Horse News

Update:Texas Prison Horses Found in Waco

Story and Photo by Steven Long ~ Publisher/Editor of Horseback Magazine

Future of Horses Uncertain

HOUSTON, (Horseback) – At least some of the horses once belonging to the State of Texas and in custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have been found after being sold at auction. The TDCJ prison horses were located at a facility owned by a former Texas prison inmate and equine kill buyer whose wife confirmed that the horses were the same ones purchased Monday night at a Huntsville, Texas livestock auction. “We are not selling these horses for food,” said TDCJ chief spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. “They were sold at a public auction to the public.”

The horses were sold as culls from the prison system’s extensive livestock program.

“We cannot speak intelligently as to the buyers’ intent,” Lyon’s told Horseback Magazine late Thursday, “but have been informed by the auction house that there were at least 10 different buyers of TDCJ horses.”

Asked if TDCJ was aware of recent concerns raised about the chemicals used to medically treat U.S. horses, Lyons said “Without an extensive review of the horses’ veterinary records, we cannot make assurances regarding what medications they have or have not taken.”

Drugs such as phenylbutazone (Bute), wormers, and a variety of other drugs routinely administered to horses here, possibly including prison horses, are strictly prohibited for use in food animals.

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 is genetically and historically important because they have been part of a captive breeding program for more than a century with little outside genetic influence. On the rare occasions other horses have been introduced, they have been foundation pedigreed lines.

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 Lyons.

The state’s captive herd is subject to the most advanced breeding techniques and is held to exacting standards that are world class. The horses are not grade horses but are beneficiaries of the very best techniques of modern agricultural science. The livestock managers are products of the renowned schools of agriculture at Texas A&M University and the nearby Sam Houston State University. 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 61 horses sold Monday. They 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.

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 bread 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.

The state has achieved its ideal confirmation of broadness, horses that have hardly any withers, and are short of back.

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23 replies »

  1. “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 state-funded huge backyard breeder breeding more unnecessary grade horses. Shame on the state of TX, shame on Horseback Magazine for pretending these horses are this “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…”


    • Good on formyponies! DITTO from me, too! If these horses are so well-bred then why not do the advertising and make up some of the wasted taxpayer’s dollars they spent breeding them in the first place? “We are not selling these horses for food,” said TDCJ chief spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. “They were sold at a public auction to the public.” Why not a PRIVATE auction? Why were they being weighed at all? Why does any auction that claims they do not sell horses for food weigh horses? Maybe we should try to ban scales? “They” say it is illegal to prohibit the kill-buyers from bidding at public (or private?) auctions, perhaps a law prohibiting the use of scales for equines, could be an end around to aid in the reduction of horses going to slaughter? Just a thought…


    • Well formyponies, I am a former PRCA steer wrestler and I am just over
      300 lbs. I ride all the time! I have been raising quarter, paint, and a few draft horses for over 40 years and am pushing 60 now. I own a prison horse that is a 20 yr old gelding that worked the fields for 16 years with a boss on his back. One of the best, most calm, bombproof horses you will find. They are not fast as they are 1/4 Draft (usually Friesian or Percheron) but they are calm and will stand still while you mount and after you mount. They will not do anything until you tell them to do it. Those that work cattle at TDCJ are a little hotter. I have 12 grand babies and they are some of the best horses you will find to teach beginners how to ride. I also have two others that worked the cattle packing plants for almost 8 years that are almost as good as “Ole Red” TDCJ # 8-803-PB. People make the mistake of buying a young horse saying the kid and horse can grow up together. How stupid can you be? If you want a great horse for a starter, go to the prison horse sales, ride it before the sale, look for lameness issues, (horse dropping its head at a trot on one of his steps) bulges in the knees, etc and buy yourself one. Do not go for the cheap $700 ones, buy one of the $1500 to $1800 ones. That is what they usually bring for the better ones at Elkhart. If it is going cheaper, there is usually something wrong somebody else see’s. I have a friend that used to have the contract for all the liquidation TDC horses it was called back then and most end up on dude ranches or private sales for beginners to learn on. Because they are usually 18 to 20 before retired, you have to feed a good senior diet to keep weight on them. These horses are all taken care of by Texas A&M University all their lives and no expense is sparred in their care. They are great horses, just watch out for the lame ones and stick to the geldings. Many of the brood mares are not broke. If you are lucky, you will get one like my Ole Red!


  2. Seems to me that the “genetically perfect” breeding is to put more “muscle” on the horse to get “top dollar” from the kill buyers when the horse has reached the end of his career carrying “fat a** guards around the field.. Texas residents need to call an end to this state “horses bred as cattle” breeding program that is a waste of tax dollars and animal lives. Texas would be better served to put a weight/health program in place for these “unfit” guards.


  3. formyponies, couldn’t have said it better myself….another unecessary breeding program? aren’t there thousands & thousand of horses in gov’t long-term holding pens that could be used? wtf…


  4. Hmmm.. this guy is a kill buyer.. but they were not purchased for food???? Then what…. and where did they money come from and where are they going…seems very unlikely to me that they are telling the truth in this situation.. they got caught red handed and are making any story up that will fit…


  5. Some of these horses are posted by a Horsetrader on the Lousianna Craigslist. Not sure if they are the same people, but I see their ads all the time. At least some of the horses might have a chance of a new life!


  6. 90-100 “culls” per year? Why do they need a herd of 1600 horses for 75 guards? How do 75 guards need that many remounts? If they have 100 “culls” each year, how many horses are they breeding? The numbers do not add up at all. This is obviously a program that may have started out legit but is now nothing but a slaughter horse breeding program.


    • I want to know why they (TX Dept of Corrections) don’t believe in humane euthanasia (no, selling 20-60 cents a pound is not humane euthanasia)….they got the land, they got the labor and equipment, they got the vets….what gives? If they can teach “birthin’ babies”, they sure can teach responsible ownership and humane euthanasia. “CULLING” ain’t humane euthanasia.



  7. Hmmm..good point all. I called the Governor’s office yesterday to share my displeasure regarding the so called sale of the horses. But you are absolutely
    right, why in the hell are they breeding so many horses when we have an over abundace of horses already. How any horses does it take to carry a fat ass? Sorry, but the image of a 300 pounder on horse just made me laugh. No offense..We all know the pipeline prefers the “chubbies” to those with little or no meat on their bones..I think if they are over populated they should “give” the horses to good homes, after all the Texas citizens paid for them. If the grey in the picture is an example of a so called “cull”, it sure looks good to me..I think the prison management got caught with their “pants down.”


    • Why the Hades don’t they use freakin’ SUVs or ATVs with a fatman perch?….not Perch crosses???????

      Can you see an unfit fatboy chase cross country on horseback after a very determined escapee?…much more be able to fire that weapon accurately, while at a gallop????? Just does not make any sense…unless your in the covert meat business.


  8. Maybe they need to cut back on breeding if they are overstocked with horses. This would be the most reasonable solution to the “overstocked” problem


  9. Denise, you are so right..The picture of the 300 pounder chasing the escapee on horse back and at a gallop really set the picture. My questions is, why are they so jumbo? I thought law enforcement officers had to be fit. But all in all, it sounds like they are in the meat business to me. I wonder if they will get a call from the Governor’s office regarding their “business.” I did make some very legitimate points.


    • Well, the SUVs/ATVs/Utility Vehicles would be cheaper in the long run, but they don’t possess the nostalgia of the old, male, macho of yesteryear like horses….plus you can’t beat an inanimate object like you can a sentient being. The cachet of movies like “HUD” etc give these individuals some cred.

      As to the fat and unfit…we are talking about a good ol’ boy system…not the FBI/Secret Service (they have their own issues, but fat ain’t one of ’em).

      As to the Governor…seriously? Rick Perry? Oh PULEEEZE!!!!! He is only pickin’ up the phone to sell TX public assets, deny pardons and take in Presidential campaign donations.


  10. This horrible. Those poor horses having worked all their lives carrying riders around all day – every day and then being thrown away like trash. I have always felt sorry for prison horses being rode by people that aren’t very good riders. Why didn’t TDCJ officials have an auction for the horses? They would have sold for more than $.40 a pound. After reading how slaughter houses in Mexico kill horses, I am just sickened by TDCJ’s decision.


  11. Sounds like a breeding for meat program. After carrying all that weight around I am sure they have had quite a few drugs added to their system. Just what the Europeans want!.


  12. With the economy the way it is… regardless of whether these horses are of great genetic value or not, I am surprised the State of Texas can justify spending so much money breeding far more horses than needed just to send them to the sale, where they most likely go to slaughter. This is a shame.
    It should be a crime. It is a moral outrage. And who buys these horses? A former inmate! proving once again the kill buyer is usually some kind of low life with no amount of humanity, a greedy good for nothing who can only profit on the suffering of the innocent.


  13. It is a shame to serve the state and end up on a plate. This Saturday there will be prison horses at Elkhart (3/24/12). If what happened last time is any indication, the KB will have thousands of dollars and buy up every large horse there – including the prison horses. The state should stop this. They should have vetted auctions. People want these horses, but can’t compete with the killer buyers runing the prices up. It is time to write to the Texas Department of corrections.


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