PRESIDIO, Texas -- In a tiny Texas town bordering Ojinaga, Mexico, the sheriff’s office has launched an investigation after complaints of neglect and cruelty in some of the export pens where horses headed to slaughter houses wait before crossing the border.
When horse slaughter houses shut down in the Texas in 2007, meat companies shipped the animals to Mexico. The meat is then sold overseas. Now, thousands of horses are kept in holding pens on the U.S. side while they wait to cross the border.
The investigation focuses on C-4 Cattle Company on the outskirts of Presidio. The pens hold horses before they’re sent to slaughter in Mexico. The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office began the investigation after getting complaints and photographs of dead, dying and injured horses at the C- 4 pens.
Amber Taylor, who founded a horse rescue group in Virginia, decided to travel to Texas after seeing photos and hearing the complaints of neglect and cruelty.
“The fight down here is not about ending horse slaughter,” Taylor said about the export pens. “The fight down here is ensuring horses have adequate food and water and attention and care and that they’re not hurt or sick before they cross over.”
She took her own photographs of extremely thin horses, injured animals and says she saw three dead horses on the property in front of the pens. She also toured the premises with the owner and a Sheriff’s deputy.
“What I was able to see myself, a few of the horses you can tell probably died in the position they were in,” Taylor said. “A horse whose neck was completely turned around and upside down; it’s just not a natural body position for a horse to die in so it really made me feel the horse was probably moved when it was alive.”
An employee of one of a horse trader in Texas that sells slaughter horses also visited the pens to before Taylor arrived to check on the animals’ condition.
“It was absolutely horrific. The most disgusting, awful, sad thing I’ve ever seen in my life,“ said Kyela Oyler, who has photographs of injured and dying horses she says she took in the C-4 pens.
“There were horses down that were lying in mud holes that couldn’t get up. You could tell they’d been downed for a while, marks where they had fought and tried to get up and couldn’t get up.”
Oyler said the horses she saw in the C-4 pens did not have enough food or clean water. She photographed water covered in green algae that she said was all that was available in those pens.
“They’d have to chew it before they could swallow. It’s disgusting,” said Oyler.
The owner of the C-4 export pens, Jim Crenan, said all the horses in his pens get food and water daily. Several weeks after the investigation began, there were large bales of hay at the entrance.
On Aug. 15, a Presidio County justice of the peace ordered the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office to seize all 352 horses, but keep them at the C-4 pens during the investigation. A couple of days later, a different justice of the peace ordered the horses returned to C-4 Cattle Company.
Crenan said the sick, injured and horses in the photos are among a group of 28 “junky” horses dumped on his property in the dark of night and never claimed.
“It’s a set up,” said Crenan, who suspects competitors.
Crenan said he notified the local USDA representative about the abandoned animals. Sheriff Danny Dominguez said his deputies removed 27 horses that were in “pretty bad condition” from the pens on Aug. 19. Two died but the rest “are improving” according to Dominguez. He said if the animals are not claimed they’ll be sold at a public auction.
When asked if the horses that remain in the holding pens could be viewed, the owner of C- 4 Cattle said he could not authorize it because the horses belonged to the meatpacking company. Crenan later offered to allow a tour the pens at a later date when he was in town.
The Belgian company InterMeat, which buys the slaughter horses and ships them to Mexico, pays C-4 to provide food and water in the export pens. A representative of the company in Presidio, Enrique Ramos, said the horses get “good care,” during a phone interview.
Crenan says InterMeat is responsible for any veterinary services. Several of the photographs show horses with injuries, including a horse with an open leg wound, another with an infected, oozing eye.
The meat company’s representative said that since the horses are for human consumption, they cannot receive medication. When asked about other vet care, Ramos refused to answer the question and hung up.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is investigating a complaint that dead horses were dumped in a dry creek bed behind the property. On a recent afternoon, with the temperature topping 100 degrees, vultures circled overhead.
Crenan says he has not been contacted by investigators about improper disposal of the animals and that about a horse a week dies at the pens.
Dominguez said that for now, the investigation remains open. He said some of the horses were thin and in “bad condition,” but it’s not clear if they arrived that way.
So far, “there’s no evidence of neglect or cruelty at the C-4 pens,” Dominguez said. But Taylor and others remain concerned about the conditions in Texas pens, where the horses spend their last days before heading to slaughter houses in Mexico.
“No matter the end, treat them as kindly as they deserve to be treated by law while they’re here,” she said.