Big Sky local receives horse advocacy award

By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Andrea Eastman was a Hollywood super agent representing high-profile actors after casting such movies as “The Godfather” and “Love Story” in her 20s.

Her experience in the film industry taught her the importance of work ethic and determination, but Eastman – who now lives in Big Sky – was recently recognized for her efforts behind a different scene, fighting for the ethical treatment of horses.

On July 25, N.Y.-based Equine Advocates presented Eastman with an award for those efforts at its 13th Annual Awards Dinner and Charity Auction in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., home to the oldest horserace track in the country. This Special Achievement Award speaks to the hard work and dedication she has committed to the cause for 20 years.

“One of the things [you learn] being an agent, is you don’t give up,” said Eastman, who at various times in her career represented Sylvester Stallone, Barbra Streisand, Richard Gere, Billy Crystal and Dustin Hoffman, among others. “You never take no for an answer.”

Eastman has quietly waged a battle against the mistreatment and slaughter of horses in the U.S., holding fundraisers, adopting abused horses, and using her connections in Hollywood to make a difference.

In 2004, she had the ear of her client at the time, Katie Couric, who helped facilitate an award-winning NBC Dateline special called “Out To Pasture?” and garnered support for California’s Proposition 6, a 1998 initiative making it the first state to ban horse slaughter.

PETA and the Humane Society of the United States have recognized Eastman’s efforts, and Richard Gere presented her an award in 2002 from the rescue and rehabilitation group, H.O.R.S.E. of Connecticut, for her dedication to the ethical treatment of horses. The issue is not a recent one.

For thousands of years, humans have slaughtered horses for food, and horsemeat is considered a delicacy in parts of Europe and Asia. In the U.S., consuming horsemeat is generally considered unethical and taboo – if not dangerous – but horse slaughterhouses existed in the country until 2007, when Congress shuttered the last remaining in DeKalb, Ill.

Performance horses in the U.S. receive medication that can be harmful to humans if consumed. “If other countries want to raise horses for consumption, there’s nothing we can do about that,” said Susan Wagner, founder of Equine Advocates, who presented Eastman with the award. “We don’t raise horses for food in the U.S.”

However, U.S. buyers still bid on horses at auction and ship them abroad for consumption. Each year, said Wagner, between 150,000 and 180,000 horses are transported to other countries for slaughter.

While a battle has waged for years between these “killer buyers” and horse advocates, the Obama Administration this winter effectively ended the export of horsemeat.

The 2014 omnibus spending bill, signed by President Obama in January, prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending any amount of money to inspect horsemeat processing facilities that could be built. Investors in some states, including Missouri, New Mexico and Texas are looking to build more of these slaughterhouses, and horse advocates across the U.S. are fighting to keep this from happening.

For Eastman, it’s been an evolving battle.

Andrea Eastman grew up with horses in Westport, Conn., but eventually developed an allergy to them. Later, during a visit to Switzerland when she was 20 and despite her allergy, Eastman and her college roommate went on a horseback ride.

“I had won ribbons and everything growing up, but knew nothing about trail horses and did everything wrong,” she said.

The horse was spooked and took off, bucking Eastman in the process, and breaking her back. She couldn’t walk for six months, but it didn’t dissolve her affinity for animals.

In 1995, Eastman learned about a specific medication made from the urine of pregnant mares. The estrogen-boosting pill Premarin has been produced since 1942 and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals – now a subsidiary of Pfiser – has promoted the drug to treat symptoms of menopause and osteoporosis.

The drug – along with Wyeth-made Prempro – has for years been the subject of litigation for its role in causing human health problems, as well as for the alleged maltreatment of horses during the harvesting process.

“I was so horrified, it made me sick,” said Eastman referring to the process pregnant mare’s urine horses go though. “They’re lined up like dairy cows while urine is collected, and then when the stallions and mares are unable to produce [foals], they’re sent to auction.”

Knowing the foals produced by PMU horses are often sent to slaughter, Eastman raised money through the United Pegasus Foundation and in 2000 adopted two of these young foals. Shawnee, 14, and Lucky, 15, live at Eastman’s 20-acre ranch in Big Sky, along with her two other horses, Indy and Chevy.

“Many people [who] believe in horse slaughter don’t know all the facts about how inhumane it is,” Eastman said. “Horses are very sensitive – they’re smart and know what’s going on.”

In 1998, Eastman called her friend Robert Redford, asking him to support a cause she’d been fighting for three years. Redford signed the voter card on the spot, helping to pass Prop 6 and end horse slaughter in California.

“…I immediately signed on the dotted line because I knew if Andrea was behind it, then it was solid, worthy and most likely groundbreaking,” Redford wrote in a letter to Equine Advocates in November. “And it was.”

Eastman ended her speech in Saratoga Springs with a line from the documentary, “Buck,” about legendary horse whisperer Buck Brannaman: “Your horse is a mirror into your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will.”