While slaughterhouses have never been illegal, the killing of horses for human consumption ended in 2006 when the federal government refused to fund USDA slaughterhouse inspectors.
That change in language is what has horse owners up in arms.
In an e-mail to Patch, U.S. Rep Chris Murphy, D-5, reported that a 2011 non-partisan report found that the ban did not lead to a decrease in horse slaughter. Instead, the same horses were slaughtered beyond the reach of U.S. law. That report stated, "As a result, nearly the same number of U.S. horses was transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010 - nearly 138,000 - as was slaughtered before domestic slaughter ceased."
The congressman wrote, "Legislation signed into law in November 2011 by the President opens the door to future inspections of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S."
A congressional aid reported that nothing else was changed from the previous legislation. Only the language that denied federal funding for USDA inspectors has been removed. That change now opens the doors for slaughterhouses for horse meat consumption to resume in the U.S.
Connecticut is one of the most horse populated states in the country.
While the number of horses in Connecticut are estimated by the University of Connecticut to approach 50,000, there is no exact estimate of the number of horses in the region. However, the report states that upper Fairfield County and Litchfield County have the most concentrated amount of horses in Connecticut.
"Connecticut ranks third in the density of horses nationwide and has the greatest density of horses in New England. Vermont and Maine are the only two New England states that place above Connecticut in number of horses per capita," the UCONN report stated.
The region's ranchers had mixed feelings about the bill change.
Sue Peterson of Woodbury has a ranch with 52 horses. She described the new language as "a can of worms."
"It's a sad and terrible thing," Peterson said. "Since they killed the slaughterhouses, they are shipping the horses off to Mexico and Canada. And they are doing so inhumanely. They are breaking their legs, stuffing them into ships and trucks, falling breaking their legs, and shipping the meat off to France."
Many residents assume that the change in the legislation may be an attempt to recoup an economy that was lost when slaughtering was banned.
However, in a statement issued by Respect 4 Horses, Paula Bacon, former mayor of Kaufman, Texas, where a horse slaughter facility operated for years, is quoted as saying, "Horse slaughter means very few, very low wage jobs. This so called business brought in virtually no tax revenues and local governments incurred substantial enforcement costs in trying to regulate environmental problems with these facilities. The standard of living dropped during the time horse slaughter facilities operated. Having a horse slaughter facility drove away good businesses."
Respect 4 Horses is a coalition of nine organizations to benefit horses rights with a combined national membership of over 100,000.
Director Simone Netherlands said, "Equine slaughter has also been found to increase and abet horse theft in areas where facilities are located or horses are held for transport to slaughter."
Some states have made the slaughterhouses illegal within the state. Texas and Illinois have banned the sale of horse meat, and other states have codes that take various positions against the process, according to the ASPCA.
The Michigan State University College of Law lists statutes for various states, including Oklahoma, where it is unlawful to sell horse meat for human consumption and California, where it is illegal to kill a horse for human consumption. Violations could result in a felony conviction with a prison sentence of up to three years.
The congressmen of the Housatonic and Naugatuck valleys expressed dismay at the change in the bill.
"I have serious concerns about the language, and the minimum of debate and scrutiny it was afforded before being rolled into 'must-pass' year-end budget legislation. While I agree that there are real questions that need to answered regarding the effectiveness of the domestic slaughter ban, laying the groundwork for a renewed U.S. horse slaughter industry is deeply upsetting. Our goal should always be to minimize the suffering of horses – whether within our borders or without," Murphy wrote.
U.S. Rep. Rosa L DeLauro, D-3, was in agreement and said, "I have fought to ban the slaughter of horses by prohibiting funding for the inspection of horsemeat by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Unfortunately, the legislative language that I introduced in 2006 was not included in the final 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill. I do not support this change, and will continue to work to protect horses."
Horse owners and animal lovers across Connecticut are having strong reactions to the bill.
Joe McAllister is the third generation owner of the Rolling M Ranch in Southbury. He felt that for people who cannot afford to keep their horse alive when the horse gets too old to be of service, it is a better alternative than letting the horse starve.
"For the people who don't have a choice, it's an out," said McAllister. "It will benefit some people and for others, it will appall."
"Some people have to save their house and lose their horse. As a horseman, I would do everything in my power to take care of a horse. A horse gets a twisted leg, if you can operate and he has 25 percent chance of making it, that's fine. But if he has no quality of life." McAllister shrugged. "I haven't met anyone who doesn't want to do whats in the best interest of the horse, but it also comes down to what people can afford."
Contrary to popular belief, not all horse owners are wealthy. The UCONN report stated: "The median income of horse-owning families is about $60,000. Horse ownership is broad based across income classes with 34 percent of the industry under $50,000 of income and 28 perent over $100,000."
"When we use the term 'horse slaughter,' we are referring exclusively to the killing and processing of horses for human consumption," said a statement prepared by ASPCA. "To be clear: Horse slaughter is not humane euthanasia. Due to the historic role that horses have played in the development of our country and culture, the ASPCA is opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption."
Gordon Johnson, spokesman for the Second Company Governor's Horse Guard in Newtown, is personally against the slaughter of horses.
"I don't understand what the benefits would be," Johnson said. "You put a horse down for humane reasons, but we don't eat horse meat in this country. Horses have served mankind for many years and I don't want to see them served on a plate."
There are stables throughout the state that will allow horses to retire on their land for a cost of anywhere from $400 to $1,400 a month throughout Litchfield and Fairfield Counties, according to Southbury's McAllister, whose farm has been in existence since the late 1800s.
McAllister said that when the owners can afford it, the horses can live out their lives until they either become ill or pass peacefully.
At a horse sanctuary in New Milford, Equine Angels Rescue Sanctuary, owner Frank Weller said that ideally, there would be a protocol for horses at the end of their lives, and it would be done under medical care.
"There needs to be an answer to putting down horses humanely, but this is not it," Weller said. "Slaughter houses are not humane. By opening the slaughter houses, you open the market for breeding horses for meat. They are sentient beings. All you have to do is look in their eyes and you will find it very hard to rationalize any inhumanity to them. I would hate to see people breeding horses only to encourage the suffering of these animals."