CALGARY — Three friends who ride together on the show jumping circuit are turning their passion for animals into a charity aimed at diverting horses from slaughter.

The trio began attending auctions about a month ago to bid on animals they believe would have been sold to an Alberta horse meat slaughterhouse. 

Within two weeks they purchased 13 young, miniature and full-grown horses, a majority of which are being kept at the Rocky Mountain Show Jumping property on the southwest outskirts of Calgary.

“We believe that some of them are destined for different lives so we want to help them find their next homes,” said Kelsee Downie, a horse nutritionist and one of the founders of Haven 4 Hooves.

They’ve launched a GoFundMe to cover vet expenses for one of the younger horses and are looking for more donations to become an established horse-focused charity.

“The majority of horses that go for meat are babies and horses between two and seven, and they haven’t even had a chance at life yet,” said Kelly Hirsch, another founding member of the group.

“For me, the ones I want to save are the ones that can be used for something.”

Hirsch has also involved her husband, John Anderson, manager of Rocky Mountain Show Jumping and a former Canadian Olympic competitor in the sport.

For Anderson, horses are owed a lot of credit.

“They’ve been so good to me, so good to us, so good to the community of Calgary if you will, we thought getting behind an enterprise like this would be fantastic,” he said.

Others in the group say horses are often vulnerable.

“They don’t have a voice they can’t choose where they go, they can’t choose who homes them and what they decide to do with them,” said Meghan Senger, the third founder of the group.

Purchased animals are quarantined for three weeks, checked by a vet and vaccinated.

Once the animals are in optimal condition, the trio will re-home, foster or sell horses to new owners with the goal of recovering medical costs.

Horse meat is a large industry in Alberta, being exported to countries like Japan, Kazakhstan, Belgium, France and Switzerland. 

The industry has been targeted by animal rights groups in recent years. In 2015, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition protested the conditions of animals being shipped by air to Japanese markets.

Haven 4 Hooves now hopes to secure an acreage with paddocks to board horses that may not be able to be re-homed, so long as they are not sent to slaughter.