Horse News

Texas Prison Horses May be on One Way Trip to the Mexican Border

Story/Photos by Steven Long ~ Editor/Publisher Horseback Magazine

Pure Bloodlines Sold for 40 Cents a Pound

HUNTSVILLE, (Horseback) – One of the most genetically perfect herds of horses in North America was hit hard by the selloff of 61 animals at a public auction, their most likely destination, a Mexican slaughterhouse notorious for unspeakable cruelty. The herd of Texas prison horses that were sold had been part of a contingent of animals so remarkable, and even historic, they were subject of a February 2004 cover story in Horseback Magazine’s predecessor publication, Texas Horse Talk.

The horses were part of a herd of 1,600 owned by the State of Texas and managed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville, according to Michelle Lyons, chief TDCJ spokeswoman.

“These were what we call cull horses,” she told Horseback Magazine.

The horses that prison livestock managers call “culls” boast some of the purest blood lines in the nation dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. The state’s captive herd is subject to the most advanced breeding techniques and is held to exacting standards that are world-class. The livestock managers are products of the renowned schools of agriculture at Texas A&M University and the nearby Sam Houston State University. Only the finest bloodlines are introduced into the herd, and that is done rarely. The horses are primarily Quarter Horses with substantial Percheron blood.

The information that the horses had been sold at auction came to Horseback Online Monday night when a confidential source who was at the Huntsville cattle auction called and said that a large number of prison horses had been sold to slaughter and had been loaded on a truck south heading down I-45.

“People who work at the prison are really upset about this,” the man said during a phone call to the magazine’s offices.

The Texas prison system holds “Premium Auctions” of horses only rarely where the public is invited to bid after extensive advertising of the sale. No such ads were placed for the 60 highly blooded horses sold Monday. The were quietly sent to auction where a large truck was already waiting, according to the source who said the horses sold for about 40 cents a pound.

Lyons confirmed the prison system auctions 90-100 “cull” horses each year from its program.

Livestock auctions are the primary sources of horses sent abroad for food. Yet Lyons categorically denies the Huntsville prisons sent their horses to auction with the knowledge they would be sold for slaughter.

“We have had calls from a woman who claims this very thing, and probably is the same person who claims to have witnessed this,” Lyons said. “She alleged that 70 horses went to one bidder. We only had 61 horses in the auction – we don’t know how many non-TDCJ horses was also part of the auction.”

“The fact is that we participate in these public auctions as a way to keep the horses (from) going to a slaughterhouse – we don’t condone the sale of our horses for slaughter,” Lyons said.

The primary source for horses going to slaughter is public auctions.

Lyons was asked to provide the name of the buyer of the large number of TDCJ horses that went to auction on Monday. She said prison livestock managers didn’t know who bought the horses. Asked by Horseback if they would call the auction house to ask the name of the buyer, she said the men declined.

Horseback Magazine called Huntsville Livestock Services, Inc. and spoke with manager Tommy Oates who declined to name the buyer of the TDCJ horses, saying “I don’t have to tell you a damned thing, ask the state,” before slamming down the phone on the reporter.

The Texas prison system breeds big horses, big enough to hold a 300 pound guard for an eight-hour shift in the fields, hence the draft horse bloodlines brought into the herd. The stout corrections officer is known in prison parlance as “The Boss.” The horses and their human counterparts guard men dressed in white garb as they work fields with a garden hoe called by the derisive name, an “aggie.” The horses are bred for Texas’ 176 prison units which boast approx. 75 mounted guards or more.

There is one boss for each 25 inmates.

The prison horses are almost as wide as their bellies are deep. They hold saddles made behind the walls. The animals and men herd the system’s 20,000 cattle that are sold on the open market by the state. None of the meat is kept by TDCJ. The cheaper cuts fed to prisoners are bought at market price for the institution’s commissaries. Officials are quick to point out that prison inmates don’t eat steak but consumers may be lucky enough to eat beef raised behind prison walls.

Besides security and agriculture duty, the horses follow dogs chasing escaped convicts.

The state’s ideal prison horse is three quarters Quarter Horse and one quarter draft horse. Throughout his life a prison horse is freeze branded so that extensive records can be maintained in the system. The markings include a tattoo on the inside of the lip, a Texas star, the birth year, and ID number on the back left, and an additional identification on the horses left cheek near the anus. Like their fellow inmates, the horses have no name, only their number to identify them. The records are so extensive that a manager can track the record of a 20 year old horse and know every significant event of its life just by looking up his record.

The auction buyers Monday didn’t get the records of the horses they bought. When a horse leaves the prison system, only its Coggins certificate and ID sheet follow.

While most of the horses aren’t registered, some boast the bloodlines of pure Texas equine royalty including pedigrees from the famed Waggoner Ranch. TDCJ has also bought other Foundation Quarter Horse stallions as well. Other bloodlines go back to the days when the state first built prisons. The Walls unit in Huntsville dates to 1849 shortly after the end of the Republic of Texas. The state’s prison captive breeding program is indeed, very, very, old. The prison herd has been steadily improved for nearly 162 years, and dramatically improved in recent years.

The state has achieved its ideal confirmation of broadness, horses that have hardly any withers, and are short of back – no long backed high withered horses such as a Thoroughbred are allowed.

The horses are tough, powerful, and as potent as the 300 pound guards who ride them.

And when they go to an auction where the public is given notice, prison horses sell for considerably more than 40 cents a pound.

Click (HERE) for photos and comments


17 replies »

  1. When auctions are held on the “down-low” like this one, you know that the prison officials have knowledge of where the horses will end up. But it’s always DENY, DENY, DENY. If you say it enough times, then it must be true! And who usually buys meat by the pound?? Slaughterhouses. The state of Texas should be up in arms about this.


  2. I’ll bet the lower on the totem pole guys knew little if anything, but there was a secret deal between a higher up party and someone bidding. So even if the little guys know they’ll be risking their jobs to say anything.

    Yep. More letters to write to let these ‘higher ups’ know we are watching and willing to keep up the pressure.


  3. What is our country coming too!!! I will ABSOLUTELY MAKE A CALL TO THE GOVERNOR OF TEXAS..So disturbing and sickening..I bet its the same “Killer” Buyer that gets all of the horses…


    • Look, Texas has an express checkout lane for capital punishment. They let their livestock die on lands with dry watering holes because they can’t figure out how to bring the cattle in or haul water out to ’em.

      Rick Perry is an As*hat! He is probably related to the kill broker.

      But by all means, call the governor…just be sure to have a Kleenex handy for the blowback. It’s called spittin’ into the wind (or urinating).


  4. Just another example of heartless and greedy people involved with horses! And ones who always take the easy way out instead of giving people who care the opportunity to make a difference and save one or all of these horses. I don’t get why send such top blood line horses for meat?!! But then again, they do it all the time in the Thoroughbred industry. And it’s time for this nonsense to stop!!!!


  5. Does Willie know about this?

    Willie & The Nelson Family Sing “Wild Horses”
    Country Music Legend Covers Stones Classic to Help
    Animal Welfare Institute Protect America’s Horses

    March 22, 2011 (Washington, D.C.) – The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is honored to announce the exclusive release of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Wild Horses” – performed and produced by the legendary Willie Nelson and his family members.

    Willie & The Nelson Family are donating the proceeds from the sale of the song to AWI’s campaigns on behalf of wild and domestic horses.

    Willie and the entire Nelson family are long-time supporters of AWI and its efforts to end horse slaughter and preserve the right of wild horses to roam free.
    “The BLM has been rounding them up at an alarming rate, supposedly for their own good. Sadly, there are more wild horses in holding pens than in the wild. Something is wrong with that, so we must act now before the BLM has managed these magnificent animals into extinction,” said Willie Nelson. “It’s time for the cowboys to stand up for the horses.”


  6. What an awful thing for Texas to do, and not even try and have an auction for horsepeople to try and buy them. What can we do to find them is my most immediate question? And who is the decision maker at TDCJ who made this call?


  7. Hey Louie – Great minds think alike. Just sent an email to Willie Nelson and forwarded info regarding prison. Its so sad because I bet these inmates gave it their all. I know once you get horse fever, you will always have the fever. The horses just like the inmates wait for someone trusting. I can’t believe that they are going to do this after all the time the inmates spent working with the horses. I sure hope Willie can come thru in the final hour. It gave the horses hope and the prisoners as well. Our horses are so healing..How could anyone be so calous. Perhaps we could send a letter to the prison..Very Very Sad!! I wish I had the room. I get my lottery tickets each week and hope that I can win one time for the horses..But how do you pick and choose? I only hope that God can help us in all of this. I know his plan was not to have all these horses suffering both domestic and wild.


  8. What the heck are they doing breeding so many horses when we already have a problem with overbreeding in this country, and how many are they breeding when they only use 75 at a time (lifespan of perhaps 20 useful years) and then have to “cull” 100 horses????? This is over and above what they regularly sell at public auctions which are supposed to be on the up and up? How often does this happen? Sounds like an AQHA programme to me with breeding incentives! Something sounds fishy here. I am also confused as to how they can call them the most pure blood lines? These are Percheron QH crosses? What do they base that claim on? Whichever way it is a hideous situation where once again the horses lose for man’s stupidity!! Sickening!! If they all have these brands they should be pretty easy to trace, that is if they werent shipped over the border the same night. If the penetentiary was involved they probably arranged for them to slip through the fingers of the “authorities” at the border crossing too. SICK SICK SICK!!


  9. The horses are not grade horses …” “The horses are primarily Quarter Horses with substantial Percheron blood.” In other words, they’re grade CROSSES. The whole article gives me a migraine. Why are they breeding at all? Does the world really need these “genetically perfect horses?” Wth is a “genetically perfect horse” anyway? No horse deserves this fate, but let’s call a spade a spade. They’re breeding grade crosses and we wonder why they’re going to slaughter. Why do they need horses specifically bred to carry 300 pounds? How many 300 pound people do you know who ride? Me? I’ve been around horses for 30 years and know none. Never have. If they have the occasional 300 pound guard, then first, offer a weight-management program and second, find a grade draft cross that some other backyard breeder has already created. This program is nothing more than a part of the problem with absolutely nothing to offer as to a solution. It’s a huge, state-funded backyard breeder breeding more unnecessary grade horses. Shame on the state of TX, shame on Horseback Magazine for pretending these horses are genetically “special.” We should be outraged at slaughter PERIOD. Don’t pretend this travesty is any worse than any other slaughter-related travesty because these horses are “genetically perfect.” My mind is numb trying to imagine how a QH/draft cross can possibly be “genetically perfect…” Genetic perfection varies breed-to-breed, discipline-to-discipline. Do I think my OTTBs are genetically perfect? Yep. They’re perfect for me. One is perfect for dressage and trail riding (go figure!) and the other is perfect for eventing. But are they gelded? YEP! Breeding is a crapshoot, at best. It really shouldn’t be left to a prison …


  10. I have a friend who told me something like this happened last year and the horses appeared for sale on Craigs List later. I have NO IDEA whether this is true, but she said somebody in the prison system calls their buddies who buy the horses cheap and then turn around and sell them for more money. As scammy as that would be, I hope it’s true because it means these horses are still alive.


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