6 June 2012

Dr. Rob Franklin, Equitarian

The British charity World Horse Welfare (WHW), whom we have worked with before in Honduras and Mexico, had requested the presence of a veterinary team to assist them in their care of working equids in Guatemala.  WHW has a global program of training local women and men to become proficient in the trades of saddlery and farriery.  The group uses a series of 4, 2-3 week long, modules throughout the year to train students using both local trainers and British master saddlers and farriers.  Once the students have completed their courses and passed examinations then they are given tools of the trade and the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families through the knowledge of a new trade. WHW shares a similar goal of the Equitarian Initiative (EI): help a horse; help a family. The many working equids in the area obviously receive the benefits of better hoof care and better fitting saddles to do their jobs.

Partnership with WHW is very natural. During their working field trips in the countryside, they encounter many horses that are in dire need for veterinary care; a resource too sparse and too expensive for these people. The EI has staffed these needs over the past year and it appears the working relationship should continue.

I arrived Guatemala in hopes of meeting local veterinarians, translators, WHW staff and the animals and their owners who we are here to serve. Supplies would need to be provisioned and transportation and accommodation needs to be arranged.  My arrival was preceded by extensive advice from fellow equitarians Drs. Julie Wilson, David Turoff, Raul Casas and Susan Monger; and WHW British directors Liam Maguire and Des Bridges.  Christian Schieber, the WHW in country coordinator, was at the airport to collect the saddler Kate Hetherington and myself. Kevin Balfour, a Scottish farrier, was waylaid by travel connections and would have to be picked up the following morning. We were taken to our accommodations in the beautiful old town of Antigua, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, tourist center and former capital of the region before the seismic activity in the area destroyed much of it in the 18th century and the capital was relocated to present day Guatemala City.  Antigua is still full of 2-400 year old Spanish churches, government buildings and other architectural masterpieces. It is a vibrant city much akin to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and serves as an ideal center not only due to its central geographic location but also because of Antigua’s safety and cultural access.

We rose early to meet the WHW at the La Posada de Mi Abuelo, which serves as both lodging for the students and workshop/classroom/canteen. La Posada is Christian’s grandparents former coffee plantation that has been refitted as a country inn.  The inn sits in the small town of Parramos and is an ideal depot to reach the working equids and only 15 km from Antigua.  Christian offered us the option of using the inn as a headquarters for our equitarian trip this October. We then left for a short trip to Iztapa where a WHW field trip was taking place on the village’s local soccer grounds. Here I was able to meet Christian’s uncle, Ricardo.  Ricardo is Guatemalan but lived for over 20 years in New York and thus is very fluent in English.  Ricardo is available to us as both a translator and driver in October.

During the field trip I was able to speak with many of the locals to understand their needs from our veterinary mission. I was also able to inspect their animals and make some conclusions for myself on what we may be able to do for them.  Interestingly, almost all of the animals were horses.  Their primary uses were transportation, carrying firewood and crops.  The animals were generally small, fine breeds of Spanish descent.  Donkeys and mules were coveted but apparently too expensive for them to purchase in most cases. A horse may be purchased for $100-1000 USD while donkeys and mules were said to cost up to $1000-2000 USD!

Common problems were not found to be of any great surprise: parasites, dental problems, lack of nutrition and all of the things that went along with that triad of poor living- weight loss, saddle sores, lameness, infection, etc.  The horses also apparently colic on a frequent basis, likely due to the coarse fiber source of dried corn leaves as their primary feed source other than pasture, and a heavy worm burden on the intestines.  Foot problems were common due to a lack of proper preventative care and the occurrence

of canker, which is treated by application of bleach to the affected area after debridement.  Saddle sores are treated with the all-to-common “purple spray,” although I was told of a natural remedy that sounds promising which includes local honey, epazote and chamomile.  Equids also are very prone to piroplasmosis (which is endemic), encephalitis (primarily Venezuelan), Ehrlichia, influenza, rabies and teta

nus. Vaccination and dental care were not routinely performed neither were animals dewormed with any frequency.

During the day I was called upon to assess one poor yearling for inappetance. As I had no tools or medications, the local vet Dr. “Jaqui” was called out to assist.  I was able to discuss our plans, using Ricardo’s translation, with Jaqui. We returned to La Posada for lunch and a continuation of our conversation.  She apparently has worked with other charities and is well known in the area. I am attempting to be very sensitive to the needs of the local veterinarians as I surely do not wish to go in and provide free or extremely low cost services to their normal paying customers. The local veterinarians that choose to live in the country have a very difficult time making a living in these areas and we absolutely do not want to make that any worse.

We agreed to exchange knowledge in the form of some discussions/presentations by our veterinarians with the local veterinarians for their time and networking. They did indicate the animals we would be serving were not paying customers and there would be no income loss. I was reminded several times to not give our services away. A small fee was recommended so that when the local vets return to the area the owners of the animals have a sense of value for our services.

We spent Sunday exploring the town of Antigua and I attended mass at La Merced, a beautiful old church near our inn. The city really was alive with families in the streets and a parade. We learned of many cultural excursions available including volcano tours, a beautiful highland lake and Indian ruins.  The restaurants, shopping and services are all very authentic and ideal for our return.

On Monday I joined the WHW on a trip to the small town of Zaragosa.  We saw many of the similar problems as in Iztapa. I took more time to converse with the owners and explain our intentions in October. The horses was so poor that I made a trip to the closest town to purchase an anthelmintic and hopefully provide the people with some idea of what we would be back to do. I also hope that the horses improve with the deworming and so that not only are they healthier, but are also a reflection of what value there is to deworming.

I was able to meet another local veterinarian, Dr. Leonardo Montufar, a new graduate and keen young man.  He also was interested in assisting us and learning/exchanging information with our team.  It is very difficult for the new graduates to gain experience, receive

respect as a veterinary authority and earn an income in Guatemala when they decide to live outside of Guatemala City.

Including students in our program is always ideal if possible. To reach out to the Guatemalan veterinary school I contacted Dr. Juan Prem, arguably the greatest equine veterinary influence in the area.  Dr. Prem was happy to speak with me and said he would provide whatever resources he could.

We returned to Antigua for lunch and I was introduced to Suzanne Divoff and another veterinarian Dr. Jorge Caballeros. Jorge was also a new graduate but I could tell he had been mentored well and had big plans. He further explained the medical issues of the common working equid, access to medications and local remedies. I believe Jorge will be a great asset to our expedition.

Suzanne has started a charity, Helping Hooves, to look after the welfare of the local carthorses in Antigua. She has made great strides in insuring these animals are healthy and comfortable while toiling away in the cobblestone streets of the ancient city.  It appears most of the animals’ needs are being met by the charity’s relationship with Dr. Jorge, but I believe Suzanne has opened her resources to us for our return.

Our goals during our trip in October will be to:

  1. Resource as many supplies in country using our veterinary contacts- Drs. Jaqui, Leonardo, Jorge, Prem and a contact in GC known by Christian.
  2. Stay in Antigua.
  3. Use the La Posada de Mi Abuelo as a center for storing supplies, lunch preparation, hosting round table discussions with local veterinarians.
  4. Ricardo will be our translator and driver, need to secure a minibus.
  5. Clinics will be arranged with WHW, promoted by local vets, Ricardo and flyers throughout the community. Broadcast trucks may also be available to get the word out.
  6. Provide the following points of medical care

Deworm using ivermectin (which is $10 USD per dose for the locals to buy, very expensive!)

  1. Vaccinate against Venezuelan Encephalitis, Rabies, Tetanus and possibly Influenza
  2. Treat for ticks using pour on Fipronil
  3. Treat canker
  4. Treat saddle sores
  5. Castrate colts
  6. Educate on nutrition

Nominal fees will be set for these services.

Our return dates are scheduled for the week of October 8, 2012.  5 working days are to be scheduled.


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