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Pardon My French, But Rent The Damn Horses

Again today, someone posted on social media telling someone who was planning on visiting Havasupai Falls, “Don’t rent the horses!  They are mistreated!” I swear, if I see one more person on social media post about how you shouldn’t rent the horses down at Havasupai Falls I’m going to flip my lid.

I don’t know if any of those people have actually been down there or all they’re doing is passing on somebody else’s opinion.  But I don’t know how anyone can personally visit there and all they come back with is how the horses are mistreated.  Because in reality, if all you see is the horses that I don’t even know what kind of human being you are.

Because the fact is, in order to visit Havasupai Falls you have to walk through THIRD WORLD POVERTY conditions.  Not unlike many Native American reservations in America today.

One of the initial things that I noticed is that the first building when you walk into town is a Head Start preschool school house. Head Start is a federal program designated for low-income families. The fact that the only preschool in town is designated for low income families is your first clue.

I don’t know how you can miss the derelict homes with the windows boarded up, roofs sagging, broken appliances in the front yard. People waiting in line for services at the community center for services.  I didn’t see one home that looks like a decent place for human being to live.  Maybe because I work with the low income population I am more aware of the signs than the average American but the poverty seemed pretty obvious.



This?  This is WIC which stands for Women, Infant and Children and it is a food stamp supplement program that ensures this population gets the nutrition it needs.

At the grocery stores you pay outrageous prices for basic food items. Can you imagine how much things cost if they all have to be flown in via helicopter or packed in on horses?

This isn’t some reenactment, rendition or simulation of some quaint Native American village. You’re not at Yellowstone or Yosemite in a national park.  This isn’t some resort town with employees shipped in for the season.  You are not on some dude ranch in Montana.  This is real life, folks. You are literally walking through an impoverished corner of the United States so that you can sit in your swimsuit next to a beautiful waterfall that you can later post on Instagram for all your friends to see.  You get to go home from your vacation, your holiday, where you witnessed a village in poverty and you want to complain about the treatment of the HORSES?

Did you make eye contact with anyone?  That young woman picking up your garbage on the trail as you hiked in?  That older gentleman sitting in the shade out of the hot sun counting tourists as they walked by to make sure everyone pays?  That teenage boy walking through the campground with his headphones, most likely making a little money to make sure you have a wristband on?

You might say, but we pay those huge registration fees!

Did you stop for one minute to think about what it would mean to live in such an isolated place?  They might as well be on a deserted island. Did you see an helicopter flying overhead? No, not the one carrying well paying tourists in.  The one carrying in basic food and medical supplies.  Toilet paper. Did you think about what it must cost to have to have your daily needs brought in by HELICOPTER? Your $100 buys someone a week’s worth of dinner for the family, a new roof on the school, a basketball hoop.  Maybe it buys a kid a new pair of shoes, school supplies or helps them go to college.

Those horses are owned by people living in poverty eeking out a living through your vacation dollars.  I am by no means an expert on animal well being.  And I am all for the proper treatment of animals.  But I will tell you that what I saw were not mistreated horses but horses that live in the SAME conditions as the people who live there and whose owners treat them the best they can with what little they have because those horses ARE THEIR LIVELIHOOD.

I shopped in BOTH stores, paying $8 for orange juice and $15 for some cheap Havasupai lanyard because I CAN.  If I had known the conditions, I might have even RENTED THE DAMN HORSES.  I have never felt my privilege more then when walking through the town of Supai. I have to say I was actually embarrassed to be visiting and if I had known I might not have gone.  It is one of the reasons that I really have no desire to go back there despite the beauty.

What does it say about you that you will call out the condition of those horses over the conditions that the PEOPLE are living in?  I think people need to get off their high horse (pun intended) and take a closer look at the HUMAN BEINGS around them.


Editor’s note:  I did have the thought that maybe this was just one extension of the Supai tribe and there must be others living outside the canyon.  You know, like another reservation. With nicer conditions.  Where does the money go?  So I asked in town on our way out and was told that in fact the entire tribe does live in the canyon.  There are not others living in better conditions. That’s it folks.  But even if there were, the story is the same for those in the village. And NO, I am not telling you to ACTUALLY rent the horses (unless you really want to).

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7 thoughts on “Pardon My French, But Rent The Damn Horses

  1. Thank you for this perspective. I’ve never been to Supai and can’t comment firsthand on the specific conditions but I would like to say I really appreciate you pointing out the ACTUAL PROBLEMS. I’m vegan and thus obviously feel pretty strongly about animal welfare but it drives me absolutely crazy when (some) vegans are so black and white on the issues that they condemn something like subsistence farming/homesteading as practiced by rural and low-income residents because they don’t want to see animals killed or even “used” as is the case with horses or donkeys. I also see a related phenomenon when people focus on the fate of household pets in disaster areas instead of the fact that people are DYING without supplies like drinking water and food. So again, thank you for pointing out the real issue in that there are people living in extremely substandard conditions – and using (not abusing) any available resources to feed their families.

    1. Absolutely! I totally understand why people advocate for the proper treatment of animals but I don’t think it should be at the expense of human lives.

  2. I have been to Supai, and I can tell you that the abuse is real. I witnessed it myself. Two tribe members have been arrested in the last couple of years for pack animal abuse, and another just had some of his animals confiscated Just because you didn’t see it when you were there, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Yes there is poverty; there are also some people down there making 100k per year on the backs of these animals. The pack animal business is a complicated matter. Most of the money is going to a few individuals, the ringleader being a white man who doesn’t even live on the reservation but is married to a tribe member. The culture of neglect and abuse has been going on for more than 50 years, but the abuse of alcohol, meth and other drugs has made the violence against women children and animals even worse in the last decade or two. Theft, sexual assaults, incest and domestic violence are rampant in Supai. A female Japanese tourist was murdered down there in 2006, but the tribe keeps all of this very quiet. The blog writer is incorrect. Many members of the tribe live in other locations off the reservation specifically Flagstaff, Peach Springs, Phoenix and Kingman. Only 200-300 people live down in the Canyon, and the population fluctuates. The tribe is currently building $1 million tribal office complex. They have the resources to care for their animals properly, but for a whole variety reasons, they have not done so. A recent change in in leadership will hopefully bring improvement in the condition of all animals. However, reports continue to roll in, the most recent being on December 26, 2017 which resulted in four horses being seized from a tribal wrangler.

  3. I think all the points you make here are valid but what was overlooked is that the primary group advocating for change for these animals has addressed the poverty issues of the tribe repeatedly. They never overlooked the tribal members for horses; were never dismissive regarding the abject poverty of most of the tribe. Rather they address the issue of how animals are treated because they are the primary income for these people. You don’t need money to treat the animals with decency. The focus has been on not providing water, overloading with weight then running them in extreme temperatures, beating them merciless when they collapse, leaving them to die on trails defenseless against wild animals who attack and eat them while still alive, to name a few. All of this clearly documented with pictures, videos, eyewitness testimonials by people who, like you, have actually been there including reports from tribe members. The treatment of these horses is not a poverty issue but an integrity issue. Money is not necessary for kindness. Decency is free. In addition, you did not address the large amount of fees earned by the owners and tribe. You never asked where that money went. You also never addressed all the donations of feed, equipment, services and monies which were donated to the tribe to care for the horses. What happened to all of that? There is much more to this situation than is represented here. It would be worth every one’s time to take another look at the entire issue rather than just this one facet.

    1. Thank you, Rita and Marie, for your comments and sharing your experience and what I must assume is information you have gathered since your own visits. I am glad to hear that animal abuse is being reported and the people responsible are being persecuted. Yes, I am aware of the crimes, actions and events you mention, they have received plenty of press and any number of web searches will produce a multitude of articles about them. What is not available in online articles and in social media posts is a multitude of people talking about the poverty of the people living in the Supai village.
      I would like to simply point out that this is an opinion piece based on MY experience and what I personally saw. Nowhere in it do I say that animal abuse is not happening. Nowhere do I say that crimes and the things you mention are not happening. I talk about what I saw and I felt. I am a blogger and it is my blog sharing my experience and opinion. This is a rant about people who talk about the animal abuse and fail to mention the conditions the people exist in.
      My opinion is that most of the people who cry out on social media about the animal abuse in Supai have not personally witnessed it (including a friend of mine who was the impetus for this post) and that they have been given an incomplete picture of the conditions in Supai by people who have returned who only talk about the animal abuse and not the horrific conditions that the people live in there. Putting the word “poverty” into the search box of the main group advocating for these animals comes up with ONE result and it is in quotation marks to diminish its importance and credibility.
      Because I was aware of the reports of animal abuse BEFORE I went on my trip, it was completely on my mind as we passed each animal and yet I saw none of the wounds and poor treatment that others had, say on the website Stop Animal Violence where you have reported your experiences. And if I had, my story would have included that, as well. Trust me, if my friend who has much more experience with horses than I had seen it, she would have let me know. But if you take a chance to go back and read what I wrote without your bias, you would recognize that my opinion is that the people of Supai living in poverty deserve attention, even more so, and should not be left out of the reports of the conditions there. If there are people living outside the village making millions while the people in the village suffer that makes it even worse! Where is the outcry about that in your story about what you saw there? I don’t see anywhere on the SAVE website a mention (let only pictures and video) about the conditions that the people there live in while others are making millions and I believe that is WRONG. That website portrays an image that everyone who is Supai and living here is a criminal, guilty of animal abuse, by neglecting to talk about the whole picture of life in the village.
      Your comments here (and many I have read by people who talk about the animal abuse) illustrate the judgement and misunderstanding that a lot of people have about life on a reservation, native people, and what it means to live in the cycle of poverty. It is filled with assumptions about what should and shouldn’t be from a middle class or upper class way of thinking. Neglecting to talk about the conditions of the people alongside the animals demonstrates that. By focusing on the behavior of a few as if it represents the entire tribe does a disservice. Nowhere on that site does it reference the poverty issues you mention here in your comments and only one sentence briefly mentioning the possibility of decent people living in Supai. Nowhere does it reference the “abuse of alcohol, meth and other drugs has made violence against women children”.
      You can cry out for the animals as that is your right. I can choose to cry out for the people, as that is mine. Since I personally did not witness the animal abuse I can’t speak to that and it clear there are people successfully doing that quite well. My guess is you landed here randomly on my site while looking for stories to support your cause and are upset because I don’t mimic your experience, repeat information I didn’t see myself, or see the animals over the people. But I have allowed your comments to post and even added the website you are connected to so hopefully you can feel your voice has been heard (not sure why you didn’t choose to include the site yourself). Maybe you can go back now and think about the message you send by only addressing one facet of the problem in Supai when you share your experiences on SAVE. I am entirely certain that it receives more attention than the 35 people (as per my stats on this post) who read my opinion before you arrived.

      1. Thank you Snuffy, for not only posting but responding to my comments. There is no doubt that poverty is one of the reasons the animals are poorly treated. However, some of the most frequent abusers make plenty of money but they choose to spend it on alcohol and drugs instead of on feed and veterinary care for their animals. Having been in Supai, I felt for the women and children as much as the animals as they are all victims of the very dysfunctional culture that exists down there. I personally ran into the tribal chairman Don Watahomigie, who struck me as an individual who cares only about his own interests. Fortunately he just got voted out. I happen to know someone who lives in the village and have an insiders view of what goes on there. Much of the poverty and dysfunction is due to greed and mismanagement by certain members of the tribe, some of them in Council positions, some of them in power positions because of the passive social structure. Until these issues are addressed, no amount of sympathy will do anything to help the abominable condition that most Havasupai children are raised in; the same with the animals. Just because a group or person primarily advocates for animals, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about vulnerable tribe members too . In fact, there are many individuals and groups that over the years, have done their best to help the women and children and elders and other good people in the tribe, and still do. But the tribe is very slow to make changes or accept help, especially when you have corruption and greed in the mix, which if exposed would bring even more embarrassment and shame onto the tribe.

        1. Thank you, Rita. It would be interesting to see if your thoughts shared here make it over there to the website right alongside the advocacy for the animals.

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