Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Abandoned Horses Are Latest Toll of Drug Trade

Photo: Joshua Lott for The New York Times
Horses at the Arizona Equine Rescue Organization in New River, Arizona.

by: Marc Lacey

Found tottering alone in the desert with their ribs visible and their heads hung low, horses play a backbreaking, unappreciated role in the multibillion-dollar drug smuggling industry.

Mexican traffickers strap heavy bales of marijuana or other illegal drugs to the horses’ backs and march them north through mountain passes and across rough desert terrain. With little food and water, some collapse under their heavy loads. Others are turned loose when the contraband gets far enough into Arizona to be loaded into vehicles with more horsepower.

“We would pick up 15 to 20 horses a month, and many more of the animals would get past us,” said Brad Cowan, who spent 28 years as a livestock officer for the Arizona Department of Agriculture before retiring a few months back. “They wear poorly fitted equipment. It’s obvious they were not well taken care of. The makeshift saddles rub big sores in their backs.”

Even once rescued, the horses face an uncertain future. Since they are not from the United States, the state of Arizona must draw their blood and conduct a battery of tests to ensure that they do not carry any disease that would infect domestic livestock. Then the horses head to auction, where some are bought and shipped back to Mexico for slaughter.

Others are luckier. They find their way to equine rescue operations, which help place them with homes.

“We just got a horse in, and he’s sticks and bones, and his feet are horrific,” said July Glore, president of Heart of Tucson, a rescue operation that nurses the horses back to strength. “We get calls all the time about abandoned horses. How many do I have right now? One, two, three.”

One, named Lucky, had his tongue almost cut in half from the sharp wire bit put in his mouth. “I was told he was a drug horse,” Ms. Glore said.

Farther north, at the Arizona Equine Rescue Organization in New River, Soleil K. Dolce said drug horses were just part of the problem. Ms. Dolce responds to police calls about horses that have escaped from illegal rodeos and are running down the street. Horses are also left at freeway off-ramps or tied to fences by owners who no longer want them, she said.

Rehabilitating them is expensive and time consuming, Ms. Dolce said, and there is the possibility that some horses will never be adopted.

“I can’t even describe the suffering these horses have gone through,” Ms. Dolce said, petting Rim Rock, who was abandoned in Tonto National Forest, east of Phoenix, several years ago and still suffers problems in his hooves.

It is sometimes not clear when a horse is discovered exactly how it came to be abandoned. State officials say the economic crisis has led to many more animals being let loose by owners no longer able to care for them. But the horses that are found with Mexican brands are presumed to be smuggling horses. And sometimes the authorities have no doubt: groups of horses or donkeys are discovered in the act, with bales of drugs on their backs and their human guides hiding.

Last year, seven horses laden with 971 pounds of marijuana were discovered by Border Patrol agents in the Patagonia Mountains in southern Arizona. The human smugglers had fled.

“I’d get angry when I’d see the condition these horses were in,” Mr. Cowan said. “The smugglers would buy them or steal them on the Mexican side and then work them almost to death. They have horrible sores that can take months to heal up.”

He recalled one horse he came across in Pima County, not far from the Mexican border, that had deep wounds in its hide, was clearly malnourished and was so weak that it was trying to sit back on its hind end to take the weight off its legs. Mr. Cowan and a co-worker had to carry the horse into a trailer.

Still, he said, horses are resilient. “They can come back from a lot,” he said.

Some of the abused horses end up back in the rugged border region where they were first found, Mr. Cowan said. Instead of smuggling, though, they are sometimes used by law enforcement agencies to pursue the traffickers who mistreated them.


  1. Aminals have emotionally and physically feelings; it goes to the same thing for humans. You criminal thugs, show your fucking respects for these animals. They don't deserve to be treated badly like you did to other victims of the humans.

  2. Pobrecitos...esos caballos son victimas como todos nosotros en ese situacion horrible. Si, son animales BUENOS que tenemos un obligacion dar comida, tratamiento medico, etc. Pero los animales EN VERDAD son HUMANOS- los narcotraficantes - animales en forma humana, sin respeto por NADIE, animales que matan y heridan a todos que encuentran, humano o animal, ninos, mujeres.... TODOS! Y debemos
    buscarlos con soldados fuertes y orgullosos, hombres de honor, mejicanos honrables, y dar a ellos la JUSTICIA que merecen. Al MINIMO el carcel por toda la vida. Sera dificil, pero podemos destruir le regla de "plata o plomo" con soldados honrables - los que sirven el interes de su patria y no la moneda y corrupcion!
    De Laredo, lado EEUU- soy un gringo que nacio' alla. Tengo Los DOS Laredos como MI pais! Y tengo el orgullo de los ciudadanos honrables de AMBOS paises! Tengo suerte todavia- pero manana? No se.... No se que pasara' con mi esposa, mi familia, mis negocios, mi casa... Creo que tengo que mover mi familia a San Antonio para seguridad, pero es mas dificil por todos mis amigos quienes son ciudadanos del Gran Pais de Mejico que amo yo... Los Narcos del infierno destruyan vida humana preciosa como matamos pollos para comer. BASTARDOS! YA BASTA! TRAIGA EL EJERCITO DE MEXICO Y SUS COMRADES AMERICANOS CON TODA ARMA NECESARIA Y PODEMOS DESTRUIRLOS- CON ESPIRITU DE AMISTAD Y PAZ PARA TODOS! LOS TRAFICANTANTES SON ANIMALES QUE MERECEN LA MUERTE! YA... NO MAS! Son DESTRUIENDO Mejico!

  3. Thousands of US horses are transported to Mexico to be killed every year. They are bought by what is called killer buyers. These people have a quota that they must deliver to the slaughter plants in order to collect their money either from Mexican or Canadian plants. The horses in Mexico are stabbed in the spine to paralyze them before their throats are cut to bleed out and then hung by a hind leg many if not all of these American horses are butchered alive.
    All of this cruelty is caused by greedy breeders that overproduce every year hoping to create that magic horse that will make them millions. The racing industry is especially bad about this. For years organizations in the US have tried to pass laws to block US horses from being shipped to either Mexico or Canada but each and every time the bills are not even brought up like what happened in the senate this year. Those in the horse breeding industry have deep pockets and they know whose reelection campaigns to contribute to.

  4. These idiots should be treated,just like these horseas..put a heavy pack on their back,and dump them 100 miles in the desert..Their greedy dipsticks that need to be put down..Not arrested,I said "put down"...


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