Aspen horse lovers rally to save animals from slaughter |

Aspen horse lovers rally to save animals from slaughter

Scott Condon/The Aspen TimesKathy Raife, left, and Mary Bright are organizers with Aspen Valley Horse Rescue, which is trying to raise funds to save imperiled horses from ranches that cannot afford to feed the animals this fall. Raife's horse, Nemo, was saved from the slaughterhouse when he was a foal four years ago.

ASPEN, Colorado – Roaring Fork Valley horse lovers have saved 24 mares and foals from almost certain slaughter this fall, and they are trying to rally residents to help protect hundreds more.

Kathy Raife and Heidi Alles created the nonprofit Aspen Valley Horse Rescue two weeks ago to try to buy threatened horses from ranchers in North Dakota and Alberta, Canada. Seven ranches there formerly had contracts with a pharmaceutical company to provide pregnant mare urine for a drug used to treat menopausal women.

The ranches’ contracts with the drug maker expired, and the ranchers are essentially liquidating their operations, Raife said. They cannot feed their animals this winter, so they are offering the horses, mostly mares and foals, to auction houses.

Aspen Valley Horse Rescue wants to buy as many of the horses as possible and bring them to the Roaring Fork Valley for adoption.

The rescue effort suffered a setback last week when some of the ranchers involved agreed to sell some of their animals. “We lost 47 babies to a meat buyer,” Raife said.

But Aspen Valley Horse Rescue has already raised enough money via word of mouth to purchase 24 horses, including three pregnant mares. They will likely be shipped to the Roaring Fork Valley next week.

Time is of the essence for the remaining horses. Five ranches in Alberta are scheduled to offer their horses for sale at auction houses on Oct. 15. The horses from two ranches in North Dakota go to auction Oct. 31, according to Raife. The most likely bidders are slaughterhouses, she said.

The seven ranches targeted by this operation effort had a total of 435 horses. Raife said the goal is to save as many as possible, but 50 is probably a realistic goal. Other organizations from elsewhere in the country, such as Animali Farm of Santa Maria, Calif., are also involved in the rescue.

Raife said she and Alles decided when they formed the organization that even if their efforts spared only one horse, they were making a difference.

Word of their effort has gone “viral” in the valley’s sizable horse-riding and boarding community, according to horse lover Mary Bright, who became a key organizer for Aspen Valley Horse Rescue.

As word of the effort has spread, ranchers have donated hay, veterinarians have volunteered services, landowners have donated pastures and facilities where the rescue horses can stay, and volunteers are offering labor.

Bright volunteered to let some of the saved horses stay at her 10-acre property in Missouri Heights. The focus right now is to rescue the horses, get them to the Roaring Fork Valley, then worry about raising the funds for their long-term care, she said.

Valley residents can contribute small amounts of money to help with the overall effort or they can provide all the funds to buy a horse as a “sponsor.” The sponsors don’t have to care for the horse once it gets to the valley, although adoption by people with the skills and facilities to board a horse is another option.

Angel Cusick of Basalt donated funds to sponsor a horse once she learned of the rescue operation. Cusick said she isn’t a rider and has never really been around horses but the effort struck a chord with her.

“I just thought what was happening to them was such a moral atrocity,” Cusick said. She’s now helping with the fundraising efforts.

The effort isn’t cheap. The ranchers are asking for $1,500 to $2,200 per horse, Raife said. She’s trying to negotiate the price down to $900. The average will likely be about $1,200 per horse, including transportation to the Roaring Fork Valley, she said.

Raife said the rescue operation isn’t meant to enable the ranchers to continue breeding horses to sell to people with a soft heart. The organization, like others, will only deal with ranchers who are getting out of the pregnant mare urine business and aren’t breeding horses irresponsibly.

The horses on these ranches aren’t just any old nags. The breeds for the pregnant mare urine business are selected for their size, gentle nature and ability to, simply put, whiz copious amounts, Bright said.

The horses facing a possible date at the auction houses Oct. 15 are appaloosas and quarter horses, Raife said. The horses being sold from the North Dakota ranches Oct. 31 are draft cross/sporthorses.

Raife, Bright and Cusick know many of the horses by name; the website has pictures of some of the horses up for adoption.

Aspen Valley Horse Rescue hopes to secure its 501(c)3 status from the federal government before the end of the year to ensure that donations are tax deductible.

Anyone with questions can call Kathy Raife at 970-319-1635 or go to There is also a link to a website that describes the pregnant mare urine business in greater detail.

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