Legislator Says Horse Slaughter ‘Worked Well’ Before, Could Be Answer To Wyoming’s Wild Horse Problem

There was a small step Monday toward Wyoming wild horses possibly being sent to slaughter, as the Wyoming House passed a resolution calling for Congress to allow it.

Mark Heinz

February 06, 20234 min read

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Reopening American horse slaughter plants would be a vital step toward managing Wyoming’s mustang herds, says a Wyoming state lawmaker.

“The next thing that’s really hampering this whole effort (toward mustang management) is the fact that these horses cannot be slaughtered for meat,” said Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis. “We used to have a slaughter plant in North Platte, Nebraska, and it worked very well.”

Winter made the remarks during House floor discussion of a bill he sponsored, House Joint Resolution 3. It calls upon Congress to revise management of wild horses and burros, and reopen horse slaughterhouses in the United States. 

It passed the House on Monday with nobody speaking against it. 

‘On Private Land’

Wild mustangs in Wyoming and across the American West are descended from horses first brought to North America by Europeans. They are either truly wild animals or a feral invasive species, depending upon differing opinions. 

Winter took the latter view while speaking in favor of his bill. 

“Horses are a dominant species, and they control water sources and what foliage is available” pushing out other species, he said. 

Many of Wyoming’s wild mustangs are on private land, particularly in the southwest part of the state, but because they remain under federal protection there is little ranchers can do, Winter said. 

“Most of the horses in Wyoming are in the checkerboard area in Southwest Wyoming, and about half of that land is private,” he said. 

Get a Bad Rap?

Mustangs have been under the direct jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management since the passage of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act, which put the animals under federal protection. 

Opinions about the animals have long been sharply divided, and the BLM has gotten criticism from both sides. Ranchers and others want the BLM to allow more aggressive control of the Mustangs, while wild horse advocacy groups they’re not being adequately protected.

Advocacy groups say the horses are genuinely wild and have a place on the range. And rather than the horses, they argue that it is an over-abundance of sheep and cattle on BLM grazing allotments that damage the land and pushes out species such as mule deer.

The BLM occasionally rounds up mustangs and takes them to holding facilities – such as one near Wheatland – where some of them can be adopted by the public. 

The Wheatland facility came under criticism last year when adoptions there were shut down after it was reported that there had been an outbreak of an equine disease called “strangles” there. 

Mostly A Symbolic Gesture

If it’s also passed by the Wyoming Senate and signed by Gov. Mark Gordon, HJ 3 would largely be symbolic; a call for Congress to do something. Since the mustangs are under federal jurisdiction, only the federal government could change any management policies. 

That’s what needs to happen, said Rep. Bob Davis, R-Baggs, during the House discussion.

“The BLM has been using their funds to fight wildfires in the West, which has taken precedent over (mustang management),” he said. “There’s an overabundance of these horses, which are a natural, reoccurring and renewable resource, and we need to take advantage of that and get time off the range.”

That could include reopening American horse slaughter plants, which closed in 2007. 

The idea has invoked strong opinions on both sides. Some say domestic slaughter would be a humane option, while others said it would be too cruel.

Belgian Chef Ready To Serve Wyoming Horse Meat

If U.S. horse slaughter plants reopen and America starts shipping horse meat abroad again, Belgian chef Alfons Gulickx told Cowboy State Daily that he’d gladly buy some for his restaurant, which has served horse meat for more than 160 years. 

Wild mustangs in particular would produce great meat for various dishes because they eat natural food and run free, he said.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter