Introduction Horse meat has been used as food since the Stone Age. Its use has been and still is characterized by strong religious and regional influences and it has been controversial in many countries, sometimes giving rise to intensive discussions. The historical and recent development of horse-meat production in Central Europe has been analysed and the results used to predict future trends. In addition, the structure for producing horse meat in Austria has been compared with those in Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Materials and methods First, official statistical data were gathered, edited and evaluated. Subsequently, a questionnaire was sent to Austrian, German, Swiss and Italian butchers with a license to slaughter horses. The answers were analysed descriptively. Results and conclusions The data on the slaughter of horses and the consumption of horse meat in Central Europe indicate a decrease over the past two decades and a continuous gradual decrease may be expected in coming years. The evaluation of 123 questionnaires from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy revealed that the breakdown of horses slaughtered by type (ponies, warm-blood, cold-blood and thoroughbred horses) was somewhat different in different countries. Whereas mainly cold-blooded horses were slaughtered in Austria and Switzerland, more warm-blooded horses were slaughtered in Germany and Italy. The countries included in the study had also different reasons for sending animals to slaughter. In Italy, primarily horses were slaughtered which had been specifically reared for meat production, whilst in Germany (as in Austria and Switzerland) the main reason for slaughtering horses related to poor health and old age. The average age of cold-blooded horses slaughtered in Austria and Switzerland was generally lower than in Germany and Italy.