Horse News

Navajo Nation eyes agreement reining in slaughter of wild horses



By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – The first effort of its kind to prevent wild horses roaming the Navajo Nation in the U.S. Southwest from being sent to slaughter in Mexico has gained the preliminary approval of tribal leaders, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said on Thursday.

Under a draft agreement that still must be reviewed by the tribe, a foundation established by Richardson and actor Robert Redford would provide funds and expertise to the Navajo Nation to halt reservation roundups that have seen thousands of wild horses shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico.

  The impact of intensive grazing by wild horses in a high-desert reservation that spans more than 27,000 square miles (70,000 square km) of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah has been compounded by drought and led to competition with livestock for sparse vegetation, said Rick Abasta, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

  The roundups by the nation’s agriculture department and the fate of the captured animals has ignited controversy among the tribe’s more than 300,000 enrolled members, including wild horse advocates, Abasta said.

The issue has divided a tribal nation whose economy relies in part on free-range cattle and sheep but which also reveres horses.

“The Navajo elders have a saying which translates into English as ‘Our horses are sacred,'” said Abasta.

Richardson, whose second term as New Mexico governor ended in 2011, said he and Redford formed the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife with the aim of aiding wild horses.

“Our main objective is to stop the roundups and stop the horse slaughter,” said Richardson, who said Redford is a fellow horse enthusiast who owns a home in New Mexico.

Richardson said the agreement would first seek to identify the number of wild horses on the reservation, where estimates have ranged from several thousand to more than 70,000.

If ultimately approved, the deal, which proposes such methods as birth control to keep wild herds in check, would be the first of its kind on Indian lands and perhaps in the nation, he said.

“The Navajos are the biggest tribe in the country. If we strike an agreement here, it will set an example for other tribes that still slaughter,” Richardson said.

Abasta said the nation’s newly elected president is seeking feedback from tribal members.

“President Begaye wants a little more time to gather the input of grassroots organizations, ranchers and others to determine how best to go forward on implementing the agreement,” he said.

9 replies »

  1. Just exactly HOW are there up to 70,000 WILD horses on the reservation? I have always been under the impression that these horses were owned by the Navahos. I can believe there might be a few actual mustangs, but honestly cant accept that all of these horses on the reservation are wild horses. The other thing is, why in the world have the herds been allowed to get so big? Certainly they could geld some if not all the stallions. It only makes sense to keep the herd size down, especially if they rely on free-range cattle & sheep. Unless the whole idea of the huge herds was to send them to slaughter.
    Its a good thing if they agree not to slaughter all of the horses BUT what is going to become of them?


    • You are right Maggie. I lived on the reservation for about 20 years providing health care. There are so many horses that are not fenced in, mostly in Arizona, New Mexico has a law against it at least on main highways. There are so many motor vehicle crashes involving Horses, cattle that the cost to lives, both human and animal is horrific, not even counting the cost factor in dollars & cents. Then, of course, if the horse is branded, many times the person who hits the beast is expected to pay for the animal killed. Many times the horse is not immediately killed, so has to suffer until the ranger can come to put the animal down. It is quite horrific, really. The Navajo like to think they are big “Horse” people, but in my 20 years on the reservation, I have seen more starving, neglected horses on that reservation than any where else. The Navajo do not like to castrate the stallions, so there are a lot of babies every spring. They do not practice any sort of ‘Range Management’ whatsoever. It’s quite pitiful! The few Navajo who participate in the rodeo do take care of their horses, they are big into cutting, reining & barrels, so those horses are quite well taken care of, and they will spend big money on those horses. But that is what just baffles me about the other side of this whole thing. One of the funniest things I ever saw was a special when one of a Navajo man, who was quite heavy, wanted to train a wild mustang for the contest that they have a few times a year. They had it on the reservation, right by the college, Dine’ College. He failed miserably! He had 90 days to train the mustang. Many other individuals have accomplished miracles with their mustangs, I have seen it, but this man, oh brother. Either he was too lazy, relied on his son’s to help him, but he failed and the horse threw him several times. I felt so sorry for the horse. He didn’t understand horses at all! So much for Navajo being “HORSE” people!!!


      • Elizabeth – I think I saw the video of the attempt to “train” a mustang. Everything he did was the opposite of natural horsemanship! It was funny in a way, but like you I felt so darn sorry for that horse – he didn’t stand a chance.


    • Daryl,
      There are not very many truly “wild” horses on the Navajo reservation. By far the horse on the reservation are all horses that are owned by Navajo and are branded. The Rangers collect all the unbranded animals once a year and call them ‘wild’ because they are unbranded because the owners are too lazy to get them from their branded mothers. There is no range management per se on the reservation so mares are having foals early & late as are cattle & sheep! I know this because I lived there for 20 years as a health care provider and saw this for my own eyes. I saw horses, cattle & sheep starving, hit by cars, coming into the Bashas (grocery store) parking lot like stray dogs. I don’t know how they found water…. So I don’t believe there were any truly ‘wild’ horses on the reservation, it was a make believe/fantasy by the Navajo Nation to get help by famous people and it worked. They know how to work the angles to get the money and help they need, master manipulators. That’s how they got the land from the Hopi!


  2. I am pleased with Richardson and Redford’s efforts. I also question the numbers of the horses. For 30 years I have driven through said areas regularly and never have seen free roaming horses although I know they are there. Arizona had hundreds of thousands of horses in the 1920’s (old newspaper article) so it is possible of thousands to be there, not tens of thousands or they would be more visible.


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