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JoJo Decker had spent years dreaming about traveling to the waterfalls of Havasupai. Circumstances stymied her efforts to make the trip until her 50th birthday. But the Sedona resident ended up never making it farther than a few hundred feet down the trail. What happened where she stopped has shifted her universe.

Just a few minutes after starting down into the canyon, Decker came upon a horse that had fallen down. He was bleeding in the knees and in the head and his owner was kicking him and punching him to get up, Decker said.

She later learned from a veterinarian that two or three days more of that work and the horse would have been dead.

Decker started screaming and crying as the horse owner left the downed horse to guide the rest of the string to the top of the trail.

Her husband and a friend took the horse’s packs off, revealing infected wounds on its back, some deep enough that his hip bones and spine were showing. Decker, horrified, told her husband to try to buy the horse, offering him whatever price he wanted.

The man refused, but Decker was undeterred. She forgot about the hike to Havasupai Falls and instead spent the next two days calling anyone she could think of — the sheriff, animal control, legislators, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Havasupai Tribal Council.

After two days, she reached a BIA officer who was sympathetic to her case. Somehow (she still doesn’t know how the negotiations played out) he arranged for the horse to be given to Decker free of price.

Using a borrowed trailer, her husband drove back to the trail, hiked down to the village of Supai and walked the horse back up. Decker, who had never owned a horse before, built a corral in her backyard and has dedicated hours to the horse. She named him Chemakoh, after the Pima word meaning two souls coming together in destiny.

Chemakoh now looks like a different horse — full and muscular body, shiny coat and a voracious eater.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or


Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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