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You are here: News Sun News PART THREE: All the pretty horses — Where do they go?

PART THREE: All the pretty horses — Where do they go?

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Part 3 in a three-part series

Despite the tribe’s intentions with the program, Sharron Berry, vice-president of Four Corners Pet Alliance, sees Navajo Nation horses as a valuable, untapped asset to the tribe.

“The horses are a resource that can be trained [and] utilized in tourism,” Berry said. “People would pay a lot of money for [a trained horse.]”

In contrast, untrained horses are less adoptable, and face a greater likelihood of being sent to auction and eventually shipped to Mexico for slaughter.

For instance, Berry said she spent four hours loading a four-year-old horse that wasn’t halter broken onto a trailer. The horse was recently purchased near Burnham, N.M. Berry said the previous owner didn’t engage the horse in any formal training.

Formal training involves multiple steps, according to Berry. When a horse is born, the owner should “imprint” with them, which entails making early contact with the foal. This is followed by putting tools like a breakaway holster and a lead rope onto the horse while it’s young.

The horse has to know what the owner wants to do with it, establishing a sense of trust.

The Burnham horse had little interaction with humans and was likely never placed in a small, enclosed area – another key part of formal training. Berry said untrained horses like this one are considered to be of little value in the marketplace.

Meanwhile, she hopes the tribe will consider horses a valuable asset, worth fighting for.

“The Navajo Nation needs to keep these horses on the rez,” Berry said. “This is their future.”

When questioned about allegations of wild horses turned into the tribe are sold to kill buyers, who in turn ship them to Mexico for slaughter, the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture reaffirmed the tribe is in contact with BIA to check the background of potential buyers.

“If we were to know if someone was like that, we wouldn’t deal with them,” Navajo Nation Ranger Sgt. Randall Jim said during a Dec. 7 phone interview.

But, the Land of Enchantment remains a hot spot for sending horses to their demise, along with many other states across the country. According to information available on the USDA Economics, Statistics and Market Information System’s website, more than 67,000 horses have been exported from the United States to Mexico in 2018, so far, strictly for the purpose of slaughter.

Of that number, more than 58,000 horses were sent to Mexico via Texas this year, while New Mexico sent about 9,000 south of the border. There were reportedly “0” horses exported for slaughter by Arizona during that time, and no published data was available for Utah or Colorado.

The Sun reached out to several alleged kill buyers and pens, with little to no response from these groups and individuals.

One alleged pen, Bowie Auction Horses in Bowie, TX, lists horses for sale on their Facebook page, with info including the color, sex and age of the horse, along with a slaughter ship date.

When the Sun contacted Bowie for more information about the ship date, a Bowie rep told the Sun not to call back or write about them.


Jay Begaye, an award-winning songwriter, teacher and horse trainer, writes songs in Navajo and tends to his horses near Peoria, Ariz. Begaye has taught people, especially younger generations, about the significance of horses to the Navajo people at numerous educational and interactive horse clinics.

Begaye feels Navajo people have forgotten their creation story.

“If you go back to the beginning of the world, the Sun God gave us horses for blessing, for our people,” he said. “All Native American tribes, the holy people gave us a message.”

Begaye said the message that horses are sacred to the Navajo people has been lost in modern times.

“Back in the old days, the Sun God told the Navajo people: ‘Use this horse for your medicine,’” he said. “‘Don’t ever treat them bad. These horses will bring you rain, thunder and your land.’”

Wild horses will keep coming, Begaye said as he recounted stories from the old days. He said they wander everywhere and eat the food from the earth because the world belongs to them.

“We walk on it, we work on it, we plant on it. But the horses have a right to roam this Mother Earth,” he said. “They are connected with it. They talk with it.”

Begaye said his own methods for training horses are inspired by the way Navajo scouts tamed wild horses in the old days, calming them through songs.

Begaye’s songs have won multiple awards, among them the well-known album Horses Are Our Journey. He said he feels he’s the only person in the world who trains his horses through singing, rather than with tools like ropes and whips.

“Horses are like babies. When the baby is crying, you sing to them and they will stop crying,” he said. “It’s the same way to a horse; they’ll open their mind and feel love [when you sing to them].”


Begaye said he is planning a large event to be held next summer. He’s inviting chiefs and elders from the Tsuut’ina Nation, from Alberta, Canada, as well as other Native American tribes, to take part and share their stories.

More precisely, the event is a Navajo and Tsuut’ina horsemanship workshop, with a horse-honoring contest pow-wow. Awards include horse tack prizes and cash, Begaye said.

The pow-wow will serve as an opportunity to remind and teach people about the old ways, and demonstrate how tribes once trained horses, he said.

“I don’t want to teach just my people, I want to send out this message around the world,” he said.

For more information on USDA stats, visit: www.usda.library.cornell.edu/?locale=en. Find Four Corners Pet Alliance and Jay Begaye on Facebook.

By Cody Begaye

Sun Correspondent