Few animals have played a role in our nation’s history quite like horses. Western pioneers rode on horses’ backs to discover new lands. Soldiers rode them into countless battles, and farmers relied on them to plow their fields. Many monuments to great Americans feature them seated upon a horse. To this day, horses remain our partners, companions and even therapeutic healers for people with illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder or physical disabilities.

Many Americans would, accordingly, be repulsed by the idea of eating horsemeat, given their place in our culture. Yet every year, tens of thousands of American horses, many from Colorado, are slaughtered for human consumption in a shocking display of animal cruelty.

Colorado can act today to ban the shipment of our equines to slaughter by passing a new bill, SB23-038, which would prohibit the purchase of a horse, donkey, or mule in Colorado if the buyer knows, or reasonably should know, the intent of the transaction is to send the animal for slaughter and processing into human food. This legislation has broad local support that includes our organization, Believe Ranch and Rescue, and the Colorado chapter of Animal Wellness Action.

In 2007, Congress ceased federal funding for horsemeat inspectors, effectively preventing horse slaughterhouses from operating in the United States. But that hasn’t stopped the domestic horse slaughter industry. Each year, more than 20,000 American equines are exported across our borders to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico where they are slaughtered, processed, and shipped to markets in Europe and Asia. 

Horses ending up in the slaughter pipeline are typically purchased at auctions by “kill buyers” who frequently outbid well-meaning individuals and organizations who want to save the horses and provide good homes for them. The horses destined for slaughter typically endure long, overcrowded journeys without food, water or rest. Some don’t even make it to the slaughterhouses alive due to the extreme conditions.

The ones that do are then subjected to a traumatic slaughter process. Because horses instinctively thrash their long necks when frightened it often requires repeated blows to the head to stun them, and even then stunning doesn’t always work. As a result, some horses are still conscious during dismemberment. It is hardly a quick, painless or humane death.

The consumption of horse meat is also dangerous for humans. American horses are often given a wide range of medications and chemical substances prohibited by the Food and Drug Administration for use in animals raised for food. Knowing this, in other countries horsemeat is often passed off as “beef,” subjecting unsuspecting buyers to the potentially tainted horsemeat.

Far from being raised for slaughter, horses are majestic and intelligent creatures that deserve our compassion. While they no longer are a primary mode of transportation for most Americans, they remain one of our closest companion animals. Many Americans can relate to the joy of riding horses, whether in competitions or simply to bask in their company.

Horses are also powerful healers. There are numerous equine therapy and healing programs around the state, some helping reduce the suicide rate for our nation’s beloved veterans, others helping people with disabilities, autism, anxiety, and PTSD.

Consider the Wild Horse Inmate Program, developed in Canon City in 1986. The goal of the program was for inmates to gentle, or tame, the horses. What ended up happening was the horses gentled the prisoners. Upon release, these prisoners become productive members of society. Whe pro-horse program wasn’t designed as equine therapy, it “boasts a 15 percent prisoner-recidivism rate, compared with the 70 percent national average.”

Americans love horses. A national poll released last year found that 83 percent of Americans oppose slaughtering wild and domestic horses for human consumption. Coloradans can act today to ban the shipment of our equines to slaughter. We can ban this brutal practice now. Colorado’s horses are depending on us.

Siri Lindley, of Longmont, is co-founder of Believe Ranch and Rescue.

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Siri Lindley, of Longmont, is co-founder of Believe Ranch and Rescue.