TWIN FALLS, Idaho • Some horses sold for $20. Others went to “canners,” who would take them across the border for meat.

So they held their breath and leaned into each other as if a collective yearning could keep the sweet little Appaloosa mare from an uncertain fate.

As the auctioneer jabbered up the price, Tara Wiggins kept flashing her card. Across the small stadium, the other bidder didn’t take her card down until the end that late Friday night in June.

Sold for $380 to bidder No. 813. Wiggins and Lori Stewart, off-duty spokeswoman for the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, cheered and hugged. The two could smile again.

The mare — Oreo — had been turned over to the Sheriff’s Office after repeatedly escaping her fence. Wiggins, whose husband is a deputy, said Oreo would join her seven other horses.

“My little guy just fell in love with her,” she said of her son.

It was a rare victory in a battle with no end, no budget and much heartache. With hay at $200 a ton, a lingering recession and little to no market, neglected and malnourished horses are a rising problem across the West, said Connie Blayney, of the Idaho Horse Board.

Twin Falls deputies have seized 12 horses so far this year, stemming from four cases of abuse or neglect. Last year, three horses were seized during two investigations, and in 2011 only two horses were taken during two cases.

Cases of horse neglect aren’t as common in Jerome and Cassia counties, their sheriffs said.

Oreo was in custody for 13 days, and the Sheriff’s Office spent about $90 on her, not including deputy time. Only a small percentage of neglect reports result in seizures, and few seizures result in everyone going home happy.

“In my recollection, that’s the first horse we’ve made money on — ever,” Stewart said.

A Long Process

Seizing an animal is a long process with which many Magic Valley residents are unfamiliar, Lt. Daron Brown said. Each case is unique, as neglect — starvation, abuse, bad living conditions, poor hoof care — takes many shapes.

Repeat offenders are common. But so are invalid reports to deputies.

“People may think they are starving, but in all reality, they are healthy,” Brown said.

One animal control deputy and four range deputies are trained to assess the horse’s condition, its dwelling and its owner’s ability to care for it.

Deputies work with the owner to bring the horse back to health, sometimes recommending a veterinarian check or requiring obvious measures, such as that the horse’s overgrown and curling hooves be trimmed.

“Normally, in two weeks we can see a difference in the animal,” Brown said. “If we need to go another two weeks, we’ll go another two weeks as long as the people are working with us and doing what they should to take care of their animals.”

If deputies must step in and seize a horse, they will seek guidance from a veterinarian or animal health inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Many resources are tapped to transport and care for the confiscated animals until the matter can be resolved. Deputies previously kept horses with the Twin Falls Livestock Commission, but people sometimes turned them loose or stole them back. Now deputies keep the location a secret.

The five deputies work together to check on the horses at least twice a day and feed them according to the vet’s guidance. A vet will euthanize a horse that is emaciated or suffering.

The deputies tally the costs of seizing and keeping a horse, and they put a lien on the animal. At a forfeiture hearing, deputies give a judge the estimated cost of care. The owners, who often face criminal charges, have 72 hours to post the bond.

If they can pay, the deputies keep the horses until the case is settled. The owners may get their horses back, but that often is up to the judge.

“We’ve had people who were convicted and sentenced that they couldn’t own or manage any animals while they were on probation,” he said.

If the owner can’t post the bond, the animals can be sold at auction in hopes of recovering the cost of upkeep. Sometimes the animals, often old and unbroken, bring low bids or none at all. Other times they go to the canners, but deputies don’t concern themselves with knowing the buyer.

“We’d like to hope they go to someone that will take care of them, but if they can’t, fact of the matter is that a canner buys them,” Brown said.

Compound Problem

No money is budgeted for horse care in Jerome, Cassia and Twin Falls counties, so money is pulled from other coffers.

“We don’t have the financial means to care for other people’s animals,” Brown said. “That’s their responsibility, not ours.”

Twin Falls police have had only two calls concerning horses — they had jumped their fences — in the past 1½ years, said Ed Gudgell, animal control officer.

Cassia County Sheriff Jay Heward said horse neglect calls aren’t common there either. They last seized a horse about seven years ago. Most calls reporting skinny horses turn out to be horses that are simply older, he said.

In Jerome County, Sheriff Doug McFall said neglect or abuse calls come in about every other month. Volunteers help in rare cases where horses have been seized, he said.

Twin Falls County may have more cases because it’s home to hobby farms and pleasure horses, whereas Jerome has ranches and industries for which healthy horses are needed for work, McFall said.

Horse neglect investigations are tense, Brown said. The excuses are numerous: They aren’t my horses; they aren’t in that bad of shape; I can’t afford it anymore.

“I’m telling you what needs to happen to your own animals, and would you take offense to that? We’ll get a lot of, ‘Yeah, I know, but I just don’t have the money,’ “ he said. “The people know the conditions the animals are in, but they are so attached to them they won’t get rid of them, they won’t sell them or give them to someone who will take care of them.”

While Twin Falls County might be the hotbed for area horse neglect, the problem persists across the West, said Blayney, the long-time Idaho Horse Board appointee.

“I spend the winters in Arizona, and they are having the same problem,” she said. “Especially because there is very little pasture, and hay is expensive down there.”

At $200 a ton, hay alone can cost $1,200 a year — excluding veterinary and farrier bills, tack and other equine needs. Classified listings commonly advertise free or cheap horses seeking a good home, she said.

Compounding the problem are the economy, the low price of horses, the cost of putting them down ($150 to $300) and the demise of the American horse slaughterhouse, she said.

“People just can’t afford to put them down. People turn them out, they get out on the highways, and they get hurt or they starve out in the desert or die of thirst,” Blayney said.

Should the slaughterhouse return, horses that would be neglected and suffer would have some value again, she said.

In late June, a New Mexico company was granted permission to open a horse processing plant, becoming the first such operation in the nation since the government closed the industry seven years ago. Federal officials also might approve slaughter permits to companies in Iowa and Missouri, but threats of lawsuits may stall that action.

Strong emotions surface when people talk about horse slaughter, said Melinda Roche, a veterinarian with Roche Equine Veterinary Services.

Canners, she said, are not causing the problem, and the public shouldn’t consider the industry a bad thing. Yes, many horses are treated as family, but they are livestock and are consumed around the world.

“Unless you have a horse and can afford to take care of it, you shouldn’t really be able to tell everybody else what to do,” Roche said.

Common Sense

Twin Falls deputies often depend on Roche to evaluate horses they are investigating. Roche goes out of her way to make time, Brown said.

“These calls are hard,” she said.

Roche is thankful, though, for the chance to improve the horses’ plight.

Many owners simply don’t know how to care for their animals, she said.

“I see thin horses all the time, and I educate my clients everyday about how to feed them and take care of their teeth and everything needed to get weight on them. These horses I’m going and (investigating) are emaciated. They are malnourished. Otherwise, they don’t need to be seized.”

The Sheriff’s Office process is about the only solution to the problem now. The Magic Valley has no horse rescue, and most elsewhere in Idaho and the West are overflowing, Blayney said.

“Because there are no regulations in Idaho of rescue operations, sometimes those rescues are worse than where they’ve come from. … They have good hearts and good intentions, but if they get more horses than they can afford, horses are worse off.”

Roche said people who have rescued horses often ask her to work for free.

“Well, this is what I do for my living. And if I did everything for free, I’d be starving, too,” she said.

Asked for the solution to horse neglect, Brown and Lori Stewart paused, looked at each other and laughed.

“We laugh, but it is that common sense,” she said.

Although horse seizures have increased recently, the statistics fluctuate over the years, Stewart said. What is certain, however, is that more and more area horses are owned by those who don’t have the means to take care of them. That’s the hardest part, Brown said.

“It’s not like keeping a goldfish,” Sheriff McFall said.

Ranchers, those in the livestock industry, and people who take care of their horses all cringe at the mention of horse neglect because oftentimes the public can’t see the differences between owners, Brown said.

“The people who take care of their animals and who have the means to, it’s a black eye on them, too,” he said.

(6) comments


First off, we have not, not had horse slaughter in this country, last year more horses were slaughtered then every before... So who ever said the demise of American horse slaughter is incorrect, anyone at any time can drop there horses off at auctions, so lets get the facts correct, please.... Second..... We are always going to have some people that honestly should not own animal's any animal, there will be abuse unfortunately, but the little numbers you are talking about are small, does this mean that because of the few the many have to suffer, NO this is NOT the viable solution, the solution is to STOP all horse slaughter we have had it for decades do you see any difference in the numbers, no you won't either till horse slaughter is not an option.... There is TO MUCH BREEDING, once you get rid of the dumping grounds then you will see a difference... Instead of spending over $400,000 a year on horse slaughter that's one plant folks our money for Foreign interest's, the government could set programs in place one could be a humanitarian ranch if you will, educate folks hire people for jobs, show folks what it takes to care for horses,, help more legitimate rescue's cause these rescue's could handle a lot more horses but can't cause they try an out bid kill buyers so spending their resources just to help the horse in that way then they have to care for it's feeding and just over all care, no rescue should have to try and outbid kill buyers.... set up therapy horses for returning vets, therapy horses for children, I mean this is just a few of the options, there are thousands of idea's that could be put in place.... Instead of so many politicians running away from animal activist's they all should be working together for GOOD.... Horse Slaughter has never been the answer just the opposite it endorses over breeding & abuse... I mean are we all stupid honestly wake up lets turn this around for once, if breeders can't control their breeding practices than maybe someone needs to regulate this, which I don't want to see, BUT Org like AQHA is out of control so I don't know how this can be done but something needs to make them stop breeding so much 150,000 foals last year, giving incentives right now on there web site to breed more, I mean come on lets stop this, all for money, nope American's have had enough of the abuse of our horses because of irresponsible owners, things need to physically and mentally change..... HORSE SLAUGHTER is a cop out and the horses suffer, NO MORE...... END THIS NOW.... Be held accountable ...... Thanks

Warhorse Rescues
Warhorse Rescues

Let the truth be said that since the closing of illegally operating horse slaughter plants in Texas and one Illinois plant that was shut down for several violations and opposed by the majority of Responsible people more horses shifted to Mexico and Canada.

Where a Mexican plant owned Beltex plant in Fort Worth they knew they would be shut down and it finally happened. So now with the cost of Diesel and longer hauls to make the same amounts of profits the amounts of horses has increased. Pro slaughter goons merely used this situation to say there is no market for horses and the increase of abuse and neglect is on the raise.

BULLCRAP this merely a lie to continue to reward these irresponsible criminals. We all know Auctioneers, Kill buyers, Breeders and slaughter plants make money and with such support from AG, Farm Bureau, Beef, Pork, and poultry industry its a slaughter support slaughter industry. There motto is if they stop horse slaughter next will be beef and pork etc.

We already know this is true because of such states now pushing for AG GAG bills. They do NOT want the public to know what goes on in their business, but with all business we the people that pay them do have a right to know..

To stop this inhumane business and stop rewarding criminals call your elected officials and tell them to co/sponsor our horse bill HR2966. Also do NOT purchase any insurance ( Car, Truck, Home insurance with FARM BUREAU any less monies to them is less they fight us and waste our tax payer monies. Let them know we can make them or break them. We are the voice for the horses NOT Pro slaughter Goons


No one ever said that keeping horses means you don't have to spend money. The fact is horses do require money to feed, put a roof over their head and treat for injuries or preventative care. So does having children, having a hobby such as collecting guns, stamps or dolls. So does having a car.

Horses are not a meat animal for humans. They are out companions. We have recognized this throughout the ages as is evidenced by countless classic paintings. We are inspired by their presence as is proven by every town square with a mounted hero beacning us to be brave and honest.

It is not too much to say that the slaughter of horses is encouraged only by those who hate horses, abetted by a criminal and sadistic element of human depravity.

Use your WAshington DC politicians to protect the horses. Demand they sponsor SR 541/HR 1094 and ban forever the practice of horse slaughter or transport of our nation's horses to foreign countries for slaughter.

For the record, AQHA proudly declared to Congress in their investigation of the slaughter industry that they had created the Unwanted Horse Coaliton. Now figure that one out...


Debbie T. Put your money where you mouth is and get going on organizing those programs up. If you had done your research you'd find that many breed organizations registrations have decreased by 80%. The largest breeder in the United States right now is the United States mustang herds. Do something about that.


So I guess now because we speak out against horse slaughter we are NOW called internet trolls. What's amazing is I am self-made business owner, I built and grew my business in the industry and have been in horses for 4 generations. One grandfather helped create the Illinois Horse Council and worked for the State of Illinois preserving horse trails in the Shawnee National Forest. He worked for Conservation and the Forestry Service helping lawmakers work on ways to assist keep in horses integrated into the State Parks. He farmed, raised drafts and mules, drove at major shows and was a supporter of many horse organizations. On the other side my grandfather and mother showed, rodeo'd around the work, performed in high speed events and Wild West Shows doing things such as the Cosack Drag, he raised the most incredible AQHA and ApHC horses in the history of the organizations, he won at Cow Palace, Congress, and the Worlds Most Prestigous honors for stallions in the industry. He also waged war on the BLM to save wild horses, and worked to push horse meat out of dog and cat foods for the illnesses and deaths it caused in the 1970's. My mother was one of the first women in bull riding, and was a rodeo rider til her passing, they showed the most incredible horses and driving ponies ever in several registries. My Dad is a horse trainer, previously a jockey, and was instrumental in changes to the Quarter Racing Industry protocols and standards. As well, my Step dad in his own right a horse show judge, a wonderful showman, and wealth of knowledge. So I am not a Johnny Come Lately. We have been in active in 4-H, many organizations for horses, and worked constantly to improve the horse industry by spreading the word on new improved techniques in training and horse keeping. WE, are regular joe's, I put myself through University on my earnings from showing and raising my own horses, not one time did any member of our family knowingly sell a horse to kill EVER, not even to get rid of a little filly that couldn't ride or a gelding that became injured, we took care of them, fed, watered, and vetted. My grandfather walked into the local DeKalb plant and saved 5 horses that were stolen from our neighbors property in Indiana and he came out with broken ribs, missing glasses, bloodied and terrified horses but he came out with them and an additional filly. He stood up to slaughter plants repeatedly, the smell, the putrid odor, the screaming scared horses, the ofal spilling out everywhere, bodies laying out in the open, keep in mind the blood trailed out the backs of trailers, all of this is true. That doesn't happen with cattle, or other species. Regular trailers going down the road with blood spilling onto roads, you never saw a cattle trailer going to the plant with body parts falling out. This is not an industry that is able to regulate itself. Did I mention the Stolen horses? Constantly stolen horses. And the property rights they say they support don't forget you have to PROVE its your horse that they stole, then the property rights work against you! Keep in mind this is a predatory business, not to mention the day that we drove by to see two workers at the plant fist fighting out in the road and one pulled a gun on the other. Yep folks they got along great in those plants! As for the money, can you tell me what industry in the world of pets and animals that has no animal welfare issues? They claim it only seems to happen in cats dogs and surprise horses! When we just had someone who said that there were over 200 head of cattle found at an abandoned house starving to death. And to the point of the starving animals two cases in particular. In the year prior to slaughter being closed in US a location in Illinois was found to have been used by a kill buyer and that location had over 190 horses in separate pens, large barn and running the acreage, they seized the horses in various conditions all serious. So if slaughter saves so much then why did they locate that property 1 year prior to closure? And prior to that 6 months they found a place that had 113 horses in various serious stages of neglect, another kill buyer location, impounded it says 98 horses of which 48 were to be euthanized. So that was a full 1 year and 6 months prior to closure-so what that says is slaughter causes it and that it was happening with slaughter open. So the closure should have made people reduce breeding, simple-suspend breeding operations for now. As for the prices pushing upwards like puppies there are always some puppies people give away instead of sell, does that mean the market on puppies fell out, no, it means that like all things there are low sellers and high sellers, but just because we have low sellers doesn't give merit to slaughter. As for the internet trollers comment, a friend emailed me this article and I specifically took the time to reply and wanted to just let people know real horse people, imbedded in the industry for years ARE against slaughter, no that doesn't make us not care about animal welfare-in fact, that makes us care more-people who are directly responsible for injuring, neglecting, and intentional abuse of livestock need to face the music. As well, we are in America and pro-slaughter is allowed to say its peace with Freedom of Speech and the first Amendment and so are the private and public persons Against Slaughter, and WE are the People, so we have a say in what happens in America. WE have the right to exercise our Freedom without being told we are Against the Welfare of Animals when in fact, we have worked tirelessly to improve animal welfare and conditions. As for the solutions that the pro-slaughter agenda seems to want to know so badly, its simple, 5 year moratorium on breeding, slowing production with cut the flow from AQHA by 150,000 foals the number born last year and registered, so if they have 160,000 overpopulation a year, which lets look at that trend, the year before less were slaughtered, the year prior to that even less, and so on, they keep estimating the highest numbers, but the truth is its horses they purchased without owners knowing where they were going, and stolen animals as well. So the result is not about how many horses are in jeopardy its about how many wont be purchased for slaughter. period.


Horses are an agricultural animal, not a pet. As an agricultural animal I can raise them for slaughter if I so choose. It is my right to do so and no one has the right to tell me I can't. You say the cowboys didn't eat their horses if they were starving I beg to differ, no one ever tells you that because you don't want to hear it or believe it is true. The Indians used to ride their horses and then eat them as needed, are they not people? There is a market for horse meat and slaughter done humanly is no different then slaughtering any other agricultural animal. What about the Oxen, they helped bring the settlers to the west and you can bet your bottom dollar when they were done they were eaten, what about them? Are you going to say that because they helped settle the west as the horse did they should not be eaten either? Well no one is up in arms about the poor Oxen, geez why is that? Thanks to the slaughter ban a person owning a horse cannot just take him to the sale and get grocery money to feed his family if necessary. If I get to a point where I am unable to feed my family and this can happen, you can be sure I will have no qualm about shooting one of my horses and slaughtering it to feed my family and they will eat it and be happy to have it. Whether the problem lies with to many people breeding horses, the backyard breeder or to many wild horses running the range the problem is here and as stated above, no one has found a better solution. You are never going to get people to stop breeding just to have the experience of raising a foal, or the person who owns a mixed breed dog, but wants the opportunity to raise a little of pups. It is never going to change and it really doesn't matter as I stated above if I want to raise horses for meat, I can do so.

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