The wild horse is a symbol of the frontier way of life. But in recent years it’s been recast in a less noble role—as a public nuisance. The Bureau of Land Management has tried culling herds through roundups, auctions, and federal corrals. But the feral ranks have nearly tripled, to 69,000 since 1971, and more than half of those horses are roaming free in 10 Western states. Factor in the thousands of horses turned loose during the recession, and the result, the government contends, is a population that’s overwhelmed its habitat.
Wyoming thinks it has a solution. In 2007 Congress blocked the inspection of horse meat, which effectively ended interstate sales and closed the last U.S. abattoir. But selling horse meat intrastate remains legal, and state Rep. Sue Wallis wants to use that fact to license Wyoming’s first slaughterhouse to help owners who can’t afford to care for their animals. While horse advocates call slaughter inhumane, Wallis anticipates enough local demand—from, among others, pet-food makers—to sustain a factory as soon as next year. Besides, she says, for a horse on overgrazed land, slaughter beats starvation.