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Copyright © 2003 Galveston County Daily News

Equine activists celebrate with tree lighting

By Sarah Viren
The Daily News

Published December 08, 2003

SANTA FE — Carol Chapman, owner of the Last Refuge animal rescue center, is a natural leader and a horse lover.

Part of a growing movement of individuals and organizations trying to stop the slaughter of horses in the United States, she also spends a lot of her time in protest.

Saturday evening, though, Chapman organized fellow activists for a slightly different kind of event: the lighting of the first ever America’s Horse Christmas Tree.

“We use Christmas trees as a symbol of celebration in America. Well, what we are doing is the same here, but with the horses, we are using the tree as a peaceful message and as a joyous time to get together,” she said.

In September, Chapman began sending out messages to Internet contacts seeking horse-oriented ornaments. She got hundreds of responses.

Children from a nearby middle school made crayon horse drawings to hang from the tree. An 83-year-old woman from Ireland crocheted dainty ornaments of riders atop glitter-sprinkled white horses. Some wrote notes to a specific horse or wishes to stop horse slaughter. Chapman printed the messages on paper, which she then folded into tiny white birds and scattered them like snow throughout the tree’s branches.

“Our dream is for the safety of horses, and horses are still not safe,” she said, looking at the collection of handmade ornaments Saturday night.

Around 50 people showed up for the lighting ceremony, which was held at Tibaldo’s Feed Store in Santa Fe. They drank peppermint hot chocolate and ate mini powdered donuts, talking about the cold weather and, of course, the horses. “This isn’t a protest, it’s a celebration. We’ve had enough protests,” said Chapman.

Among this group the phrase HR 857 is frequently heard. It refers to the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, a bill before the House of Representatives that would ban the slaughter of U.S. horses here or overseas.

“We will keep spreading the word about HR 857 and hopefully all horses here in the USA will never have to face this horrible act,” reads one of the ornaments.

According to Chapman, 42,000 horses were killed last year in slaughterhouses. The meat, usually taken from young and healthy horses, is shipped overseas for consumption.

Groups like the Equine Friends, the Wild Horse Club, the National Horse Protection Coalition and a Yahoo group Chapman runs have organized mass mailings to elected officials, protests on state capitals and small candlelight vigils to raise awareness of their cause.

“Basically all of us came together. We all knew each other or knew of each other and we were all fighting the same battle,” said Jerry Finch, owner of Habitat for Horses, a local horse rescue center.

For some advocates, who have worked together only via the Internet, Saturday was their first time meeting face to face. Susan Clay is a Houston resident who is helping organize a nationwide effort to get veterinarians’ support of the house bill. At the tree lighting, she ran into at least two women who she’s worked with extensively, but never met in person.

“It’s fun to see people we know on the Internet,” she said. “There are about 40 to 50 of us who have gotten to know each other only through the Internet.”

The ceremony began just after sunset. Chapman gave a short speech, plugged in the lights and then stood to face the crowd, her smiling eyes and long braided white hair twinkling. In the distance a railroad-crossing signal chimed rhythmically. “Maybe they are ringing the bells for us,” she said.

In the back of the crowd a video camera was recording the entire event. Organizers plan to put the footage on the Internet soon so that all horse activists will be able to witness the first lighting of America’s Horse Christmas Tree.