One Man's Steed Is Another's Supper

HOSS RUSTLING HAS BECOME a nagging problem lately. In Texas, everything from the old gray mare to champion quarter horses are disappearing from barns and pastures. "We're up to one horse missing per day now," says Kathy Fleming of the Texas Horse Owner's Assn. A few years back, it was two or three horses per week. Now, around Houston, it's so bad authorities are holding low-cost "branding days" to mark horses.

Blame most of it on a longstanding appetite for horse meat in France and Belgium. The number of horse butchers has declined there in recent decades as tastes turned to other fare. Too much so: The continued demand for cheval can't be met domestically. Stolen horses usually end up in U.S. packing plants, then the meat is shipped off to Europe. Packers pay rustlers 75 cents per pound. Since the average horse weighs 1,200 pounds, says Houston Police Officer Cyndi Hogg, "you're talking pretty good money." Compared to an auto, "horses are easier to steal." A whinny is a lot quieter than a squawking car alarm.

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