The coalition — which includes politicians, horse-retirement organizations and animal-rights groups — is working to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act that is being floated in the House of Representatives. The bill would prohibit the slaughter of horses in the United States and the sale of horses abroad for human consumption.
"In the United States, when horses outlive their financial or sporting values, they are cruelly crammed into double-decker trucks, where their tragic and painful voyage often makes slaughter a welcome relief," said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-1st District, one of the bill's sponsors.
The treatment of retired horses gained momentum over the summer when The Blood-Horse magazine reported that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand likely died in a Japanese slaughterhouse once his stud services were no longer needed.
Because the animals are so intertwined with Kentucky's culture, the thought of slaughtering a horse might seem repulsive. But Whitfield said two foreign-owned plants in Texas slaughtered about 45,000 horses last year for eventual meat sales to overseas consumers.
Meanwhile, a handful of organizations provide homes for retired horses. One of the state's newest efforts is Old Friends Inc., a nonprofit organization working to bring retired stallions to Afton Farm outside Midway, Ky.
Founder Michael Blowen, a former operations director for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, plans to open Old Friends next March as a tourist destination featuring retired stakes-winning horses.
"I've always believed that these horses — even in retirement — could raise money, that ... thoroughbred horse retirement didn't have to be a charity," he said.
Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito, who has worked to return 1991 Derby champ Strike The Gold from Turkey, will serve as the coalition's spokesman. "The horse is a special animal," Zito said, "and no animal should be slaughtered."
The bill also would include wild horses, many of which eventually end up in slaughterhouses abroad, said Andrea Lococo, Rocky Mountain coordinator for The Fund for Animals in Jackson, Wyo. "That way, they could no longer be trucked into Canada or Mexico for slaughter."
With demand for horsemeat high in some countries, the legislation would have a wide-ranging effect, said Chris Heyde, policy analyst for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation in Washington, D.C.
"All too often, people dismiss animal issues," he said.