Siri Lindley knows what it’s like to overcome impossible odds.

At age 23, she set her sights on becoming the best triathlete in the world—a remarkable feat because, at the time, she didn’t know how to swim. Eight years later, Lindley made good on her promise by winning the world championship. She would go on to win 13 World Cup Races and coach athletes to multiple world titles and Olympic medals.

Then, last November, Lindley faced an even more harrowing test: survive Acute Myeloid Leukemia (ALM), a disease with less than a 10% survival rate. She approached the diagnosis just like she did her athletic training—consulting with the best doctors and following a rigorous daily regimen that focused on both her mental and physical well-being. Nine months after diagnosis, following a clinical trial and a bone marrow transplant, Lindley is cancer-free and fully invested in her next big challenge: fighting for a permanent ban on horse slaughter. 

With her wife Rebekah Keat, a six-time  iron-distance champion, Lindley runs Believe Ranch and Rescue in Longmont, Colo., which has saved 116 horses from slaughter in three years. Lindley said horses have been a source of comfort and confidence throughout her illness.

“When I was recovering from the bone marrow transplant, I was able to come home and spend time with the horses,” she said. “I feel like it accelerated my own healing.”

For Lindley and Keat, the journey from triathletes to horse owners/rescuers and, finally, activists began four years ago when the couple vacationed near a small farm in California. Before returning home, Lindley bought a cowboy hat to “manifest owning a horse one day.” Weeks later, Lindley brought home a three-year-old rescue horse named Savannah. But she soon wondered: What was she rescuing Savannah from?

After doing a quick Google search, Lindley and Keat came upon one of the most horrific videos they had ever seen.

“Horses were being pulled up on pulleys and dismembered alive,” Lindley said. “I absolutely cried my eyes out. In that moment, our lives were never the same. We knew we had to do something about it.”

The couple founded Horses in Our Hands, a 501(c)(4) dedicated to lobbying congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which calls for a ban on horse slaughter in the United States and prevents the export of horses for the same purpose.

A rare bipartisan issue, horse slaughter is widely supported, with national polls showing that roughly 80% of Americans opposed to the slaughter of horses for food. Today, there are bills in committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.

Though there has been a federal de facto ban on horse slaughter since 2007, last year, in the United States, more than 60,000 horses were exported to facilities in Canada and Mexico, where they were brutally slaughtered to provide horsemeat for sale in Europe and Asia. “Kill-buyers” or middlemen purchase horses, often from unsuspecting owners, and then pack them into overcrowded trailers for the harrowing journey to slaughterhouses.

Lindley explains that horse slaughter is an industry driven by demand, meaning that if it were to be permanently outlawed, the need would dry up and there would be perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 horses in need of rescue or new homes. Without slaughterhouses, healthy horses would go to responsible new owners or taken in by the large number of horse rescue organizations. Licensed veterinarians would euthanize the sick and elderly horses.

For Lindley, the fight to ban horse slaughter is personal. With horses having helped her beat cancer and in countless other ways—building confidence, reducing fears and anxieties, and taking her to new levels of self-discovery—Lindley said now it’s her turn to give back. 

“Horses have an ability to heal humans suffering from so many different illnesses, including PTSD, depression and anxiety,” she said. “They are saving humans, and now we’re taking it full circle. We’re saving them and they’re saving us.”