One of the neat things about this "100 Days" road trip has been the steady stream of ideas flowing in from NPR's audience. It was a listener's email that guided me to Kentucky houseboat country and to Orlando.
Then came an e-mail from a horse enthusiast, who insisted a visit to Colorado horse country would open my eyes to another facet of the recession.
She was right.
My first stop was the Ugly Tractor Ranch in Castle Rock, on the front range south of Denver. Ranch owner Anita LittleWolf introduced me to her eight horses — including a 9-year-old quarter horse named Dash, who proceeded to sneeze all over my shirt. Funny moment, as you'll hear.
But our conversation about Dash became more serious. LittleWolf described how in the recession, the value for a horse like Dash has dropped. She's been seeing horses like him sell at auction for the price of a microwave oven.
The problem, she said, is people have become more pinched for cash and can't afford to feed and care for their horses. So they're trying to sell dirt-cheap. And some horses, LittleWolf said, are showing up at auction looking very unhealthy.
Sad as it is, she said, the situation helps her understand why some people are calling for the return of horse slaughter on US soil. The last slaughter houses closed in 2007.
Here's a bit of my conversation with LittleWolf.
The question of whether the recession has led to a rise in neglected horses is not confined to Colorado, as the New York Times explained earlier this month. And there's a push in a number of states to re-open slaughter houses.
Pro-slaughter lawmakers are arguing that the recession has led to cruel treatment and abandonment. "Horses are being kicked out on the roads, left on the land," Montana GOP state representative Ed Butcher — a horse-owner himself — told the Associated Press.
It's a line of argument that's frustrated Hilary Wood, president and founder of Front Range Equine Rescue. Her organization rescues neglected horses, putting a special focus on those likely heading for slaughter.
I caught up with Wood over lunch in Colorado Springs. She said the pro-slaughter movement is creating a false perception that horses are being abandoned in fields and on road sides everywhere. She accused lawmakers like Rep Butcher in Montana of playing on economic fears.
What's needed is not slaughter, Wood said, but more education for horse owners so they know their options. Here are a few clips from our lunch.