Vets Help Horses, People

Every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, a group of 10-15 veterinarians travel to a remote area of Arizona that can only be reached by helicopter, pack animal, or on foot. These members of Veterinary Christian Fellowship (VCF) gather to care for the horses of the Havasupai tribe ("people of the blue-green water"), and to share their Christian faith.

"A (regular) vet comes down twice a year to the canyon (to care for the horses)," explains Greg Smith, DVM, of East County Large Animal Practice in El Cajon, Calif. Smith has traveled annually to the Supai reservation for more than 15 years to provide free veterinary care for the horses and minister to the tribe. "Horses are pretty expendable. If something's wrong, they might try to take them up out of the canyon for treatment, but that is rare," he says.

The Supai tribe is made up of about 600 people whose primary means of income is tourism. Their residence is a canyon that is approximately 90 miles northeast of Kingmon, Ariz., off of Route 66. Tourists visit the canyon on the tribe's horses and mules. All food and supplies for the tribe, including the feed for the horses, are brought in on these pack animals, and not all of the animals are cared for optimally. Many have pack sores and are underfed.

The group, headed by Richard Marshall, DVM, has been working with Native Americans since 1983, primarily the Navajo and Supai people. Missions of the VCF spread throughout the Four Corners region where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona meet. VCF primarily conducts preventative medicine, deworming, vaccination, wound treatment, and castration of horses.

"We teach them how to pack their animals (correctly)," says Marshall. "We trim their animal's feet, work on teeth, and vaccinate 150-200 animals. The animals are heavily parasitized. We treat any medical problems, and leave lots of medication behind."

In 2000, a group of 30 traveled to the canyon, a reunion of many of the veterinarians and individuals who had made the trip in the past. The group sends medication to the tribe during the year as they have the means. Vaccines and deworming supplies have been donated by such companies as Pfizer and Fort Dodge. The VCF also funded the recent seminary education of the first Supai pastor, who will be returning to the tribe upon completion of his education.

Small animals also are treated during the visit, and the church is used during the day for that purpose. Evenings are devoted to worship. According to Smith, the relationships that are built each year are invaluable, and members of the tribe will call him three or four times a year and ask for advice.

For information on how to become involved with VCF, contact Marshall at There are similar ministries worldwide offered in such places as Mongolia and Ethiopia by an organization called the Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM). Visit the web site at

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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