“Heavenly.” ” Best experience of the final year of veterinary college.” ” A blast! ” “Heart warming. ”

These were some of the descriptions of our work week that were expressed at our dinner tonight, celebrating an extremely successful Guatemal

a pilot project for the Equitarian and World Horse Welfare teams.

Our final work day went very well. We traveled farther than our previous days to Las Escobas, winding along a high ridge dirt road for the final 45 minutes of the drive. The views were spectacular, with valley vistas, great variety in trees and flowers, and more cattle that we had seen previously. Unfortunately, the combination of diesel exhaust fumes from the vehicles in front of us, speed bumps, and twisting roads almost incapacitated Dr. Tammy Vretis with motion sickness. Thankfully, she steadily improved after we arrived. We were again joined by Guatemalan veterinarians Drs. Jaqueline Garabito and Gerardo Marroquin, who quickly integrated themselves into our team approach of addressing the horses’ health care needs. Our work site was a futbol/soccer field next to an open air church and convenience store.

The view from our work site

Our caseload, mostly riding horses, was comprised of 27 of the healthiest horses we have seen here plus 2 mules. The mules were special: The first, Paloma, was 30 years old and clearly beloved of the equally ancient gentleman
who brought her. A rotten cheek tooth was identified as the probable cause of her less than ideal body condition, but was resolved with a pair of vice grips and finesse in the hands of Dr. Craig Niblett. Our second mule, Sonara, though not ancient but equally well behaved, was the chosen mount for an 83 year old gentleman.

Dr. Niblett celebrates the successful removal of Paloma’s bad tooth

A preponderance of foals that were not halter broken and multiple feisty stallions led to a number of restraint challenges. Veterinary student Clay Whitten amazed us with his excellent roping skills: the foals were soon caught and held long enough to vaccinate and deworm them. (Leather gloves and lariats will be added to the packing list for future trips!) Like yesterday,
the horsemen once again delighted in showing off their Peruvian Paso Fino stallions up and down the lane by our worksite, so the stallions were doubly wound up when we tried to examine them. Undaunted by their machismo, and flying front feet, Dr. Rob Franklin soon had them sedated so that we could all work with them. He also surprised us by folding his tall frame down low enough to float some teeth.

Clay Whitten and Craig Niblett hang on while Rob Franklin vaccinates a very frisky foal

Dr. Franklin floating teeth below the soccer goal post

Stylish horse hair crupper embellishments

Culicoides-induced dermatitis was more prevalent in this horse population. These midges shortly had all of us reaching for bug spray for ourselves. Multiple vampire bat bites were found on both sides of the neck on one horse,
despite that fact that he was stalled at night. In discussing ideas for deterring bat bites with the horse’s owner, we learned from Dr. Marroquin that a wide plastic banner stretched above the chosen horse’s stall can be helpful. It
should be positioned at right angles to the prevalent wind and have its ventral edge cut vertically multiple times to create a fringe. The rippling effect of wind on the fringed banner confounds the bat’s sonar navigation. This deterrent will certainly be remembered for future cases.

Multiple vampire bat bites on a horse’s neck, the only horse affected in the herd

As the flow of horses slowed in early afternoon, we had time to enjoy some of the other animals around the neighborhood. We were treated to a lunch of beef stew with local vegetables, queso fresco and fresh tortillas by the owners of the host farm, who also had a number of interesting dairy and beef cows.

Packing up to head back to Antigua triggered some sentimental reflection on how much fun we have had working together, and how much we have learned. The last soccer ball was given to the farrier students who have several more weeks to go in their program. They gave back smiles just as brilliant as those of the children receiving balls earlier in the week. A beautiful double rainbow appeared as we headed back down the mountain. An omen, perhaps?

Tomorrow is a rest and recreation day, before we fly back to the States on Sunday. Most of us are going deep sea fishing, hoping to catch a sailfish. The two exceptions,

myself and Tammy, hope to see more of the local historical sites and artisans’ work, before we all gather for a final dinner.

This pilot Equitarian project has been hugely successful from the veterinary team’s standpoint. We unanimously agree that partnering with World Horse Welfare has been critical to maximizing the impact of our efforts, and that the expertise of the farriers and saddlers should be integral to all Equitarian efforts. Without WHW’s community organization, logistical planning and guidance, the veterinary work would never have been this readily accomplished. We give enormous thanks to Des Bridges for making this dream come true for us, and greatly appreciate the support of Roly Owers, Kevin and Kate, who shared their expertise and friendship with us. Our thanks also go to the Texas Equine Veterinary Association for their financial support for supplies and transportation, as well as the scholarships that brought Clay Whitten and Scott Fleming with us. Both will make Equitarian work part of their professional life, and have set a very high standard of performance and maturity for veterinary students in future Equitarian projects. Cecilia Mink from MWI not only kept us organized but also laughing all day, every day and will undoubtedly serve as the pioneer for more veterinary technicians to follow in her footsteps in Equitarian work in Guatemala. We’d like to thank Ed Strickland at MWI too. This project has benefitted from assistance from the Equitarian Initiative, Full Bucket, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim and Dr. Britt Conklin and Gary Jacques; Scott Caps and Capps Manufacturing, Precision Pharmacy and Susan Welch; and Merck and Pete Hale. Thank you all very much!

May this be the first of many Equitarian projects bringing

assistance to working equids in Guatemala.

Blog by JW. Pictures by TV.

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