THIS IS THE SPINE THAT IS UNDER THE SADDLE OF ONE OF HORSES THAT IS BEING TORTURED BY THE HAVASUPAI TRIBE
(Photos of the horses are at the end of this post)
I found this Facebook page dedicated to helping these animals: @HavasupaiHorses
Despite the exquisite beauty of the Havasupai land, there is a secret horror that lives in the corners of the Supai village that makes its way up and down the canyon every day. This secret is hidden under the saddles of far too many emaciated, beaten, and abused horses and mules used to pack gear and carry tourists both up and down the canyon. While some of the horses and mules used to carry people and gear are in moderate to good condition, about one-half of them are grossly underweight, some with open sores and bleeding wounds. Some have suffered beatings that have caused permanent injuries, even to their eyes. Some are forced to work with broken limbs. Many have scars from years of abuse and neglect. You may not always be able to see all their injuries because their condition is often hidden under the gear, packs, and saddles. Tourists have witnessed horrific physical abuse, including grotesquely violent beatings of these animals. Many pack animals have lost their lives to neglect, malnourishment and starvation, and the lack of available water. Also disturbing is that these gentle creatures are subjected to intensely long periods of uninterrupted work carrying burdens beyond their strength without any breaks, nourishment, including food and water, or rest.
Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
Email sent to CNN
Havasu Havasupai Falls Trip Havasupai
November 6, 2006
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.
I am writing to you to tell you about the disturbing treatment of the mules and horses we witnessed at the hands of the Havasupai Tribe.
Recently, my family took a trip to Havasupai.
My husband and son hiked down with 19 other friends, while my daughter (age 9) and I reserved horses to ride into the canyon (since I had recently suffered a stress-fracture in my foot, and could not hike.)
When we arrived, the man checking us in had no record of our reservation (even though I had called to make one the week before and confirmed by phone the day before). The Supervisor wanted to put us on the (more expensive) helicopter immediately, but we really wanted to ride the horses down so we would arrive about the same time as the 21 hikers. (My daughter and I had taken riding lessons to prepare for the trip. We planned, we prepared, and we made every effort to ensure our trip on horses.) Of course we were disappointed, but that turned out to be only one of our many concerns. We waited an hour and a half to see if, as the Supervisor had said, “Maybe some horses will show up–I don’t think so.” My husband, nervous to begin hiking so he’d make it to the campground with daylight to spare, tipped the man, $10.00. At that moment, the Supervisor radioed “down the trail” and said another mule train was coming up “with two horses.” My husband, assured we would “find” some horses, or take the helicopter down, handing me a walkie-talkie and prepared to finally hike into the canyon. From this point, my daughter, Chloe, and I waited another two hours while seeing several mule trains arrive on the hilltop, but no horses. During our wait, before the Indians took the pack mules into the canyon, the Indians smoked some drug–I don’t know if it was Crack or Meth…. My daughter asked, “what are they doing, Mom?” My husband walkie-talkied that he saw horses heading up the trail. Another mule train later, one of the wranglers signaled to us that he had two horses. We mounted and I inquired about our guide. He said that the Guide would “catch up with us in a few minutes” with a mule train. He began to lead our horses down the trail.
Before I knew it, my daughter’s horse was way ahead of mine and I lost sight of her. Horrified, I called my husband on the walkie-talkie and told him to turn around and save our daughter. We were separated for more than an hour as I tried desperately to catch up with her. Finally, a hiker was able to stop her horse and lead her back up the trail to meet me. She was very scared being all alone. I can’t even imagine what might have happened. It was almost two hours into the ride, and still no guide had appeared. I radioed my husband telling him that he should head back down the trail, we were fine, and catch up with our group (which included our 12-year old son.)
I tied our horses together and started to continue down the trail. My daughter’s horse was moving much faster than mine and kept butting my horse, but at least we were tied. We stopped to switch leads and my daughter’s horse bolted. She screamed and went galloping down the rough and rocky trail. Thank goodness she held on tight and didn’t fall off. As a mother, I was beside myself as my daughter disappeared AGAIN behind huge boulders on a runaway horse. Chloe was able to rein-him-in, and the same hiker came to her aid and got control of her horse and led her back to me. At this point, my daughter was very shook up. I put her on MY horse and I rode HER’S the rest of the way into the village as I led her horse. Our “guide” eventually passed us up but never helped us or even acknowledged us. At the tourist office, I was going to complain about our experience, but it was closed.
For our return trip out of the canyon, I had decided to get us on the helicopter, but had to hike the 2.2 miles from the campground to the village on my fragile foot. Surely, they wouldn’t miss us on the horses, since they didn’t even show our reservations at the hilltop. But no. When we arrived at the trailhead with all of our gear, there was a guide and two horses, calling out we had to leave now! Apparently, they had my reservation for the return trip. My daughter was petrified to get back on a horse. My husband spoke to the lady, explained our situation, and she pointed to our (new) Guide. My Husband, Rick, spoke with him and he was assured the man would care for us fully. He apologized for the inappropriate treatment on the way down and assured Rick all would be well. Rick suggested Chloe sit on the SAME horse, and that we just ride the 2.2 miles to the village to see how things went, particularly because he was concerned about my foot if I walked to the Helicopter. Our guide stayed close to us as we had told him about our ride down. He was very nice, and calmed Chloe to the point she was ready to get back on her own horse. We proceeded to the hilltop with our guide close at hand.
On the last third of our ride, a mule train went past us with about a dozen mules. I watched as one wrangler picked up fist-sized rocks and threw them at the mule’s heads, hitting them, apparently to herd them back onto the trail! I could not believe the blatant abuse.
As we approached the last half mile of the trail on the steep switchbacks, the mule train that had passed us earlier, at a fast trot, was ahead of us. One of the mules had tripped and fallen. It was tied to another mule, which was pulled down with the first. They both tumbled down the trail. Hikers ahead of us saw the whole thing and thought for sure the mule had broken its leg. As we came around the corner, we saw a mule laying on its side with its head over the edge, heaving. The wranglers were laughing and joking as they looked at the mule. We had to dismount (so our horses would remain calm) and wait to see what would happen.
The wranglers took off all of the gear from the mule and began to whip it to get it to stand up. The poor animal finally rose and it’s whole right flank was covered in blood, it’s flesh ripped. Then they proceeded to put all the gear BACK ONTO THE INJURED MULE and proceeded up the trail! As we passed by the spot where the animal had fallen, there was a large pool of blood. At this point, I was ready to get off my horse and walk the rest of the way.
At the top of the trail we saw the poor creature standing (in shock) at the tie-up post, not able to lower his foot. They had taken the bags off of it but had done nothing else for the animal. Many of the hikers and I could not believe the wranglers were not caring in any way for this mule. The wranglers were sitting on our bags and smoking pot and laughing. I went over to them and told them that the mule needed some help and one of them said he “would give it aromatherapy” later. They all laughed. I was disgusted, saddened, and angry.
I spoke to our guide and asked where the water troughs were for the mules. He told me that they don’t have water at Hilltop. It has to be trucked in and they don’t have the equipment to do that. So these mules and horses run from the village to Hilltop which is 8 miles, get no water and sometimes no feed at the top, get packed up with heavy gear and head back down the trail another 8 miles. I know that mules are beasts of burden, but they deserve adequate care and nourishment. What I saw was flat out abuse. No wonder the horses run down to the village (as was our experience on day 1)–they are thirsty and hungry. The mules were eating dirt and licking trailer hitches in the parking lot.
When the rest of our group made it out of the canyon and we were heading out, we passed the injured mule wandering the parking lot. It made me sick to see this animal continuing to suffer.
Hikers in our group witnessed another mule being mishandled on the trail that day. The mule had gotten wedged between two rocks, and fallen sideways when the Indians attempted to yank him out. Since they couldn’t roll him over against the cliff face, they tied its front and back legs with ropes and rolled it over on it’s back–PACKS and ALL, crushing the poor hiker’s bags atop the mule. It turns out it was ours! I was told the wranglers were laughing the whole time.
There were dead mules in crevasses, stinking up the upper switchback trail, and blood on the trail at multiple locations. Many of the mules had open sores and were severely thin.
The Havasupai Tribe needs to be held accountable for their cruel abuse of these mules. Had I known that this is how they treat their animals, I would NEVER have scheduled this trip. I am so disgusted by what I saw that I doubt I will ever return to Havasupai. That my money funded such animal abuse and drug use is a source of great guilt. It’s frankly appalling.
The people of Arizona need to know that this is happening and stop supporting this particular tourist industry until humane corrections are made. It’s ironic that Havasu Falls appears on the cover of this month’s Arizona Highways Magazine. While the falls are beautiful, the experience is an embarrassment to the state, the Havasupai tribe, and to me as a parent before my children.
I pray other families are spared our experience: to have planned a wonderful memory to Havasupai and come home traumatized as we did. Please help me find a way to stop this animal abuse on the Havasupai Reservation.
A Veterinarians account:
While I was in the village helping with some animals (I am a veterinarian), we saw a very large man attempting to mount a smaller statured horse from the ground. Each time he tried to heave himself up into the saddle, the horse would step aside, not in a naughty way but more in a “counterbalance his bulk” way. The man’s response was to grab the horse’s halter/bridle and punch it round the head/neck. This went on for what felt like forever, as we stopped the gator and all sat and watched in stunned silence. At one point someone in our party asked if they could at least go help, to hold the horse so that he could mount and would stop hitting the horse. We were advised by the natives with us that this was a very bad idea since he … would probably attack whomever offered assistance. Before he was mounted, we drove away.
About an hour later, individually, members of our party witnessed this man riding his horse throughout the village… I think it was about 2-2.5 hours between when we saw him attempting to mount to when he came to the vet clinic to have his horse seen. Someone (not me) had talked him into bringing the horse for veterinary crisis care. So, in other words, he just rode this horse around the village, wandering aimlessly, for 2.5 hours, no purpose or destination that anyone could tell.
When the horse was brought to me, it was clear that his eye was chronically damaged, as well as extremely painful… It was honestly one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It took about 9 months or so before I could speak about it without breaking down