Joe Rios, d/b/a Rio Grand Classic, has been a kill buyer since 2008. However, unlike most of his fellow slaughter horse buyers, he has managed to stay almost completely out of the public eye. Based in El Paso, TX, Rios is one of the few remaining shippers of horses across the Southern border – in fact, in 2021 he was the second largest exporter of this dwindling group. Rios shipped approx. 60 loads of horses, valued at well over one million dollars, via the St. Teresa export pen in New Mexico. In addition to being a slaughter buyer, Rios also operates the Rio Grand Classic Livestock auction, which holds weekly cattle and sheep sales.
What else do we know about Rios? Animals’ Angels investigators have followed his trucks numerous times and what they found – combined with information obtained via Freedom of Information Act request – shows that Rios is every bit as callous and as cruel as known offenders such as the Stanley Brothers. Many of the horses inside his trailers were documented with open wounds and other obvious injuries. Stallions were often carelessly mixed with mares and geldings. Emaciated horses were also a common sight. Just last month, Animals’ Angels filed another complaint with USDA regarding the conditions of the horses inside his trailers. To date, no information regarding the status of the official investigation has been released.
Rios acquires his horses at sales across Texas, New Mexico and (most interestingly) from California horse traders Don Gatz and David Misner. Since it is illegal in the state of California to buy or sell any horse with the intent to ship it to slaughter, this relationship has caught the attention of USDA IES investigators as well as local authorities. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the sale of California horses to Rios was well documented both by Animals’ Angels documentation and official health records, it wasn’t enough for the involved authorities to act.
So far, during the first eight months of 2022, Rios has shipped 26 loads of horses to slaughter, valued at $475,000 - which is another decline compared to 2021. We are cautiously optimistic that this trend will continue, but until no horse will cross the border facing a horrific death, Animals’ Angels will continue to monitor Rios and report any violations found.