The horses, desperate for water, had come to drink from a pool of rainwater that had run off a hill and flooded land on the Navajo reservation.
What they got was a mud bath that turned deadly as they became trapped in the bentonite clay of the Chinle Formation, which becomes quicksand as the water trapped in it starts evaporating, the Navajo Times reported on June 20. Seventeen horses died this way, the stench of their decomposing carcasses thick in the air.
“A few of them had legs and arms buried beneath the clay as if they were emerging from the ground,” the Navajo Times said. “One horse almost had its face completely submerged in the mud.”
Not far away lay another decomposing horse, a filly. The entire scene was cordoned off with barbed wire by the Cottonwood/Tselani Chapter, with supplies provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs office, the Navajo Times said.
Horses across the Navajo Nation are in dire straits, fighting one another to get at small quantities of water. On top of that, many of the horses are malnourished, their ribs sticking out.
The drought that has gripped the Nation for several years is taking a toll so deep that President Ben Shelly declared a state of emergency on July 2.
“We need to help our people right now. We have wells that are dry. We have livestock that are thirsty and crops that are in dire need of water,” said Shelly in a statement leading up to the declaration. “Declaring this emergency will release emergency funding for chapters to take care of needs they see in their communities.”
Western Agency precipitation is about 65 percent less than what it normally is, the Navajo statement said, with Fort Defiance Agency 63 percent below normal. Northern and Eastern Agency are 55 percent under, and Chinle Agency is 30 percent below, the Navajo said. Moreover, the Navajo statement said, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting higher-than-normal temperatures to continue through the summer, along with the continued lower participation.
“We are going to do everything we can to ensure that we deal with drought conditions that are consistent with the ramifications of the Navajo government,” Shelly said. “Also, declaring an emergency will allow us to appeal to President Obama for funding.”
Shelly also urged everyone to conserve water, and to find “creative solutions” to getting through the drought. The Navajo Nation contains about 5,000 lakes and ponds, according to the statement, and the drier the conditions, the more pressure will be put on these bodies of water and on existing wells, the statement said.
“We are going to do everything we can to bring our people through this drought. We have many needs, and we are a strong people,” Shelly said. “Water is precious and we have to learn how to conserve and change our practices to make sure we prevail through these drought conditions.”