Less than four years after the last equine slaughterhouses in the U.S. closed down, an unlikely coalition of ranchers, horse owners and animal-welfare groups is trying to bring them back.

The group, gathering in Las Vegas on Jan. 3-6 for a conference called Summit of the Horse, aims to map out a strategy for reviving an industry that slaughtered as many as 100,000 horses a year in the U.S. before it was effectively shut down by congressional action in 2007.

Advocates say the slaughterhouses could bring an economic boost to rural areas and give owners who no longer have the means or inclination to care for the horses an economical and humane way to dispose of them.

"We believe that humane processing is absolutely a moral and an ethical choice," says Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state lawmaker who organized the event.

Wallis is working on bringing a slaughterhouse to her state, but said her coalition first must overcome what she calls "the 'ick' factor."

Indeed, animal-welfare activists opposed to the resumption of slaughter say the public will rally to stop it, since many Americans grew up with such books as "Black Beauty" and TV shows like "Mister Ed" and consider horses companions, not meals.

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