PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- Although eating horse meat in the United States is considered taboo, customs differ in parts of Europe, Asia, and Mexico.
In the United States, the last three slaughterhouses, located in Texas and Illinois, closed in 2007, but there are no laws, rules or regulations prohibiting the sale of horses that are exported to other countries and consumed there. So, a Valley woman is working to change that by saving horses that are shipped out, one at a time.
One horse that Caitlin Oponsi showed FOX 10's Anita Roman is thriving and well taken care of now, but that wasn't always the case.
"When he got here, he was really malnourished," said Oponski. "We couldn't get him up off the floor. Honestly, we really didn't know what we were getting into."
Video taken a year ago show a horse, now named Diamond, living out his last moments on a direct ship lot in Bowie, Texas.
"They have been given a USDA number to cross the border, so he had already been sorted, shipped, tagged, just waiting for the next semi load probably in a matter of hours," said Oponski.
Jen McCleve, who runs Heart for Horses, shot the video and brought Diamond to Arizona. She also took a video at the same lot, showing a mother and her foul separated, crying for each other.
"They'll throw in stallions with mares with minis," said McCleve. "It's everything."
"100,000 American horses a year are exported to Canada and Mexico for human consumption," said Oponski.
Oponski found out years ago that the horses are sold at auction, and often purchased by kill buyers who either mark up their purchase price and resell to private buyers or ship them out for slaughter. When she took over as the owner of Corral West Horse Adventures in 2016, she teamed up with McCleve, and the women have since spent countless Saturday nights bidding in an online auction run out of Texas.
"I had rescued two slaughterhouse horses, and so I sort of thought hey, what a cool business plan. What if I can rescue horses, have them earn their keep, earn their hey and run a successful small business?" said Oponski.
50% of Oponski's heard is made up of slaughterhouse rescues. They are used to take guests on trail rides in the Estrella and White Tank Mountains.
"I think without Cait [Oponski], I wouldn't have been able to ride horses," said Brianna Barnes.
"You would never know these horses came from where they come from because Cait does such an amazing job," said Kyrie Zapara.
Once Oponski makes the buy, the horses are quarantined for 30 days before McCleve trailers them out west. Oponski and her team train with the rescues, making sure they are safe for guests to ride and take lessons on. The horses typically work three days a week, and only during the winter months. They are taken to pasture in a cooler climate during the summer. As for Diamond, that horse will likely join the rest of the herd in a few years, leading an excursion through the mountains.