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.

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

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.


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