Third annual Equitarian travels to Mexico to help working equids

Amy McLean
for Tri-State Livestock News
A member of the Aztec Indian community uses her donkey for carrying corn stalks.

Over 100 veterinarians, veterinary students and professionals from around the world gathered Oct 20-27, 2012, in Santa Cruz, Tlaxcala, Mexico to help improve the welfare of working equids. An estimated 100 million working equids (horses, donkeys, mules and ponies) exist worldwide. It’s believed that 80 percent of this population is working in developing areas around the world carrying water, firewood, bricks and commodities to and from the market. In general, these animals such as the ones treated in the surrounding communities of Santa Cruz, serve as a major source of transportation and means for planting, harvesting and transporting agricultural products for some of the poorest people in the world. When an animal can no longer work or its work productivity is reduced, the family it serves may experience a loss in income.

The intent of the Equitarian, which is endorsed by many influential organizations that are interested in equine health and well being, such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the University of National Agriculture in Mexico (UNAM), World Horse Welfare, and the Donkey Sanctuary, is to bring together professionals in the industry that will learn more about working with this population of equine and then hopefully create their own Equitarian in a developing community. The Equitarian Initiative not only allows practitioners to gain many hours of hands on treatment and diagnosis of prevalent conditions common to working equids but it also allows others with knowledge in harness making, farrier science, animal behavior and welfare to assist in the process of transferring knowledge in order to help create a sustainable and educational program. The harness makers and farriers also help teach people within the communities these skills so future harness makers or farriers can then be located directly within the communities.

In a week’s time, five communities were visited and close to 500 animals were treated. Some only received routine procedures such as deworming. Many had their hooves trimmed, teeth floated, harness wounds cleaned up and treated and some even under went cryptorchid surgery. The harness makers from the United Kingdom often made new halters, saddle pads and even harness for the animals that had ill-fitting tack. A supplement company called FullBucket was on hand to provide each owner with two bags/animal with a vitamin, mineral, and salt supplement. Often times animals in these countries have many nutritional deficiencies. Access to salt in particular is often very limited but critically import to their overall well being. For each bag of supplement sold in the U.S., one bag was donated to a working equid in Mexico and given out during the clinics. During this entire process all the experts in their fields from surgery to general medicine were also working with veterinary students from UNAM by sharing their diagnostic procedures as well as quizzing them on treatment protocol. Students from UNAM are most likely to continue such work in Mexico or other Central or South American countries. For all involved including the owners of the working equids it was a learning process and a fantastic experience.

The main goal of the Equitarian is to promote the development of such projects abroad in order to provide veterinary care and working equid husbandry education to the developing world. When you help a horse, donkey, or mule you in turn help a person. Granted many of the practitioners already have on-going projects in countries such as Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Ecuador, Spain, Portugal, and Egypt to name a few. However, hopefully, a week in the field identifying the common ailments that prevent or reduce productivity of the working equids as well as a chance to interact with some of the world’s most renowned Equitarians will provide future inspiration for more projects abroad. If you are interested in supporting such efforts considering googling nongovernmental organizations that do such work like the Donkey Sanctuary, the Society for Protecting Animals Abroad, The Brooke, World Horse Welfare and or the Equitarian.