun doesn’t always get the job done. When that happens they pull out a .22 rifle to finish the job.

    This former employee also admits that not all horses are evaluated by a vet prior to being euthanized.

    This goes against what the “horse rescue” states on their website and on their Facebook page.

    The “horse rescue” fundraises for $1000 per horse that they ‘save from the slaughter pipeline.’ The horses do not cost $1000 and the additional funds are to be used for ‘aftercare.’

    How much does it cost to bring a horse back to the “horse rescue”, kill it with a captive bolt gun and maybe a 22 rifle and burn it’s body in an industrial size livestock incinerator on site? Without ever seeing a vet?

    This is completely unacceptable for a “horse rescue.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would be nice to have your source quoted here instead of sending us to a FB page to dig it out. I know there are other people on this rant that aren’t as expert on FB as you are, nor as you would wish :-)


  6. I have every text from an employee, about all that is done at Horse Plus Humane. They took in 45 untamed Florida Cracker Horses in November with donor dollars saying they would rehab and rehome them. They did nothing. They were put in a head catch deemed unapproachable and Captive Bolted in the head 3 to 5 times. Killed just like slaughtering them. If any AAEP rules think that’s Ok then maybe we should see if they would like to be captive bolted themselves. If you truly love ❤️ horses stand up and speak out against Captive Bolting and Horse Plus Humane! It’s URGENT we all speak loud and NOW.!!!!
    🙏🏻 🐴 🙏🏻 🐴🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Peggy, you’ve gotta’ post this stuff. And having spent my formative years in the South, I am interested in from where the name cracker comes.


      1. Phil, the Florida Cracker Horses are from Florida and have a long history . They are descendents from horses that the Spainish brought to Florida during the 16th century . Florida cowboys were called Crackers. Horse Plus Humane bought 45 untamed Cracker Horses in November with donor money. Never any trainers , rehab none , no rehoming just to be killed no chance and they were beautiful . I saw them all!
        Pregnant mares and others all killed deemed unapproachable . Only 12 remain after I convinced someone to take a 6 to 7 month baby to give a chance , so only 11 alive for the moment! Sad believe me I was the one having all the information coming from an employee who was trying to change things and scared .

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’ve rarely heard ANYONE speaking loudly on this forum. What are y’all afraid of? And BTW thhnk you PB :-).


  7. I struggle to understand how horse rescues can reconcile using a captive bolt gun to euthanasize horses. Much effort was made in this country to eliminate horse slaughter facilities in the the United States. Horse slaughter plants followed AAEP guidelines to slaughter horses. They used either a firearm or a captive bolt gun to slaughter the horses. If rescues use these same devices to euthanize horses, what is the difference between them and slaughter plants…only the miles between the Canadian or Mexican borders separate them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As Heather points out, the bolt or the gun, when “properly” used is effective. Did anyone see “No Country for Old Men”? That’s a properly used bolt.


      1. Possibly. But what about the untold 1000s of times it’s not used properly? Surely this is not a difficult concept to grasp. The captive bolt gun was designed to stun animals for slaughter purposes. It should not be used for any other purpose and especially not horses.


      2. The ABC 7.30 programme in September 2019 which exposed the slaughter of horses at the Australian abattoir, Meramist, which is owned by a Belgium company (the horse meat is exported to Europe for human consumption) revealed that the captive bolt was clumsily used and, if my memory serves me correctly, it took something like 5 attempts to render one of the thoroughbreds unconscious.
        And as Professor Paul McGreevy (Sydney University) stated on the programme – the horse that finally went down after being hit with the captive bolt was still conscious as the horse was blinking.
        I say NO to the captive bolt.
        Years ago I read about the New Holland facility in the USA and an expert opined that the captive bolt is used on cattle but is not suitable for the horse who is inherently aware of what is going on around him becomes fearful in a threatening environment and then goes into flight mode and he also added that due to the size of the horse the captive bolt should not be used on him.
        On racetracks, rarely is a horse given a sedative prior to the lethal injection and I understand that the horse suffers for something like 3 minutes with an injection and that’s if it’s done properly.
        Personally, if I had a horse who was badly injured, or, was suffering from a condition with no hope of recovering, i would call in a skilled shooter and have him put out of his misery. The horse doesn’t know that he’s going to die when he’s shot, nor is he in a threatening environment so he’s not traumatised.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. In my pocket is a DNR which is effectively letting me die and incinerating me. There is a medical profession out there that thinks DNR is virtual murder. If DNR is virtual murder, then kill me and burn me :-).


      1. Without the DEA license, we cannot have euthanasia solution. Most of the euthanasias have been done by Tawnee and Jason, but I have had to be involved on occasion. I suppose they made sure I was so they could say that I was a part of it too. The way Tawnee described it, was that it was, of course, allowed under aaep guidelines and that it was almost like a gun except the bullet in a gun goes in one way and comes out another so is a safety issue. Talking people more now about the difference, I am very ashamed that I had anything to do with that method. Definitely my fault for not researching better and believing what I was told. I very much appreciate you bringing the true consequences of it to my attention.
        ** THIS IS THE TEXT
        HORSE PLUS HUMANE*****
        I have many many more

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So “online” is enough credential of such an unimaginable act to go with it? Reprinting it without verifiable source data, other than “ONLINE”, just pours oil on the fire. And, BTW, where’s the pic as a start? You may not know what we say but, if it’s on the internet with no image, it didn’t happen :-).


  8. If done correctly (with proper training) some consider humane. But bolting 4 or 5 times while they are in a head catch is not humane at all. Some claim gun shot is quicker but again you have to know what your doing. Overdosing can take time as well. Heavily sedating cost money that some don’t want to spend the extra funds.

    This rescue wants to save money instead of spending the funds to property vet, rehab, retrain these horses. Yes quality of life comes into play for some, but not 40% as they claim. Euthanizing for medical reasons is one thing.. but because they are over 10 years old, pregnant, a certain breed, strangles, founder, runny nose or eyes, unrideable, unapproachable (they don’t give them time to adjust) are sick reasons to bolt/euth a horse.

    We as a rescue have taken in horses that were improperly bolted and they lived a long happy thriving life after recovering from a traumatic experience. But the issue is.. they are cutting costs with donor funds and not telling them the truth. We are supposed to be a voice for these horses.. not mute!
    I am truly sickened how they choose to euth horses.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I don’t quite understand how the “Ride ’em or kill ’em” concept has anything to do with an actual equine rescue organization and I doubt that any true horse person can call that concept anything more than a “slaughterhouse philosophy.” If we accept this, it’s just a small step to accept the slaughterhouse.
    I’ve been there for hundreds of chemical euthanizations. It’s a time filled with compassion and love, and it’s done not to make room, but only when absolutely medically necessary. That was the standard, at one time, for GFAS and the ASPCA. Sadly, Dr. Lenz, his slaughter crew with the Right Horse haters have taken over.
    We fought the slaughterhouse bunch for two decades. Now they are getting horse rescues to follow along with their, “If you can’t ride them, kill them,” song.

    Liked by 3 people

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