East Valley Life  AZ
Kim Meagher, founder of Wildhorse Ranch Rescue in Gilbert, has made it her lifeís work to save as many horses as she can from being abused or slaughtered.

Brad Armstrong Tribune
Gilbert rescue group does what it can for downtrodden horses
They come to her battered and bruised. One is blind. Another hobbled. Most are just afraid, unwanted, abandoned.
"You take the neediest ones, I guess," Kim Meagher says of her horses. "Thatís whatís so hard. Sometimes you pick who lives and who dies."
Meagher, founder of Wildhorse Ranch Rescue, has saved 39 animals from death since starting the nonprofit group nine years ago on a tiny patch of land in Gilbert.

"I know it doesnít sound like a lot," she says her voice trailing off as she looks out at the 10 horses in her weathered stables, then adds, "We do what we can."

When Meagherís first horse died in the mid-1990s, she couldnít afford to buy a new one. She placed a newspaper ad looking for an unwanted animal she could adopt. The response forever changed her life.

"When horses become unrideable, people want to get rid of them, to send them away to retire," she says. "Where do they think this somewhere is?"

The reality for these unwanted horses is grim. Most end up in horse auctions, where a few find homes or are bought by people like Meagher. The majority, however, are purchased by "killer buyers" ó not for their beauty but for their meat.

"Killer buyers come to these auctions because they can pick up a horse for $20," Meagher says. "They come here with $20,000 to $30,000 and buy up all the stock people donít want. Then they sell them to the slaughterhouses."

Horse meat is considered a delicacy in some countries, and fear of "mad cow" disease has increased the desire overseas. Horses that have been stolen, abused, neglected or rendered useless by owners are selected for slaughter. Thereís no dignity, only ugly death.

"Horses donít calmly walk through the slaughterhouse," Meagher says. "They are intelligent animals. They smell the blood. They know theyíre in trouble before they even get off the truck."

There are two slaughterhouses in the United States that kill horses for human consumption: Belgian-owned Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas, and French-owned Dallas Crown in Kaufman, Texas. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the companies slaughtered 42,312 horses in 2002 and nearly 50,000 last year. Legislation to ban horse slaughter has been introduced in Congress, but thereís been little movement on the proposal.

Meagher, meanwhile, does what she can with the horses sheís saved.

Thereís Cinderella, a mare rescued from 2002ís Rodeo-Chediski wildfire; Pistol, a buckskin filly that was severely malnourished and marked for slaughter; and La Vonda, a mule mare who worked for the Forest Service for more than 20 years.

"Theyíve all had tough pasts," says Sue Bass of Gilbert, a volunteer who recently adopted Houdini, one of Meagherís rescued horses. "I come out here every day and I canít leave them. Itís my second home."

The stables are full at Wildhorse Ranch and there are 22 horses on a waiting list. Meagher relies on fund-raisers, grants and donations to help care for these animals. She said it costs $2,000 a year to care for a healthy horse and $3,000 to $10,000 a year for a sick one.

Meagher wishes she could do more, that she had more land, more stables, more horses.

"(Some nights) Iím up bawling because of the ones I have to leave behind," Meagher says as she strokes Houdiniís nose. "Somebody loved them at one time. But somewhere down the road we get them. They need help. Thatís the only reason theyíre here. And they have no one else to help them."
Contact Jeremy Bonfiglio by email, or phone (480) 898-6486