I can certainly appreciate your relationships with the people of Supai and I applaud you for the work you have done to help their community. There are certainly many historical wrongs that have been perpetrated on the Supai and they are most certainly suffering the effects to this day. You more than many know both sides of their story.
That being said I believe that your assumption that an isolated incident is being overblown is mistaken. I understand that your perspective may be clouded somewhat by the treatment of events that took place in 2007, but this is a different issue. What is happening to the horses there now is not neglect by an owner running low on funds and feed for a week or even a month. These are not horses that are just underfed and underwatered. There are horses with 6 inch open wounds on their backbones that are being forced to carry packs. Wounds like that do not happen in a week or even a month. It is horrific and to minimize it is disingenuous and enabling of individuals that are obviously dealing with severe dysfunction as evidenced by the lack of empathy for a suffering animal. A truly “horse-centered culture” would never allow this.
You point out the obstacles of logistics and cost and lack of ability to grow food in the Canyon. These arguments in no way justify the mistreatment. As you state the horses that pack gear out can pack feed back into the canyon. If there are so many tourist packs that there aren’t enough horses to pack feed, then maybe a tourist just has to wait. And if the expense of feed is too high, then the prices for packing should be raised. When I was at the canyon it appeared there were plenty of tourists willing to pay for the convenience. You say that boycotting the pack horses will bring economic ruin. If the economic effects are this dire I wouldn’t think that an individual could afford to mistreat an animal and have to replace it. I would argue that enabling this treatment of animals only sets up the community for more human suffering beyond the economic loss.
I’ve witnessed the condition of these horses and to make excuses for the behavior is doing a disservice to the community of Supai. If animals are being treated this way you are intelligent enough to know that there are very likely abuses against the weakest of the human community as well. Enabling this behavior is wrong and calling for a boycott might be the first step in bringing change for not just the horses but the entire community.
Source : http://azdailysun.com/news/opinion/columnists/coconino-voices-havasupai-face-tough-challenges-in-care-of-horses/article_10e77f07-ccd5-599a-9f2d-176e9d3c6caf.html