Texas Horse Slashings Motivate Legal Change

A series of attacks on horses in Texas has motivated equine welfare activists to seek a change in the legal status of Texas horses in order to subject abusers to stiffer animal cruelty penalties.

On Feb. 12, the Greater Houston Horse Council (GHHC) voted to support an initiative to remove horses from the livestock and farm animal exemption to Texas animal cruelty laws. The measure is also supported by the Harris County District Attorney's office.

The proposal does not reclassify horses from livestock to companion animals, but it makes horse abuse as punishable as abuse of companion animals, said Margaret C. Ling, a member of the GHHC board and an attorney.

Since 2005, six horses have been attacked in their pastures--three of the horses died or were euthanatized due to the severity of the attacks. Charges have been brought in just one case against two college students who allegedly killed a 14-month-old palomino filly. The defendants have pled not guilty and are awaiting trial. Investigators say physical evidence connects them to the crime.

Currently, horses and other livestock are specifically excluded from the provision of Texas' animal cruelty law that makes it illegal to kill, seriously injure, or administer poison to another's animal. Such an offense can only be prosecuted as criminal mischief unless the animal is valued over $1,500.

"Under the animal cruelty provision, such an offense is a state jail felony (punishable with up to two years in prison) regardless of the value of the horse. We seek to make hurting or destroying them consistent with the state's cruelty law as it relates to companion animals. It was not the intent of the group to reclassify horses as companion animals," Ling said.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Horse Council oppose reclassifying horses as companion animals. These groups say horses' status as livestock keeps them under the purview of the USDA and state departments of agriculture, which support research into equine diseases and enforce horse health regulations.

The Texas measure, proposed to the state legislature by the Texas Humane Legislative Network (THLN), is opposed by agriculture and hunting interests who fear it might open the door to further changes.

"We assure them that this is absolutely not our intent," said attorney Randall Turner, THLN president. "We believe that 99.9% of Texans will support the changes we propose."

About the Author

Judith Lee

Judith Lee is a freelance health care writer who has written for a number of medical and health care journals and health care companies. As a long-time equestrian and horse owner, she has a particular interest in equine health care. She also operates an equestrian education program, Riding for Fun, geared toward adult beginners and returning riders.

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