By Libby Cluett
From Spaniards to Apache horsemen; from pioneers to the Pony Express riders, horses helped America’s inhabitants traverse its vast terrain.
To many humans, horses are seen as synonymous with America’s heritage – something to be cherished and preserved.
Others view horses as chattel – property or assets. Because of this and other problems between horses and people, Angela Sotelo founded Lonesome Dove Equine Protection.
Godley-based LDEP is one of a growing number of non-profit groups in Texas whose mission is to protect horses suffering from abuse and neglect.
On Nov. 17, LDEP celebrated its one-year anniversary at Tractor Supply in Mineral Wells Tractor. The day consisted of a series of seminars to educate the public about their cause and general care for horses.
The group’s motto is “protecting America’s heritage.” Their goal is to provide horses with a loving, caring environment and “forever home” if the owners cannot or will not.
Battling equine neglect
Sotelo, a certified animal-cruelty investigator, said that the majority of her cases are because of neglect – owners lack education in caring properly for horses – and from “people who view horses as a possession and not an animal.”
Sotelo attributes the drought, combined with fuel costs and the price of grass hay going sky high to a number of neglect cases.
The LDEP founder and vice president said that she often sees neglect occurring when horses are group fed. She said that when this happens, one horse may appear overweight and others thin because the dominant horse eats most of the feed.
“Group feeding must be monitored by a person,” warns Sotelo.
Occasionally, she said she monitors other purported horse rescue groups for scams and neglect.
Addressing equine abuse
Sotelo said that LDEP receives several cases resulting from severe abuse. One recipient of physical abuse was on hand at Tractor Supply for their educational program. The mare was handed over to a LDEP members because she was considered a problem.
According to Sotelo, the horse was reportedly beaten frequently by her owner with a 2-by-4-inch piece of wood because it would not stand still when her rider wanted to mount.
“She had a lot of trust issues when she came in.” said Sotelo.
In LDEP hands and with much care, the horse is now calm and can be approached.
“Any horse that can be touched anywhere but in the face has likely been struck in the face area on several occasions. Some of them never get over the abuse and neglect,” said Sotelo, who has a few such horses in sanctuary, which will never find a “forever home.”
Despite the closing of the last three U.S. slaughterhouses rendering horses for human consumption – two in Texas and one in Illinois – horse slaughter remains troubling to LDEP and other horse rescue and protection groups throughout the nation.
Canada and Mexico still process horses for human consumption. As a result, the transportation of horses from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada “is still a concern among horse rescue groups. They can go to Mexico, but [in Texas] cannot cross the border,” said Sotelo.
Laws in Texas and California make it illegal for horses intended for human consumption to cross their borders. With HR 503/S. 311, American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, the Humane Society of the U.S. is working with bipartisan leaders in Congress “to end this terrible and utterly unnecessary practice.”
Sotelo explained why groups like hers are so concerned about the welfare of horses destined to foreign slaughterhouses.
“Horses are crammed into trailers shoulder-to-shoulder,” said Sotelo, who added that horses are typically not provided water or food and travel thousands of miles, often in the heat.
“Legs are broken. They smell fear and death,” she added.
Additionally, the way horses are processed for slaughter in Mexico troubles many Americans. Sotelo said the way people in Mexico “stun” horses prior to killing them is treated “like a game.”
HSUS calls it a horrific death, stating, “These horses are stabbed multiple times in the neck with a ‘puntilla knife’ to sever their spinal cords. This procedure does not render the horse unconscious, and is not a stunning method. Rather, it paralyzes the horse, leaving him/her twitching.”
Slaughter yard success
While organizations and legislators battle over the issue of horse slaughter, Palo Pinto County has its own success story straight from the slaughter yard.
Coronados Camp resident Alan Donnan’s quest for a horse led him to a mare of Arabian breeding, which came from a crowded pen of horses that he said were intended for slaughter in Hubbard, Texas (near Waco).
According to Donnan, The bay mare he named Diamond Lil’, or “Lillian,” was so thin he could fit his finger between her ribs. He estimates she was 400 pounds and that she and her pen mates had not eaten or been given water in about 30 days.
“I was so upset at the conditions that I called Austin to see how this could be allowed. I was told that companies had to sell or feed their horses,” he said, adding that by placing the ad, the company was complying with the state.
Lillian, who was also present Nov. 17 at the LDEP fund- and awareness-raiser in Mineral Wells, found herself a new home and lease on life.
When Donnan built up her health after months of feed and care, he started riding her around the J and J Ranch and a nearby ranch. According to Donnan, the mare seemed to like riding up and down the rugged terrain.
In July, 14 months after purchasing Lillian for $400 at the slaughter yard, Donnan entered her in an endurance race in Fort Stanton, Ariz. Riding in his first endurance race with his heavy Western saddle and rifle scabbard – perhaps 120 pounds overweight – Donnan and Lillian traversed the 35-mile course ending in first place with a time of 4 hours, 35 minutes.
“This was all Lil,” Donnan wrote in a recount of the race. “It was her heart that won that race. … This magnificent animal, that less than a year before was going to be slaughtered, overcame all of this to finish not just a winner, but a champion.”
He raced her again in September at the Llano Estacado Challenge in Lubbock in two bak-to-back 30-mile races – one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Lillian and Donnan placed fifth and second, respectively, in a new lighter-weight saddle.
Donnan now serves on the board of trustees for LDEP. He and Lillian help spread the word on protecting America’s horses by starting locally.
Sotelo said that LDEP needs “any kind of help anyone can give them.”
Heading into the winter season, she said they need blankets. They can also use buckets and lead ropes.
Other ways people can get involved are:
• As a member.
• As a foster caretaker – if they have property and are willing to go through a process. The foster caretaker keeps a horse for roughly to weeks and can also adopt a horse if they apply.
• Through virtual horse fostering – where someone or a group can contribute to an individual horse’s care.
• Through adopting a horse and providing it a “forever home.”
LDEP also offers a mentoring program for potential fosters, which include topics like “returning a ‘skinny-back’ to a healthy horse,” “Untouchables” and mare and foal care.
For more information or to become involved in the non-profit organization, contact Sotelo at (817) 309-2044.