Equine Initiative: Helping the Working Equine around the World

In October I volunteered to photograph an equine humanitarian effort In Mexico called Equitarian Initiative. Now I’ve photographed a few humanitarian subjects like horse auctions and horse rescues, but this was a life changing experience and I hope I can write this and describe my amazing adventure adequately.

Equitarian Initiative: MISSION STATEMENT

Equitarian Initiative prepares volunteer veterinarians worldwide to deliver health care and education to improve the health, nutrition, productivity, and welfare of horses, donkeys and mules, and to empower their care providers for sustainable change.

Equitarian Initiative was planning their annual trip to South America to provide care to horses, donkey and mules in the rural part of central Mexico.  This non-profit organizations is supported mostly from donations of businesses and individuals. The work they do is ALL volunteer work.

The workshops have three fold benefits;

1. To treat the working equines in remote areas to benefit equines on a world scale;

2. To teach veterinary students hands on work in the field and to broaden their horizons on the world equine welfare;

3. To teach volunteers how to proceed with their own projects/workshops like this one in other parts of the world. There were many volunteers on this trip that organize their own workshops like this in other countries like Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and many others.

The plan was to travel to 5 locations in 5 days to very small villages about 2-4 hours east of Mexico City. Prior to our arriving equine owners of the villages were told of our arrival date and locations. When we arrived at a location the Vets would first talk to villagers to discuss needs and problems they have with the health and welfare of their animals discussing feed, shelter, breeding and many other subjects. Some of the locations we went to the workshop had been to in previous years.

 

The Equitarian Initiative “workshop” as it’s called, was organized by Dr. Jay Merriam DVM, MS and Dr. Julie Wilson DVM, whom I have known for years but didn’t realize until recently that she was involved in this project. I was so surprised to get a call from her wanting me to attend this workshop and photograph for this effort, what a wonderful shock!

So with my “gear” all packed I headed to Mexico City on October 22nd 2012 for nine days. At the airport I met over 80 other members of the group participating in this workshop mostly from the US, but there were also some from the UK, Canada and one vet from Portugal. The group consisted of veterinarians, vet students, farriers and volunteers. We traveled in 5 vans to a Hostel in the town of SANTA CRUZ, TLAXCALA STATE, Mexico. When arriving Santa Cruz the group joined about 80 Mexican veterinarians, farriers, and vet students which brought our group to about 170 people all working together to provide care for these animals.

 

Now we were not in the touristy part of Mexico, no margaritas, no 4 star hotels, no beaches… we did however stay at the nicest hotel in the area (it’s all relevant… we only found one scorpion.. ahhh). It was a hostel, which meant dorm style rooms and shared bathrooms by all. Each morning we would set out in the vans for about a 2 hour drive to our location. Some of the towns we traveled to were, Capula, San Jose de Villarreal (a beautiful mountainous area), San Juan Tepulco.

As we arrived in each town we set up 5 covered tents; Reception, Teeth, Internal Medicine, Saddle/halter fitting, and farrier. The volunteers were divided into groups and rotated throughout the week so everyone got a chance to work each tent.  Each morning as we arrived to the location there were many animals and owners waiting for us, tied to trees, trucks, each other, some had traveled many miles on foot for their equine to be looked at by our vets, farriers and volunteers.

 

 

In these rural areas of Mexico, there are no veterinary services, and even if there were vets that would travel that far, owners could not afford the cost of care. But on the other hand these animals are an important part of the culture and survival of these families that own them. They are used for travel, pack, plow and many essential farming jobs and without them the families could not survive. Most of the mules and donkeys are cared for by women or children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an owners would arrive, they would bring the animal to the “Reception” tent, were they would be evaluated and sent to the tent they needed depending on what their issues were. Some owners went to almost every tent but it’s funny that owners never said their equines teeth needed done, but after the evaluation by the vets most equines had their teeth floated and it was always the longest line. Some animals were in good shape and just needed maybe their feet trimmed, others seems to have many problems. The most common procedures were feet trimmed, teeth floating, castration and saddle/halter fitting. The volunteers at the saddle fitting tent made rope and strap halters by hand and also saddle pads, they made sure halter sores were helped by a good fitting halter.

 

The internal medicine tent had a blow up operating table, no kidding! The dental tent had a generator that powered all the dental tools and was always busy. The furriers were in high demand and some patients were not happy but they always managed to get the equine trimmed properly. There were many equines that looked starved but after evaluation were helped by discussing proper feeding, teeth floating and were given supplements. Whole families would come with many animals, ranchers, and farmers. Women with children on their backs dragging behind a sick donkey for miles, boys taking care of many animals at a time, men riding in on donkeys, mules pulling carts of food, many situations all needing care.

One of the most amazing things that I noticed was that all of these animals were loved and even if they were starving or hurt, the owners had a genuine care for them. This workshop is just as much about people as it is equines, I was sincerely impressed by the kindness of all the volunteers on this workshop, these people were all professionals, top veterinarians in our country, Canada, the UK and even Portugal. There were top farriers, including one supplement company called Full Bucket that did soil tests from our location prior to the trip and gave out 6 months of vitamin supplements to each and every animal. These people all had careers and families. Yet, with limited sleep, some sick from the food, each day they rolled up their sleeves and worked hard 10-12 hour days and never left until every animal had been seen and cared for. All these 170 volunteers made time in their life for 8-9 entire days, all to help working equines in rural Mexico. Many of the people I met on this workshop also had other projects like this one going in other countries, several did workshops like this 8 or 9 times a year! I don’t know what moved me more… the animals that need help, or the people who volunteer their time without anything in return. It takes a village!

Organizations involved in this effort were; Equine Initiatives, World Horse Welfare, AAEP (American Association of Equine Praticioners), The Donkey Sanctuary, The International Forum for the Working Equid (IFWE), Full Bucket, and Icon Studios Photography.