CSU horse auction controversy still in the saddle

The Rocky Mountain Collegian
By Carl McCutchen
March 02, 2004

Three months after Fox 31 in Denver aired a segment alleging CSU sold horses for meat in Europe, the controversy continues.

On Nov. 14, CSU held an auction for 81 horses that were no longer needed at the university, as per state law requirements. Approximately 300 people attended the auction, and all 81 horses were sold at an average of $600 each.

On Nov. 25, 11 days later, Fox 31's Tom Martino reported that some of the auction's horses had been sold indirectly to slaughterhouses, which then sent the meat to Europe.

CSU has faced the claim that slaughterhouse providers were buying the auction's horses.

Martino reported that "killers," a term described by him as "a slang given to buyers who turn around and sell horses directly to slaughterhouses in Texas," attended the auction and purchased 30 horses.

Will French, a freshman equine science major who attended the auction, said actual "killers" were not at the auction, but there were horse traders who purchase horses and sometimes resell them to slaughterhouses, as well as to dude ranches and other safe homes.

"These buyers don't buy horses just for slaughter, but also for sale to others who would buy the horses for riding animals, breeding purposes or wherever else the price may merit. These horse traders, if possible, will not sell to slaughterhouses, because they can sell the horses for more money to people than if they sell to slaughterhouses," French said.

Some organizations believe CSU's auctioning practices need to change.

One such organization is the Friends of Horses Rescue and Adoption, an organization that places horses in adoptive homes.

Bill Stiffler, the organization's executive director, said his organization also tries to purchase horses from auctions like CSU's and adopt them to good, safe homes.

Stiffler said that he does not blame anyone for horses being sold to "killers." He understands that Colorado law requires CSU to auction off state assets, but he thinks other options should be explored.

"State assets have to be sold at auction, but CSU is not maximizing the value of those assets," he said. "I think the way they disperse state's assets needs to be reevaluated."

Stiffler has since begun negotiations with CSU, state officials and other organizations to try to find other ways of dispersing horses.

"CSU is working with us at this stage to resolve and re-look at the way they disperse their horses," he said. "In my opinion, CSU at this time is making a concerned effort to reevaluate what they're doing."

One option Stiffler believes CSU can use to avoid further controversy is notifying former horse owners to see if they want the horses back.

Jason Bruemmer, an auction coordinator and an associate professor of animal sciences, said prior owners of donated horses either do not want them back or do not have any room to house them.

"We contact the old owners to see if they want them, but very few said they wanted them back," he said. "Very few in the last auction were donated."

Bruemmer said CSU tries to avoid putting horses in the wrong hands, and the university is exploring other options.

"The biggest concern is to sell them legally. Horses are still livestock, but we try not to take them to the local sale barn," he said. "We made every effort to do the right thing."

He also said that in 2003, CSU began to lease horses instead of buying them, but the public is not generally aware of this.

"Everybody is under the impression we buy them or they are donated," he said.

Bruemmer also said CSU holds auctions only when there are an abundance of horses whose educational roles have been met.

Dell Rae Moellenberg, media relations specialist for the College of Agricultural Sciences, said auctions are also held because of the high cost of keeping so many horses. She said each horse costs about $155 a month to feed, which is money some taxpayers do not want to spend.

Stiffler also said he thinks CSU doesn't do enough to advertise the auctions to the public.

"They only send out notices to killer buyers," he said. "They are not doing a good job to market the auctions. They only run a classified once every two years."

Bruemmer said CSU did everything it could to notify people of the auction.

Moellenberg said CSU purchased advertising, including television and radio spots, classified ads, created Web pages on CSU's site, sent e-mails, posted flyers and issued press releases to mainstream media, horse magazines and other organizations.

David Batzer, a senior equine science major, said it was hard not to see advertising for the auction.

"It was hard to miss it as a student. It was all over the equine science page, front and center, and out at the Equine Center," he said. "They tried to get word out for sure."

Caleb Walker, also a senior equine science major, said that some students might be discouraged from attending the equine science program because of the Fox news report.

"I would think uneducated people that saw that might be dissuaded," he said. "It really is a great program."

Walker added that CSU is one of few institutions to offer an equine science degree.

Another equine science student, freshman Juli Williams, said she was very upset with the whole ordeal.

"I know myself and my best friend felt degraded by Fox News," she said. "We were looked down on; it was really degrading."

Williams also said she is afraid the program's image might be tarnished and other students might turn away from the program now.

"I have run into people thinking about coming up here, but then their parents are a little discouraged about them coming," she said.

Williams said that despite all of the issues surrounding the program, she still loves it.

"I think it's great," she said. "I love the fact we have the opportunity to ride and grow."