Navajos grapple with feral horse problem

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The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates 60,000 feral horses roam the Navajo Nation. According to Alvin Whitehair, the BIA's resource officer in Chinle Agency, an adult horse eats about 26 pounds of grass a day. Multiply that by 60,000, and they're stripping 1.6 million pounds of vegetation from Diné Bikéyah daily.

Native to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, horses don't need to drink as much as most livestock. But ask anyone who has a stock tank on their range, and they'll tell you they're draining the water supply too.

"Rats with hooves," spat one frustrated Western Agency rancher.

Almost as integral to Diné culture as sheep, horses were introduced by the Spanish in the 1620s. By the time Americans encountered the tribe in the 1800s, the Diné were expert horsemen who selectively bred their herds and used the animals for transportation, herding and raiding.

The horse had also been solidly incorporated into the Diné cosmology. Various parts of the horse's body were used to teach children traditional values. A traditional Diné would never cut his steed's mane and tail, as the rippling hair represented rain.