The Horse is the Wings of it’s People

The human and the horse share a long history together. At first horses were working animals with a practical purpose: they served as a means of transport, helped in agriculture and in war. Nowadays, horses are domestic pets with a moral status: used for personal pleasure, in sport competitions, and for medical therapy.

In 1948 my grandfather began a business in what many now consider to be a taboo: horsemeat. At the time people were poor, recovering from the struggles of World War II. The meat was in demand, offering high quality produce for an affordable price. It became a staple in Belgium and other European countries. Fast-forward to 70 years later; the third generation is ready to take over the wheel. My retiring father has mixed feelings: he is proud that his children are continuing the business, but also hesitant to provide them with a company that foresees a difficult future.

Before it is too late, I documented and investigated horse(meat) culture: Why is the horse population increasing? What happens to these horses if they are no longer eaten? Why is horsemeat becoming less popular? Is this only in Belgium, or is this a global trend?

The way a nation deals with horses and horsemeat is culturally revealing. The equine industry plays a significant role in the socio-economic and environmental sector. I travelled to nine countries spread over four continents to visit places that hold different connections to horse culture. In Europe I visited Belgium, France, Italy and Poland to document the end of the era. Specialised slaughterhouses, horse butchers and restaurants are disappearing rapidly. In Central-Asia horsemeat is not in decline, I travelled to Kyrgyzstan where the meat is an expensive delicacy, kept solely for special occasions. In South-America I visited Argentina and Uruguay; nations known for beef that shy away from eating horse. They are currently the biggest exporter of horsemeat. A big contrast was the United States; where a law is in place making sure their horses are never slaughtered for human consumption.

The final result is a layered documentary that explores the topic from multiple perspectives. In doing so the story goes beyond a family history. It aims to be seen at large: questioning where we came from, where we are today and how it might be in the future. There must be a change in animal welfare and food production, but there are big differences as to which route to take. How sustainable do we deal with the earth? What is the role of the consumer? And how do we relate to animals?

- Foto’s van de verdwijnende paardenvleesindustrie, NRC Handelsblad / NRC next, February 21st 2019 
Hoe de wereldwijde paardenvleesindustrie langzaam verdwijnt, NRC In Beeld, February 21st 2019 
- Heleen Peeters ‘The Horse is the Wings of it’s People’, Breedbeeld, January 2018

2019 - Honourable mention Julia Margaret Cameron Award, Category: Documentary
2019 - Shortlisted Kolga Tbilisi Photo Award 
2017 - Winner Pitch De Donkere Kamer, Leuven, Belgium

- Mondriaan Fund
- Stichting Stokroos
- Fonds Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten
- Sébastien van der Stratenfonds voor Fotografie
- Succesful crowdfunding campaing via Voordekunst

2019 - Julia Margaret Cameron Award Show, FotoNostrum Gallery, Barcelona, Spain
2019 - Documentary Photography from Flanders and The Netherlands, De Markten, Brussels, Belgium
2017 - Twens, 30cc Kapel Romaanse Poort, Leuven, Belgium