Horse prices are "ugly…terrible," says Diane Givan, office manager of Kist Livestock, Mandan, N.D.
Colts are bringing as little as $10-$50 per head. They used to sell for $200 to $500.
Working horses are selling for about half of what they used to.
Owners of older horses sometimes can't sell their horses at all or end up in the hole after paying the auction house's commission and other fees.
The horse market fell apart after U.S. processing plants, under pressure from animal rights groups, closed two years ago.
"There's no bottom to the market," says Jim Reeves, a Midland, S.D., rancher. Horses used to make up about one-third of their income. They used to run about 200 mares. Now they have just 30 and sell everything by private treaty.
"Something's gotta change," says Chase Adams, a Sturgis, S.D. farm broadcaster who formed the American Horse League to lobby Congress.
Ranchers have taken a financial hit. Horse abuse and neglect is rising as more and more people – mainly recreational owners – can't afford to feed their horses and can't find anyone to take them off their hands. Rescue farms are full.
The real danger, says Adams, is that animal rights will use their horse victory as a springboard to close other types of processing plants.
"This is the line in the sand," Adams says.
In North Dakota, a legislative interim committee has begun m looking into whether it would be possible to operate a state-inspected processing plant in North Dakota. It will report its findings to the next legislative session.