PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo: A Former Polo Player Dedicated to Saving Horses

It all started with an animal far smaller than a horse: a hamster. When I was little, my parents allowed my brother and me to have a hamster, and that taught me two very important things: Be responsible and be kind. Hammy’s needs came first. He always had a rich array of fruit and vegetables, he lived where we lived—in the family room—and every day he had several hours of (supervised) freedom and exercise. When he eventually curled up and went to sleep, I watched my mother gently lift him back into his cage. At friends’ houses, I noticed with sadness that hamsters and gerbils were mostly forgotten in cages that were rarely cleaned and often relegated to the basement. It seemed profoundly unjust.

A Pup Points to My Path Forward

My next exposure to animals came when I was 10 and I found an abandoned puppy. It had never occurred to me that a dog could be abandoned! I went to the library and found—to my amazement and joy—that there were organizations dedicated to helping homeless dogs and cats. I donated a few dollars, and the materials I received were my first lesson on animal neglect and abuse.

Still not putting two and two together, I began riding horses, and my parents bought me one. His name was Buddy. I showed him in English equitation and hunter jumper classes. I went to races, too, and learned to play polo. I loved horses but somehow didn’t yet see how they were being harmed.

Kathy Guillermo riding a spotted horse in traditional polo gear

Death on the Track

Then one day, I saw a horse die on a racetrack. Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place. I stopped going to races. I stopped playing polo. And in 1989, I started working for PETA.

PETA Worker Kathy Guillermo with child
A family affair: When I applied to work at PETA, I didn’t want to put my daughter Jilly in day care. Fortunately, Ingrid said, “We let people bring their dogs to work—why not a baby?” Jilly and her siblings are PETA’s most enthusiastic supporters, and my husband, Emil, hosts The PETA Podcast.

My first assignments to help animals in labs included “Get a Saturday Night Live cast member to pretend to vomit into a giant toilet” and “Hang a banner from the Eiffel Tower.” Gulp. I did manage to get both done, and Kevin Nealon remains a loyal PETA friend. I was also charged with persuading cosmetics companies to stop testing on animals. Back then, we had about 10 companies on our cruelty-free list. Now we have more than 6,000!

PETA protest against L'Oreal

Fifteen years ago, I began heading up PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department, and I’m delighted to recall our victories, of which these are just a few:

Still Saving Horses Big-Time

Horses still hold a place in my heart, so I also lead PETA’s Equine Matters Department, showing the world the atrocities that horses are subjected to. We’ve videotaped trainers as they injected them with performance-enhancing drugs and documented the slaughter of U.S. horses in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea (and saved some of them just in the nick of time). In 2022, PETA pushed New York state legislators to stop a bill that would have given Belmont Park $450 million in state-backed bonds to build a fancy clubhouse—the first time New York legislators said “no” to the greedy horse racing industry.

Belmont horse-racing demo, activists being interviewed
Kathy led PETA’s protest after Eight Belles’ catastrophic breakdown at the Kentucky Derby.

All those years ago, I “loved” horses, but I don’t think I ever really knew who they were. That shift—seeing the world from their point of view—was key. And now I’m dedicated to helping end the abuse of horses—and all animals. If horses hold a special place in your heart, too, please come along with me for the ride of a lifetime.

Gray Man the Horse with desert background
With the help of Jillian Michaels, PETA rescued Royale With Speed, now renamed Gray Man. He spends his days lolling on the grass and romping with other racehorses saved from slaughter.

Take Action Now

Horses shouldn’t be forced to compete for human entertainment. Take action to urge the International Olympic Committee to remove all equestrian events.

Written by Kathy Guillermo, PETA Senior Vice President

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