“When the horses pass, they’re within five feet of where I’m standing and I can see them through the rails of the trailers and they’re just packed in there. You can tell they’re scared to death, and I just see it over and over,” she said.
Rhyne didn’t have much luck trying to change the system. So she decided to take a different approach: “celebrating the horse and bringing people awareness and making them want to be involved and make a change,” she said.
The fruit of those efforts is Thundering Hooves, staged Saturday on the Santa Fe Plaza in conjunction with advocacy group Animals’ Angels.
The intent of Thundering Hooves, organizers said, is to honor horses and their role in New Mexico, as well as bring attention to the issues the creatures currently face, including the threat of slaughter.
Activities kicked off Saturday morning with a horse ride from Fort Marcy to the Plaza, followed by music, discussions, informational booths and art. Drawings of horses by students at Sandia Elementary School in Clovis circled the concrete base of the Plaza obelisk.
Rhyne said it’s the second-ever Thundering Hooves gathering. Last year’s event was in Alpine, Texas.
Rhyne said she hopes Thundering Hooves can shed light on how wonderful horses are and the problems they face today – “how they’ve been reduced to cents per pound.”
New Mexico has taken center stage in the debate with a Roswell company’s plan to become possibly the first horse slaughterhouse to resume operations in the U.S. in several years.
The last U.S. slaughter plant to process horse meat for human consumption closed in 2007 after Congress approved an appropriations bill that prevented the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding horse meat inspections. Funding was restored in 2011.
The USDA has issued a permit to Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, but a federal lawsuit to block the plant from operating, filed by horse rescue and animal welfare groups, is pending in federal court. Other entities around the country have filed at least a half-dozen horse slaughter permits, but are prevented from opening due to a temporary restraining order stemming from the New Mexico lawsuit.
Proponents of horse slaughter say it’s a way to deal with an ever-growing horse population, including wild horses that some say pose environmental and economic threats, and that thousands of American horses are trucked to Mexico and Canada each year to be slaughtered. They also contend that horses can be mass-slaughtered humanely, something horse advocates say is difficult.
“I would like to see horse slaughter banned. More importantly, I would like to see the regulations that are on the books enforced, the inhumane treatment of horses going to slaughter. I would like to see that enforced,” Rhyne said.
Susan Hemmerle of The Horse Shelter just south of Santa Fe said she’d like to see more government funding for rehabilitating and taking care of horses. The Horse Shelter takes in abused and neglected horses, most of them confiscated by the state, and is funded entirely with private money.
The nonprofit currently houses 81 horses and adopts out perhaps 20-30 horses annually, she said. If The Horse Shelter took in horses from all the private owners looking to give them up, its resident equines would number in the thousands, Hemmerle mused from The Horse Shelter’s booth at Thundering Hooves.
During a single day last week, Hemmerle said she fielded calls from people trying to give away nearly 20 horses altogether, including nearly a dozen Arabians, several miniature horses and ponies, and a donkey.
There are just too many horses in the state, and people have fallen on hard economic times, Hemmerle said. It’s a complicated conversation, she acknowledged.
Still, Hemmerle said, horses deserve better than the treatment many of them are getting right now.
“They are beautiful animals. They love people. They’re great to be around,” she said.