Colorado Braces for Reclassification

Animal rights activists are putting forth an effort to reclassify the horse as a companion animal rather than livestock in Colorado. The Colorado Horse Council (CoHoCo), in cooperation with the Colorado Horse Development Authority, has been educating Colorado horse owners about the possibility of an initiative appearing on a ballot. They feel it would cause serious ramifications on the equine industry.

“A year ago, the CoHoCo Board of Directors was notified that Colorado would be the next state targeted (after California),” said Libby Graham, executive director of CoHoCo. “We hosted a series of town meetings to notify the horse industry stakeholders about the potential effects.”

One of the goals of the reclassification, says Graham, is to prevent the sale of horses for human consumption overseas by removing the horse from the livestock category. The reclassification clause was removed from the language of California’s Proposition 6, which bans the sale of horses for human consumption. Reclassification also raises the potential for passage of taxes and interpretation of regulations now in place for companion animals. In some counties of California, per-horse annual fees, taxes, and site regulations on horse facilities, and mandatory licensing of horses, are in place. “There is a possibility of a proposition in Colorado which would reclassify horses, or one that will ban slaughter,” said Cindy Schonhotz, Animal Welfare Coordinator for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “What we see in Proposition 6 is the first step to reclassification. The two are hand-in-hand for sure.”

If the horse is reclassified, opponents say, equine research no longer would be federally funded as it is now and would require additional private grants, which are more difficult to obtain. As a result, horse health would be in jeopardy. “We receive funds from the USDA for livestock research. These dollars will disappear, and you will find the horse industry fighting the dog and cat owners for research funding,” said Graham.

“We can only surmise that the controls that would be placed on horse owners would be the same as those placed on owners of other companion animals,” Graham said, “If the horse is classified as a companion animal, would a stable or breeding operation be treated like a kennel (instead of an agricultural operation), and subject to tax increases? Look at laws on the book, and see how they apply to horses.”

More extreme adjustments to animal regulations already have hit areas of Colorado. What started out as a mission to block the arrival of a wildlife interpretive center in Estes Park, Colo., last year led to an ordinance to prohibit the exhibition of any animal (see below). Members of equine organizations in Colorado are beginning to realize the ill effects that the current ordinance might have on the horse industry, and are hoping to avoid them, said Graham.

In the meantime, horse owners in Colorado are preparing for the possible arrival of an initiative, which will be decided upon by the general public. Graham says that if enough signatures arrive (an estimated 63,000), it likely will turn the state’s equine industry upside down, and toss it into a lengthy and potentially expensive legal battle. Graham adds, “We’re spreading the word that if someone approaches you at a grocery store and says, ‘by signing this, you’re not casting a vote,’ read it thoroughly, and think seriously.”

Schonhotz added, “The horse industry needs to unite and look at all of these issues and how they will affect the complete horse industry. When we divide, we will be conquered.”

The status of initiatives probably will not be known until July, 2000.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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