Former Seahawk and his wife’s family huddle up and care for herd of wild horses near Redmond

For more than two decades, football was Joe Tafoya’s life.

Joe Tafoya stands near a herd of wild horses he and his wife’s family are caring for at their ranch east of Redmond.

For more than two decades, football was Joe Tafoya’s life.

But now that the former Seattle Seahawk is retired from the sport, something else is taking up much of his time.

It all started with his first date with his wife about a decade ago. Instead of going out to dinner or seeing a movie, the couple spent their date cleaning out her family’s horse stables at their ranch in unincorporated King County, just east of Redmond. Since then, the former footballer has traded his pigskin world for a world of all things equine.

Tafoya’s wife’s family has been rescuing and rehoming horses for about 20 years and recently, they have taken in a herd of 13 wild horses and are working to nurse them back to health so they can be released back into the wild.

Tafoya’s mother-in-law Sharon Hunter said these horses had been marked to be slaughtered to be made into meat, which would be consumed in Europe and other countries overseas. In addition to being killed for their meat, she said, the things the horses go through before facing their death are horrific. For example, mothers are separated from their foals.

The herd of wild horses currently under the family’s care are originally from eastern Washington and were previously roaming on Indian reservation land. Hunter said they were initially only going to take in two horses — they have 11 horses of their own on the property already — but things changed. Of the 13 wild horses, 11 are between the ages of about 6 months and 1 year. The remaining two are mares. Hunter said both mares arrived pregnant and one has already given birth. The colt — a male foal — did not survive. Hunter said he just had too many health problems when he was born and they could not save him.

“He had lots of love,” Hunter said about the colt, adding that he hung on for six days. “We named him Black Beauty.”

Black Beauty was not the only horse that came to the ranch with health problems. Tafoya and Hunter said the entire herd arrived with ticks, lice and parasites. In addition, all of the horses were severely malnourished and underweight. Hunter added that she did not even realize one of the mares was pregnant as she was so thin.

The herd arrived at the ranch at the end of March and while their ticks, lice and parasites have been removed, the horses are still very underweight. Hunter said she wants to see the horses gain some more weight before they are released.

For more information about their efforts and to learn how to help, visit www.gofundme.com/rkj5h9c.

Hunter breaks up her horse rescuing work into three steps — rescue, rehabilitate and release — and is currently working with the Humane Society to create a Northwest horse sanctuary where wild horses can roam free without the threat of being rounded up and slaughtered. She has found a piece of land in Oregon — about 14,000 acres — that would work, but it is not ready yet.

Nowadays, Tafoya and Hunter said horses that are sent to auctions are often bought by “kill buyers” who see the horses as meat and send them to slaughterhouses. Horse slaughtering is no longer widely practiced in the United States, so these horses are usually taken across the borders to Canada and Mexico to face their deaths.

While Hunter is working on the sanctuary, Tafoya is working on the legislative end to make horse slaughtering illegal in Washington. Like the rest of the country, he said horse slaughtering is not really practiced in the state, but it has not been outlawed yet. Tafoya is working to make that happen.

“There are so many reasons why it’s wrong to slaughter horses,” he said.

Tafoya has founded the Washington Horse Defense Coalition (WHDC), a nonprofit started to pass a bill to ban horse slaughtering in Washington. He said they have a strong social media presence, which is currently focused on spreading awareness of what is happening to these horses. Tafoya said they are also working on a bill they hope to introduce to the state legislature during next year’s legislative session.

 

More in News

Aneelah Afzali, executive director of MAPS-AMEN and creator of Facts Over Fear campaign, hugs an event attendee before a recent presentation. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kwong
National Facts Over Fear campiagn launches in Redmond

Facts Over Fear campaign is intended to dispute misconceptions spread by anti-Muslim hate groups.

The language of the original bill prohibited privately-owned detainment facilities from being contracted by local, state, or federal government entities, but a last-second amendment was adopted to substantially narrow the focus of the legislation. File photo
Lawmakers flinch on banning for-profit detention facilities

Last minute amendment exempted ICE detainment facility.

A proposal to make King County Metro fares free for low-income households could be approved in the coming months. File photo
King County considers free transit for low-income residents

The program would target those at or below 80 percent of the federal poverty level.

Federal Way resident Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, 17, died Jan. 27, 2017. Courtesy photo
Law enforcement challenges report on sting operation that killed Federal Way teen

King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight’s findings rattle Sheriff’s Office, police union.

Unstable housing? Apply for Section 8

Applications open in February for housing vouchers

In 2018, the city of Seattle approved and then repealed a head tax within a month. It would have levied a $275 per employee tax on businesses grossing more than $20 million annually. Sound Publishing file photo
County head tax bill passes committee

Bill would let King County levy a tax on businesses to fund housing and address homelessness.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the first bill of the 2020 legislative session into law. On the right stands the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is wearing a red tie. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gov. Inslee signs tax bill to help fund higher education

Law shifts a portion of the tax burden to large tech companies.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County Metro bus fleet will be electrified by 2035

Future base in South King County would house hundreds of the zero-emission vehicles.

Three-quarters of the suicide deaths among children ages 10 to 14 are caused by firearms, according to a new report from the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at the University of Washington. File photo
King County studies youth gun violence amid rising suicides

It’s unclear what’s driving the trend.

A King County work crew clears a road near Preston on Feb. 7, 2020. Heavy rains appear to have caused multiple landslides along the road. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
The future could look a lot like this year’s flood season

Climate change is expected to lead to more winter flooding in King County.

Vandenbrande retires after almost two decades at Redmond

The former planning director reflects on her 19 years at the city.