Wild horses: Front Range Equine Rescue muzzled at horse show over graphic photos

Wild horses get injured and sometimes die in federal roundups, and "excess" horses sent to slaughterhouses endure much harsh treatment along the way. But not everyone wants to hear about that -- not even horse people, as one animal welfare group found out this weekend, when Rocky Mountain Horse Expo organizers told them to take down their graphic displays or leave.

Sponsored by the Colorado Horse Council, the horse expo is the largest event of its kind west of Ohio -- a gathering of breeders, exhibitors, artists and all-around horse fanciers for an annual weekend of clinics, equine acts and hobnobbing. Larkspur-based Front Range Equine Rescue has been a regular participant in the event for the past decade; the nonprofit crusades against animal abuse and slaughterhouses and has received widespread recognition for rescuing hundreds of horses from misery.

But this year, event organizers took particular exception to FRER's big display boards entitled "America's Horses: Wall of Shame" and "Ban Horse Slaughter." On the second day of the show, according to FRER president Hilary Wood's account on her Facebook page, the event's "director approached two Front Range volunteers and informed them there had been five complaints, a meeting had been held, and the show management said the graphic photos must be removed. If Front Range did not want to do so, we could pack up and leave (a refund at that time was also offered). A photograph of a mustang with a broken leg and that had been shot post roundup on the 'Save Wild Horses' display was also requested to be covered up."

The next day, Wood and two FRER board members met with Expo director Bil Scebbi. One of the complaints, Wood learned, "had come from a board member of the National Western," the complex that hosts the Expo. Scebbi explained that terms such as "ban horse slaughter" would not be permitted and that the graphic photos would have to be removed; however, the group could continue to discuss horse slaughter at the booth and display photos of malnourished horses. (In recent years, the last three horse slaughterhouses in America, all foreign-owned, have shut down, but American horses are still exported to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.)

"It should be noted," Wood writes, "that Front Range Equine has always displayed graphic photos of horses at this event as that is part of what our rescue work is. It is in the contract of the exhibitor and show management that 'The decision of show management must be accepted as final in any disagreement between exhibitors or in the decision to remove from the show any exhibitor or his representative performing any act or practice that, in the opinion of the management, is objectionable.'"

Of course, it's FRER's position that it's the cruelty depicted, and not the pictures themselves, that ought to be objectionable.

More from our NewsWild horse roundups: Funding cut renews cries to end "taxpayer-funded animal abuse" (VIDEO) archive: "Wild horse roundups: Funding cut renews cries to end "taxpayer-funded animal abuse" (VIDEO)."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast