ATLANTA - Perhaps no other animal symbolizes the American spirit than the horse.
But what seemed like a good idea to save many of them five years ago apparently ended up backfiring.
In an effort to encourage more rescues, Congress pulled the plug on funding for inspection of the country's horse slaughter houses in 2006, essentially shutting them down.
"In 2006 I actually voted to shut them down, not knowing what that was going to mean for our horses," said horse rescuer Patty Livingston of Bethlehem, Georgia.
Now president of the Georgia Equine Rescue League, she regrets that move.
Since the ban the economy has collapsed.
Horse abuse and abandonment has soared, 60 percent alone in Colorado.
Rescue groups are overwhelmed.
With foreign demand for horse meat still strong, even more of America's old and abandoned horses continue to die.
Only now they're hauled longer distances under less humane conditions to slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico.
"In those facilities, particularly in Mexico, the USDA has no jurisdiction and we don't know what kind of facilities they are, if the horses are treated humanely," said Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Savannah).
Rep. Kingston was one of several from both parties who recently voted to allow America's horse slaughter houses to reopen.
President Obama signed the bill on November 18.
While some animal rights groups still oppose the move, some horse rescuers say it's the lesser of two evils.
"The cruelty that they endure now is ten times worse than they ever endured when we had slaughter houses in this country," rescuer Patty Livingston told 11Alive News.
If there is any good news in this story, it's that America has more than 9 million horses.
About 125,000 are slaughtered each year, just over 1 percent.
That means most continue to survive, more than in any other country.