Horse over-population or slaughter?

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By Sherry Robinson


Valley Meat Company in Roswell has become the focal point for arguments over horse over-population in the same way ants become the focal points of bored boys with magnifying glasses. There’s more heat than light.

In the back-and-forth chatter, I’m hearing a lot of arguments that don’t hold water. And, even if the determined Rick De Los Santos manages to open his plant, it doesn’t solve all of our horse problems. 

The most ironic argument against a slaughterhouse for unwanted horses is that the noble animal is a western icon, a star in the Taming of the West. Somebody needs to read more history. To pioneers, the army and Indian tribes, horses were transportation. When a horse was used up, it was eaten: Meat’s meat.  

I’ve read many a description of battles in which combatants aimed for the horse — it was an easier target. Recently, blogger Dan Wilson, on the website Military History, wrote that we have a distorted view of history when it comes to the horse: “Warriors made no distinction between horse and rider in combat. War is brutal and animals suffered from that same brutality.”

Many an army patrol in the Old West ate their horses when their rations ran out. You don’t see that in the movies.

Comanches, Apaches and other warriors slid to the side of a running horse and fired, using the horse as shield. It was considered extraordinary horsemanship, not mistreatment. And while they prized their horses, tribes ate horse and mule as readily as cattle and bison. And still do. To this day, when a reservation family needs the meat and money’s short, I’m told, a horse fills the bill. My husband has eaten horse stew as a guest on the Navajo Reservation on several occasions. (Tastes like beef, he says.)

So when advocates insist that in our society eating horsemeat is just not done, they might remember that American society includes people who do eat horses. Which is why several tribes side with the American Quarter Horse Association, some livestock associations and some horse rescue groups in supporting domestic slaughter of horses as a more humane solution than shipping them to Mexico.

It’s interesting that the people and organizations that know horses the best support Valley Meat Co. And yet, even if it goes forward, we haven’t heard the end of this story. We have in the state herds of wild horses, which are protected by law, and feral horses, which exist in legal limbo. They too face starvation, but you can bet your boots they won’t end up in a slaughterhouse.

Between Farmington and the Jicarilla Apache Reservation is a herd of 400-plus mustangs trying to live on land that will support about one-fourth that number. The United States Bureau of Land Management manages this and other proliferating herds, all of them eating themselves out of house and home. Forage is thin, and adoptions are down.

In the Albuquerque bedroom community of Placitas, residents have seen a herd of feral horses multiply until they pose safety hazards. Nobody claims them, although fingers point at San Felipe Pueblo, which denies ownership. And on the Navajo Reservation, feral horses are so numerous they’re pests. The occasional horse stew hasn’t put a dent in their numbers.

Legislative attempts to create sanctuaries have failed in the last two administrations because the cost is prohibitive. The other solution — injecting horses with PZP, a contraceptive, is bogged down in the regulatory process, but once it’s registered with the state Department of Agriculture, it might offer some relief.

Those of us who grew up reading “Black Stallion” won’t see a tidy ending to this horse story.