Sabrina Hayes has seen horses live, she's seen them die, she's seen them rescued, she's seen them sold.
Monday, the Randlett horsewoman was in Oklahoma City supporting advocates who said they won't tolerate seeing horses slaughtered for meat.
At a news conference timed to coincide with a federal advisory panel's meeting, leaders of three national organizations said they had evidence that wild horses protected under federal law were sold to “kill buyers,” who pay small sums for horses that are then shipped for slaughter to Mexico and Canada.
They criticized proposals in the Oklahoma Legislature to allow horses to be slaughtered in the state, several years after the last U.S. slaughterhouses closed.
“There's no limit to the number of our American horses they will prey upon,” said Simone Netherlands, a horse trainer and president of Respect4Horses.
About 22,000 federally protected wild horses removed from Western rangelands are kept on Oklahoma ranches under contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is charged by Congress with managing the herds.
Noting the U.S. Senate has scheduled a hearing Thursday for Sally Jewell, President Barack Obama's nominee to be Interior secretary, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said it was time to turn the wild horse program around “by stopping the roundups and prohibiting the slaughter of these national icons.”
Bills shock woman
Hayes said she was dumbfounded to hear two weeks ago on the morning news that the Legislature was considering lifting Oklahoma's ban on horse slaughterhouses. She said she went right to work learning more.
“It's all I've done since that morning,” she said.
A bill passed in the Senate, SB 375, would revoke a 1963 law banning sale of horse meat. HB 1999, passed by the House, would keep that prohibition for consumption within the state but would allow horse slaughter.
Hayes, 51, who lives a few miles from the Texas border in southwest Oklahoma and owns five horses, said she's been around horses since “before I could walk.”
She paid $450 for her first horse, Joker, and all his tack, at age 16.
Seven or eight years later, she said, she had to sell him.
Authorities should offer cheap gelding solutions, crack down on breeders who produce too many horses and support inexpensive euthanasia before allowing slaughterhouses to return, Hayes said.
She said her young filly, Penny, fell three years ago while jumping a fence and broke her shoulder. Hayes' vet put the animal down.
“It broke my heart, but he took good care of her,” she said.
Bill's author reacts
State Rep. Skye McNiel, a horsewoman like Hayes, said she wrote the bill lifting the ban on slaughterhouses in Oklahoma because of the inhumane conditions in which horses are trucked to Mexico or Canada to be slaughtered.
There are an estimated 21,000 horses per year in Oklahoma — and 150,000 to 160,000 nationwide — that meet that fate, she said.
“Nobody's talking about those horses,” said McNiel, a Republican from Bristow whose two older daughters, ages 10 and 7, have their own horses.
McNiel said federally supervised slaughterhouses would meet acceptable standards for treatment of the animals.
Critics say 80 percent of Oklahomans oppose slaughterhouses.
But McNiel said the response depends on the question, and whether people were told about the inhumane treatment of horses trucked out of the country for slaughter or about horses abandoned to starve on the range.
The Bureau of Land Management spent nearly $11 million last year keeping wild horses rounded up from Western rangelands on pastures in Oklahoma, said Paul McGuire, a spokesman attending the meeting of the Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board this week in Oklahoma City.
The bureau doesn't sell horses for slaughter or to known “kill buyers,” he said.
A January 2013 roster lists 14 pasture lands — known as “holding facilities” to the bureau — in Oklahoma for wild horses.
McGuire said the bureau manages 250 million acres of federal lands.
The law requires that bureau land be shared, with uses as varied as wild horse range and livestock grazing, energy development and scenic vistas.
On Jan. 29, there were 21,439 wild horses being kept on the Oklahoma pasturelands and another 554 at a Bureau of Land Management facility in Pauls Valley.
About 40,000 mustangs and burros range across 26.9 million acres of bureau land in the West, McGuire said. That's about 12,000 more than the land can adequately support, he said.