"I fell to my knees in tears for what I saw happening within my arms reach."
On November 18, 2017, just after the most recent Humane Society (HSUS) of Arizona's "service trips" to Havasu Falls to help care for the pack animals there, something Kellye Pinkelton, Director of HSUS of Arizona called a "big step," SAVE received this disturbing email that was sent out to all the outfitters who run pack animals in Havasupai land.
"As an avid outdoor adventurer, I write you with a sincere heart. I beg you to be part of the solution on behalf of all of us who appreciate the beauty of your state and all it has to offer. On November 4th and 5th of this year, my husband and I carried our own backpacks and savored the beauty of Havasupai, an experience we'll never forget. We were fortunate to obtain a reservation for one night. On the hike down and up, we witnessed the following:
- Overloaded horses of all sizes forced to run on the toughest, rocky terrain while tied together by ropes.
- There was virtually no way for the front wrangler to notice if a horse was having trouble keeping up because the string of horses was so long.
- A severely obese wrangler gruffly handling his horse trying to get it to obey and then mounting the horse and forcing it to run.
- Open sores from straps rubbing the horses bodies.
- Frustrated wranglers trying to get more on the back of a small horse whose girth was not wide enough to handle the load.
- Numerous horses tied to barbed wire or fence with very short ropes unable to move.
- No water, food or grass anywhere in sight.
These horses are being mistreated and mishandled, overloaded and desperate for humans to recognize their plight. Even if you think you can control these conditions by whom you hire to support your tour groups, it gets back to SUPPLY and DEMAND. As tour owners, you control the demand far more than anyone. I beg you to reconsider this practice and stop justifying that you only use wranglers and horses that are well cared for. You can't control it and you are making assumptions that your "pick and choose" method is reliable.
The demand for reservations is so great that tourists who can't put the pack on their own back will pay for the helicopter option. Supplies were hanging from many helicopters----so there is another way. And if the helicopter is too expensive, you should fill your slots with the thousands of tourists who can carry their own packs. We saw dozens of 20 yr olds hiking without their own pack. If the option isn't there to use a horse, tourists who really want to go will either pay more or get in decent enough shape to backpack. You will fill your slots because of the destination. You know this.
Please stop using pack horses for your tours. Hiking out of Havasupai I fell to my knees in tears for what I saw happening within my arms reach. And the wranglers looked angry and miserable also. The pressure to get those loads back and forth is breaking them too. Use your compassion as a selling point. I'll donate my time and energy to produce a video commentary you can put on your site about why you chose compassionate tours and how your clients funds are supporting the Supai tribe in the right way. I recognize their are "behind the scenes" arrangements that must be going on between the tribal council leaders and the tour companies. I just beg you to find another negotiating strategy to get those reservation spots in exchange for financial benefits to the tribe.
I'm aware the plight of these horses isn't a new topic. I'm sure some conditions may have improved compared to years ago. But I am an eye witness--- what we saw 2 weeks ago was far from acceptable. I have attached some photos and only wish I could have stopped the horse trains to get other more disturbing ones. If you are willing to set an example in your industry, if you'd be willing to re-visit this issue as long as your competitors did to, let me know if I can help facilitate any type of pact. For the sake of those poor horses, I'd do just about anything.
Thank you for your serious consideration.