By Fernanda Santos
Soon, though, the two men, who recently started a foundation to protect New Mexico’s wildlife, found themselves on a collision course with the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest federally recognized tribe, whose president released a letter to Congress on Aug. 2 asserting his support for horse slaughtering.
Free-roaming horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range, said Ben Shelly, the Navajo president. There is a gap between reality and romance when, he said, “outsiders” like Mr. Redford—who counts gunslinger, sheriff’s deputy and horse whisperer among his movie roles—interpret the struggles of American Indians.
“Maybe Robert Redford can come and see what he can do to help us out,” Mr. Shelly said in an interview. “I’m ready to go in the direction to keep the horses alive and give them to somebody else, but right now the best alternative is having some sort of slaughter facility to come and do it.”
The horses, tens of thousands of them, are at the center of a passionate, politicized dispute playing out in court, in Congress and even within tribes across the West about whether federal authorities should sanction their slaughtering to thin the herds. The practice has never been banned, but stopped when money for inspections was cut from the federal budget.
In Navajo territory, parched by years of unrelenting drought and beset by poverty, one feral horse consumes 5 gallons of water and 18 pounds of forage a day—sometimes the water and food a family had bought for itself and its cattle.
Below: "Horses trying to evade capture in New Mexico. Tens of thousands of them roam free in the West." (Diego James Robles for The New York Times)