Law of the West: Horse owners beware! |

Law of the West: Horse owners beware!

by John Scorsine

Burns, Wyo.

As I preparing this week to head out to the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo on March 15, I happened to go surfing through some equine related Web sites. In that ride across the World Wide Web, I came across an equine related bill that has been filed in Congress. It is important that every person who owns or sells a horse be aware of this proposed legislation.

For the last several years there has been a debate simmering between the equine industry and animal rights groups. The question has centered on the nature of the horse in American culture. Is your horse livestock, a working animal, a companion animal, a pet, or in the case of my daughter’s horse, a member of the family? All kidding aside, this is a serious issue. How the law defines a horse determines many aspects of its treatment and your legal rights, responsibilities and obligations to the horse and the community. Many in the animal rights movement have wanted horses defined as companion animals or pets. Such a designation will allow for application of specific licensing, zoning and care requirements, akin to those you may already be subject to as a dog or cat owner. This can impact training methods and the use to which you put a horse. The latest log on this fire is the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

Representative Morella of Maryland introduced the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, HR 3781, in the House on Valentine’s Day. Its purpose is clear and directly stated, “to prevent the slaughter of horses in and from the United States for human consumption by prohibiting the slaughter of horses for human consumption and by prohibiting the trade and transport of horseflesh and live horses intended for human consumption, and for other purposes.” The findings attached to the bill relate primarily to the claimed inhumane treatment of horses during transportation to and while at the slaughterhouse.

Last year, after considerable pressure, rules were imposed upon the transportation of horses intended for slaughter by USDA. Those rules deal with the types of vehicles upon which horses can be transported; the conditions during transport; duration of travel; and the health of the horse. The American Horse Council, a national trade organization, supported the final version of these rules. Clearly, some unscrupulous folks had transported horse to slaughter in inhumane conditions. The rules adopted last December are a proper response.

However, Representative Morella’s bill goes further. If passed, the bill will make it a criminal offense ” punishable by a one year visit to a federal correctional facility ” to slaughter a horse for human consumption, import or export horse flesh or live horses intended for human consumption, or to otherwise trade in horse meat or horses to be used as food. There are also significant civil penalties. The bill also provides for the confiscation and forfeiture of horses intended for human consumption and their subsequent placement with animal rescue groups and ultimate adoption.

Now, it might not seem too offensive to prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption. After all, there are very few folks in the United States that have ever eaten horsemeat. Generally, there are nearly 7 million horses in the United States and each year only about 50,000 are slaughtered for human consumption. But, in question is the trend that is developing.

Many of us have a great dog that always rides in the truck with us. Toby, in my case, faithfully rides in the passenger seat … for the first 100 yards. Soon, if you aren’t careful, you will find Toby on your lap, licking your face, between you and steering wheel. The potential exists that the Morella bill continues that path across the seat begun in several states. If it is said to be wrong to slaughter a horse for human consumption, then how can it be right to slaughter the same animal for a non-food use. As you continue down this slope, it becomes steeper and ever more slippery.

Now, is the slaughter of a horse for human consumption or for another use humane and ethical? Will the passage of the Morella bill lead to greater restrictions and regulation of horse ownership? That’s a question that people need to consider for themselves. However, regardless of your views, your obligation is to let your elected representatives know how you feel.

In Nebraska and Colorado, there are active organizations affiliated with the American Horse Council where you can get more information. The American Horse Council’s Web site is You can e-mail the Colorado Horse Council at and the Nebraska folks at

For other viewpoints, there are any number of sites on the Web. Just punch in “horse slaughter” in your browser and read.

The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.


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