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For rescued horses, no place like a home.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

CEDAR FLAT - Horse heaven for Shilo and Sierra is the inviting pasture next to Robin Henson's house, where they can run and graze and race the goats to the juiciest apples fallen from the tree.

It's a long way from the Canadian farm where they were born and even further, some would argue, from the destination that awaits thousands like them: the slaughterhouse.

Shilo and Sierra are PMU horses. They were born on a Manitoba farm 18 months ago, unnecessary by-products of a decades-old industry that uses pregnant mare urine - PMU - for medicine that helps prevent menopause-related discomfort and osteoporosis.

These two were lucky; Henson, a 52-year-old nurse and animal lover, adopted them a year ago.

"I always knew where (PMU medicine) came from," Henson said, as she walked the two quarter horses in a round pen last week. "I knew when I got horses I wanted them to be rescues. I wanted to get horses that were in danger of going to slaughter."

There are plenty of them out there, said Martha Armstrong, a senior vice president in equine protection with the U.S. Humane Society: 40,000 or more PMU foals are dumped annually onto the market, and the vast majority of them will eventually be slaughtered for meat, often ending up on dinner tables in France, Belgium or Japan.

At the center of the controversy is the pharmaceutical giant Wyeth, the New Jersey-based company behind Advil and Preparation H.

Wyeth also makes Premarin - the name is derived from "pregnant mare urine" - estrogen tablets that women have used for 60 years to help keep bones strong and to quell menopause-related hot flashes and vaginal discomfort (there is no urine in the final product, the company said).

The Humane Society criticizes the conditions on hundreds of PMU farms, alleging that for six to eight months, the pregnant mares are kept tethered in narrow stalls, unable to turn around or sometimes to lie down comfortably, while getting little exercise and often inadequate bedding.

But Wyeth spokeswoman Natalie de Vane rejected those characterizations, citing numerous national and international veterinarian and equine associations that, she said, have found PMU horses to be "well cared for."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, reports that "PMU ranching has become a model of self-regulation ... using a system of extensive checks and balances that ensure ranchers strive for the highest standards of practice rather than simply abiding by baseline laws and regulations."

The Humane Society's other concern is the glut of PMU foals that go to slaughter - a problem that is suddenly critical, Armstrong said, with Wyeth's recent decision to cut back drastically on PMU production due to decreased demand.

As many as 20,000 foals are being dumped onto the market, Armstrong said.

Wyeth has established a $3.7 million trust fund to help place those animals and according to Jim Tedford, president of the Humane Society at Lollypop Farm in New York, rescue operations are quite successful at finding homes for those PMU horses that they can get their hands on.

The problem, Tedford said, is that rescue groups are frequently outbid at auction by those who want the horses for the slaughterhouse. Armstrong added, too, that the hundreds of PMU horses rescued pale in comparison to the tens of thousands put on the market.

But rescue groups such as the Lazy Z Ranch in Sisters are undeterred: Since starting two years ago, the ranch has placed almost 300 PMU horses of the 450 in its care, manager Virginia Loomis said.

"We generally find homes within a few months," she said. "It's kind of a good Samaritan thing: Why go out and get a breeder when I can get a nice horse that needs a home?"

Lazy Z horses go for between $350 and $700 each, prices at which the ranch generally breaks even, but nothing more, Loomis said. For her, the payoff is watching a PMU horse go home with a happy family.

"Horses are a passion," Loomis said. "It's just kind of a dying era."

But they're not dying on Henson's 3 1/2 acres of pasture - they're thriving.

She spends her free time teaching Shilo and Sierra to accept a halter over their heads or to offer a hoof for inspection, the prelude to trimming them, she added.

Henson also hopes to receive her third PMU foal sometime this week.

"It'd be really cool to just get 'em, tame 'em and give them to other people," Henson said, as she pulled Shilo's head close for a kiss. "That way I'll always have room for more."


For more information, call Virginia Loomis, of Sisters, at (541) 549-6765, or visit the Web site,; or visit the Emerald Valley Equine Assistance Web site


Robin Henson nuzzles Shilo as her other horse, Sierra, closes in. "I wanted to get horses that were in danger of going to slaughter," Henson says.
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Title Annotation:Many groups have formed to find adoptive homes for foals born as a by-product of impregnating horses for their urine; General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 3, 2003
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