The following testimony was submitted to SAVE and is used with the author's permission. There are also many tourist reviews that tell the story of systemic abuse toward the pack animals at Supai.
WARNING - GRAPHIC CONTENT: The following videos were taken by tourists to Havasu Falls.
"I fell to my knees in tears for what I saw"
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.
"The most majestic lie you will ever see"
Danee D.; visited Supai May 2017
"May 2017 - a family vacation we will never forget. One because it was the most beautiful thing our eyes had ever seen and two because it was the most disturbing thing our eyes had ever seen. As a group the only thing we had known about Havasupai going in was the people are rude, the sights are insane, and the wait to get in is forever.
Before I start this story may I make clear, I myself grew up on a large ranch and raised, rode, sold, bred, raced, trained, roped, and loved horses my entire life. Two others in our group are horse owners, and one is a well known veterinarian and vet school professor. So not being tender hearted animal activists we understand the job of animals as well as some of the injuries that may go along with those jobs. THIS IS FAR BEYOND A JOB! This is DISGUSTING.
So as we made our way down the canyon we saw legs of horses a few times. It was odd to me, but seeing where we were I figured it was coyote trophies strung along the trail. Then there came a pack of horses that looked to be 3 to 5 years old and haggard. Thin, dehydrated, limping, saddle sores, bloody noses, and exhausted. I was so sad to see them running passed us. An hour or so later another pair came running at us and the vet stood out in the way and caught them. One of the horses had a large hernia and was bleeding profusely from a wound.
A few seconds later appeared the wrangler riding a horse who was appalled we had interfered with his horses. The vet explained to him that she thought they were loose and didn't know they were supposed to be running back like that and then proceeded to tell him that his horse was hurt. He ignored her and then told her to be quiet as he spanked the horses and made them run off. This is where our tripped turned sour. Group after group of horses kept whizzing passed us. No watering holes or buckets for horses but many hidden blue coolers filled with beer and water for the [wranglers] along their way.
Once we got in the village we saw many horses that were in horrific shape. Emaciated, hurt, and exhausted. We explored the grounds and not one bale of hay was there nor a bag of cubes, grain, pellets, supplements, or anything else that normal horses eat. The vet came upon some fresh horse poop along the path and she picked it up and pulled it apart. Her head hung in defeat and said these horses are eating dirt and trash. They have adapted to living as scavengers and finding anything they can. [There] were patches of grass around the village but none of this was in their corrals or pastures.
A few times we stopped and talked to people while on horse back mostly because we were trying to give the horses and break and because the vet was trying to assess the animals. She asked one man what his horse's name was and he gave attitude and asked why. His horse's nose was bleeding and it was literally exhausted and shaking underneath him. She asked who she could talk to about giving free vet checks and horse care and even offered training to the people of the village. He grew upset and took off.
It seemed every time we saw something beautiful that blew our minds it was quickly tarnished by the sheer hatred these people carry and the despair these animals live in. Not a single horse was taken care of there, not ONE. We tried to think of ways to help, but these beasts don't want help, they want your money. We need to figure out a way to get every breathing animal out of that village. Most of the trail down and can be accessed with a rhino or quads, they need to use those not animals.
Please people, I am begging you to do whatever is in your power to stop these people from being able to own animals. Stop contributing to their cause. We need to find a way to stop their funding. We HAVE to stop these people."
"These are the photos he didn't want me to take"
Julietta; visited Supai June 11-12, 2017
"These photos were at the Hilltop Tuesday 6/12 at 10:20am. The Native wrangler asked me and a man next to me using a GoPro camera to stop taking photos. The man stopped and walked away and I asked the wrangler why I couldn't take photos... he mumbled something and walked away.
These are the photos he didn't want me to take.This last photo you could see the horse has open sores and one is bleeding ... I was so mad and I cried and cried until the wrangler saw me and moved the horse away from the fence.
By the way. The wrangler never removed nor re-positioned the mule's gear. I was there for at least 10-15 minutes taken photos and instead of him taking care of this mule upon his arrival to the Hilltop, he star[t]ed unloading the other mules first."
"He was visibly heaving in the sun, POURING sweat"
Courtney; visited Supai May 5. 2017
"My 2 young daughters, my mother and myself witnessed collapse and abuse of a horse on our 5/5/17 trip to Havasupai. This poor guy was saddled and tied in the hot sun on the switchbacks on our trek down. Plenty of shade with room for people to still walk past not even 100 yards in front of and behind him. He was visibly heaving in the sun, POURING sweat. We have video. We tried giving him water, which he wouldn't take.
As we walked away we saw him collapse as the rider kicked him and yelled at him, pulling his reins to get him back up. The rider then pulled the saddle and bridle off, exposing all of his saddle sores. We walked back yelling at him asking him why he was tied in the sun. He was cussing at us and told us he does it all the time and was just taking a rest. This was a horrible experience for my young daughters. They cried and cried. We have pictures of all of this."
Horse collapses and is forced to continue packing
Morgan Daigle; visited Supai May 2017
A tourist in May of 2017 Las Vegas veterinarian Dr. Morgan Daiglehiked the canyon and witnessed a healthy looking horse collapse under the weight of heavy ice chests. It took 10 minutes for the wrangler to untie all the ropes, remove the ice chests, and then.
"As soon as the horse stood up, they re-tied all the ice chests on him and sent him on back up the hill. It was heartbreaking," Daigle said.
"The most disgusting, heart wrenching animal abuse words cannot describe"
Submitted by Chelsea C.; visited Supai April 2017
I just recently visited Havasupai for the first time and although it is amazingly beautiful there, I couldn't get something off my mind. The horses and mules at Havasupai are mistreated and abused.
While hiking down through the canyon I witnessed mules with open wounds due to the straps rubbing against them and their packs weighing them down. Then to my horror, my husband and I witnessed the most disgusting, heart wrenching animal abuse words cannot describe. We were about a half mile from the trail head and we saw an all black horse fall to his knees, the wrangler jumped off his horse and began to kick the horse to get up. The horse was not able to get up so the man started throwing rocks at the horse.
While all this was happening the rope that they use to tie down everyone's baggage was caught on a rock and choking the horse. Once the man saw that the horse couldn't breathe he began to take the bags off the horse. My husband offered to help the man but he was aggravated and did not accept. We quickly made our way to the top of the trail head to tell the other workers including the "park ranger" but they could care less. I am disgusted and I will do everything I can to help those animal[s].
"Some Horses Were Bleeding It Was Rubbing Their Skin So Badly"
Submitted by a tourist who visited Supai March 4-8, 2017
When first walking into the village the horse was on the right side. We took this on our way out. When we first saw the horse on the way in, it was standing and had to bend its back right leg because of the overgrown hoof.
From what we saw there were a few select houses that seemed to take well care of their horses. Others you could see their ribs and were not well groomed. As for the horses and mules they use for hauling people's belongings in and out of the canyon, they looked the worst. They had no hair where the straps rubbed them. Some horses were bleeding it was rubbing their skin so badly. After seeing the way they were not being cared for, we were SO HAPPY that we backpacked our gear in and out of the Canyon.
"We Have To Do Something To Stop This"
Submitted by a tourist - March 13, 2017
Hiked 24 miles within 30 hours. With a 35lb bag on my back. Half of it was inclined almost straight up... all to see this.
We have to do something to stop this. Please share this. I know it's hard to look at but make a difference please. I paid for this awhile back and didn't know about the abuse going on. I cried and cried at this place taking these pictures and I have more that are worse.
They use these horse mules to carry people's coolers and luggage down that are too lazy to carry it on the hike. *note this Indian tribe location makes well over 20 million dollars a year off of tourist.
These horses carry hundreds of lbs roped to them up and down a canyon multiple times a day with no water and no food. Then some are tied to a tree so they can't even sit down. They have no grass to eat and eat each other's poop and I only saw water once.
Please help me spread this. DO NOT VISIT HAVASU FALLS.
I wish I would have seen this before they had my money so the only thing I can do is spread the word and pictures to try to make it stop.
Broken Legs and Left For Dead
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Submitted by an anonymous tourist - February 2017
In July or Aug of 2015 we hiked out and witnessed a terrible horse incident. A young less experienced horse was to tied to a mule. The younger one spooked during a whipping by the handler (tribal wrangler) and backed off a cliff, then tumbled to its death. The mule landed on a ledge, breaking it’s back legs. The handler had no remorse for the younger horse and left it to the coyotes.
The (mule) on the ledge was older and had a bad limp prior to the incident. The horse handler ( wrangler) and the pack of horses (about a dozen) passed us on the hike out. We noticed the dark horse (mule) had a bad limp and commented on it. The handler tied it to the younger, stronger horse. The old one couldn't make the last stretch so he whipped it causing the younger horse to rear up and plummeted down (to its death).
After some great struggle and some help from my wife and I, we got ( the mule) it to its feet.... I had no way to put it down short of pushing it off the cliff. I heavily contemplated doing so but we decided to comfort it instead. Broke our hearts. We were met with great disrespect from the handler.
Sadly, I don't know the outcome of the mule. I'm certain that it died. I contemplated a mercy kill as I have assisted suffering animals b4, but the only way I could figure was pushing it off the cliff and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I was also concerned about falling from the ledge myself. We petted it for about an hour and then went home.
The Indian ( wrangler) was a fat man in all black with a black hat, he was nothing short of a belligerent a-hole. I asked him if he would be putting the animal down and he told me 'I'll leave that f@#$% mule to the coyotes'. I told him I'd help him put it down if he needed. No answer just glared at me. I responded that I thought natives respect animals. He told me 'f you' and started speaking native. I told him that he should be ashamed. Again he told me “ F you ."
Nothing Has Changed for the Horses and Mules
Submitted by: Katie S., December 2016
My boyfriend and I hiked to the Havsupai Village at the end of December. We hiked in on December 29th, 2016. We saw a few different groups of mules and horses traveling to the hilltop and to the village, passing each other on the narrow trail that leads up the canyon. That is where we saw the first broken leg on the trail. It was laying there on the rocky trail that goes up the canyon. That is also where I took the photo of the mules that were obviously being over packed. We then later saw another broken leg on the trail closer to the village.
Going into the village I noticed that the mules and horses were being kept in very small spaces either tied on short ropes or in little pits full of feces. Some were laying in feces and obviously not being cared for, fed enough or treated well. I saw that they did not have food or water and that many of them were obviously malnourished. It was hard for me to enjoy my time on this beautiful reservation because of the obvious animal neglect that exists there. It was obvious that these people had very little respect for their animals, although the dogs did not seem as neglected as the horses and mules.
A Supai Experience Ruined By Signs of Cruelty
Submitted by: Rita G., October 2016
I took a trip to Havasupai this weekend -Oct 27-30- with the Wildland Trekking company. We began our hike at approx. 9 am on Friday. We were told to bring only 10 lbs of personal stuff as this goes on the mules and they have a 140lb weight limit. Because we left prior to the mules arriving, our guides could not see which mules our gear was packed on, or how much weight went on each animal. I saw no water or feed anywhere.
We were passed by 2-3 strings of mules coming up the switchback portion of the trail. They looked to be a healthy weight but I couldn't see under their pack saddles, so unsure of overall condition. They were dripping with sweat from the 8 mile trek from the village. The mule strings were walking FAST up this portion, and I saw one “ packer” run his mules a short distance up the switchback portion of the trail. These animals were on treacherous rocky trail and looked exhausted. These same strings passed us later going down the trail, some carrying our gear. They were at a slow trot, heavily loaded and dripping sweat.
Coming into the shockingly dilapidated village I noticed a small grey donkey with horribly overgrown hooves. I also saw a small skinny horse (or pony?) and 4-5 very skinny horses tied up in a pen near a camping trailer, right off the trail. I was aghast. This pretty much ruined my trip and I hadn’t even gotten to the falls yet.
I overheard one guest asking about the welfare of the pack mules and one of our guides told him “ Mules are kind of like *camels. They can go a lot longer without food and water.” I asked him where he got that information and he said “ from another guide.” He also said "they get food and water at the top.” I told him that I didn’t see any water or food up there, but he insisted there were "water tanks” at the top. When we arrived at the campground all our gear was set up. One guide told me not to go to the village because “ it's too dangerous; they have social problems.”
On Sat. eve I was near the campground entrance when I saw two thin exhausted looking mules covered with sweat. They were tied together and had wandered away and were eating vines across from the frybread stand. They looked very hungry.
I was shocked at their condition, and when I looked closely I saw a very large deep wound/hole the on the side of the gray mule. Poor thing! There were approx. 30 people standing right there when this happened. Then I heard yelling and laughing. There were 3 Supai men drinking and hollering near the horses. I walked over and asked them “ are those your mules?” and of them replied ( in very slurred speech " you should have brought them back to us.” I then asked why his horse was so thin, and he slurred “ this is spirited horse you know.”
I was really shocked to see this. The packer finally got on his horse —took a few tries—and then he and his mules wandered up the trail. The other guy didn’t even try to get on his horse. Prob too drunk. Needless to say I was very upset and it totally ruined my experience.
* SAVE contacted an equine veterinarian who told us the following. "Mules and horses are absolutely NOT physiologically similar to camels when it comes to food and water requirements. A horse in moderate to heavy exercise can lose 10 to 15 liters of fluid per hour through sweat. Not only are they losing water, but they are also losing electrolytes critical to body function. Even moderate dehydration and electrolyte loss can result in muscle cramps, nerve dysfunction, and heart problems; all of which are exacerbated as exercise continues without the replenishment of water and electrolytes.
It is absolutely critical that horses be allowed to drink during and immediately after strenuous exercise to replenish water loss. Ideally, electrolyte replenishment would also be provided however it is critical that this be administered alongside free choice, fresh water. There are large bodies of scientific research from around the world studying exercise physiology and the effects of water and electrolyte loss during exercise in the horse. This is not new information, the need for water post exercise and electrolyte replacement is so ingrained it is now considered basic Horsemanship."
***THERE IS STILL NO FOOD OR WATER AT HILLTOP!!!***
Two Sisters "Appalled and Devastated" By What They Saw
Submitted by: Margaret, April 2016
My sister Katherine and I just returned from a trip to Havasupai yesterday. To say that we were appalled and totally devastated by what we saw there, is an understatement. We witnessed too many horses to count, that were not only horrifically malnourished, but also horses that had fresh, bleeding wounds (just on Monday 4/18/16 we witnessed this) and oozing sores all over their backs. We were so shocked it immediately reduced us both to tears. My sister has some photographs and she will send them to you for documentation. I have spent my entire morning googling who to contact and what I can do to stop this cruelty, which is how I came upon your name and contact information.
I want to be involved in helping your campaign, in any/every capacity that I can. Please let me know what I can do, beyond using social media as a platform to spread awareness (which I will be doing on yelp and trip advisor later).
Note: Thanks to the diligent efforts of these women, one of the horses pictured in this testimony was later released from the canyon and placed into an equine sanctuary. Read about Pace's incredible journey.
One Vet's Traumatic Experience in the Village
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Submitted by: Anonymous - April 2015
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.
"I knew something was wrong...all of a sudden he fell to the ground"
Submitted by Anjanette R.; Visited August 6, 2012
I absolutely love this hike, it is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. If I ever go there again I will carry my own things down and I urge you to also carry yours. I had a very sad incident happen to me as well. I noticed one of the horses banging its leg against the rail at the top. I knew something was wrong and all of a sudden he fell to the ground. I went over and told the owner or whoever he was that his horse fell and he said it was his first time to make the hike out.
I asked can you give him water and he told me that there is NO water at the top for the horses. So these poor horses have to get a drink in the creek at the bottom before they come 8 miles up and then 8 miles back with no water. I was so mad. I had a few gallons of water in my car so my husband cut one open like a bowl and made him drink and also poured another one on his back. It was 105°outside. Just disgusting. I believe we saved that horse's life. I will NEVER use them again
Tourists Try to Help Pack Injured Pack Animals
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Submitted by: Matthias - January 1, 2011
Very cold morning. started w/ 4 pack animals still roped together, had apparently been spooked by coyote or so overnight, fallen off trail, pack loads still on. 2 dead. we cut them lose. the small donkey managed to eventually get on its own feet. removed load from mule, and tried foe almost two hours to get it onto its feet.
eventually almost succeeded, but then it again fell over backwards, struggled, ended upside down, head down in ravine. we continued to try to dig it out, was super dangerous, even just the head whipping back nad forth, we needed to dig to get it out, using rocks, poled, wood. feet dangerously close. eventually had to give up.
an hour or so later, in upper hualapi canyon actually ran into the dude who apparently was too drunk the night before to get his mule-train down, and just tied them off overnight in hermite ... we did report this to the havasupai nation, see the delivery receipt/order. do not remember if they took any action.
that was my first day ever on havasupai land ... :(
Havasupai Horror - Animal Abuse
Susan Burress - November 6, 2006
Note: Below is an excerpt from this tourist testimony. Read the full story.
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.