By Laurel Lundstrom
UPDATE (February 07, 2006):
Despite a measure passed by Congress late last year (see below) to prohibit taxpayer money from funding the federal inspection of live horses for slaughter, the practice of slaughtering horses for human consumption will continue unabated in the United States.
Today, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that three slaughterhouses - two in Texas, one in Illinois "“ will be paying for inspections on a per-fee basis. Beginning 10 March 2006, the companies will maintain their operations by financing inspections themselves.
The announcement follows a rulemaking petition, delivered by the three slaughterhouses about a month ago, demanding inspections. Without such inspections, horses could not legally be slaughtered in the U.S., nor shipped elsewhere to be slaughtered for human consumption.
28 October 2005 - In four months' time, under an amendment passed with the 2006 agriculture appropriations bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will no longer be allowed to provide the inspection necessary to process horse meat for human consumption. The measure also deems shipping horses to other countries for slaughter illegal, although there is no penalty for doing so. Animal welfare groups are ecstatic, calling the legislation a "historic victory on behalf of country's beloved horses." 
For certain horses, that might be true. But others won't be so fortunate.
Once enacted, the amendment is only valid for one fiscal year; in October of 2006, horse slaughter will be up for Congressional debate once again. In any case, horses not saved from human consumption may be rendered for zoos or for pet food.
While two of the three horse slaughter plants in the United States may see a dip in sales come February, the Beltex Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas will continue to stay in the business of processing wild boars, ostriches, and bison. 
The slaughtering of horses is decried, in part, for its foreignness. Much of the horse flesh is shipped to places abroad such as Belgium and Italy; the three slaughterhouses exporting, we frequently hear, are also foreign-owned.
Yet it is the U.S. government and U.S. ranchers, relying on U.S. demand for beef and other animal products, who remain unwilling to give up their use of public land. And that is what really pushes wild horses and burros off the land and into slaughter. With less land given to the ranching industry, the 41wild horses found slaughtered in the Illinois plant earlier this year might still be alive.
In addition, private owners across the United States will still discard lame, old, outgrown, and otherwise unwanted horses. Horses used for sport and other large commercial purposes also outlive their usefulness and are discarded. An estimated 15,000 horses are actually conceived as throwaways by the menopausal hormone industry each year. Because the legislation does not address the root of the problem, the Congressional debate will continue.
Horses serve us all of their lives, say the animal welfare proponents, and thus we ought to stop slaughter. But it is precisely because we do see horses as put on earth to serve us that we wind up with the issue of how to dispose of them. That won't go away so easily.
Until we stop seeing horses as an item to be privatized and traded -- whether for sport, for companionship, or even for their iconic value as symbols of romantic western ideals, killing is inevitable.
Starting with the few free-living horses still roaming the plains and islands, an enlightened society would ask how we can begin to respect these animals on their own terms.