Monday October 22 – Equitarian Workshop – Day 2

We awoke to a misty morning and gathered in the large dining room of the Trinidad Hotel for an excellent Mexican buffet breakfast and more camaraderie with new acquaintances. Conversation is easy and quite varied with this group: the multicultural and multigenerational group provides for interesting topics of discussion. A clear theme, however, is the passion that all participants have for the equitarian cause: nobody is here for a “Mexican vacation” and the energy for “wanting to get to work in the rural communities” is palpable.

During breakfast I learned about the outreach veterinary care program that has been organized and implemented over the past 6 years by the veterinary student group at Oregon State University. They travel once a year for about 2 weeks to the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua to deliver veterinary care to a variety of large and small animal species. A highlight last year by one in the group was treating a chicken with an abscessed eye. The community learned that there was a “chicken doctor” in the group and a short time later several women arrived with armloads of chickens for evaluation and care – just an example of the unpredictability of these experiences. I was impressed by the fact that Oregon State Program was primarily driven by a group of students, supporting the fact that anyone with a passion for helping can find a way to get involved, and ideally develop sustainable programs. The latter is why I am here for my first international Equitarian experience, along with two other colleagues from Michigan State University (go Spartans).

After breakfast we gathered in the lobby and courtyard once again to be loaded into the six UNAM vans for a short shuttle ride to the local UNAM CATED campus in Santa Cruz, Tlaxcala. As we continued to joke about “Mexico time”, Dr. Rob Franklin gathered a peso from all he could interest in a pool to guess the exact time when the last van would depart from our hotel, La Trinidad. We actually arrived on time (about 9:00 am) and the UNAM facility was impressive – architecture of artisan stone work and stone arches surrounding an open courtyard – it was an old textile mill like the La Trinidad Hotel. We gathered in a modernized lecture hall (with a good internet connection, at last) where we were joined by a group of colleagues and students from UNAM. Mariano made a few introductory comments, assigned us to groups, and reviewed the schedule for the week. After that, Jay Merriam talked about “equitarianism” and emphasized that providing care to working equids and the families that own them is the true meaning of equine welfare. He followed this by stating that the real purpose of this 3rd AAEP Equitarian Workshop is to provide training for attendees to further develop Equitarian programs around the globe. This was followed by Julie Wilson giving a short overview of tropical zoonotic diseases – rabies, tuberculosis, or brucellosis – that we may encounter. The emphasis was to be careful and to WEAR GLOVES before touching any suspect lesions! Next, we watched a video from the The Donkey Sanctuary about the donkeys use to haul brick from the kilns in Egypt to build the city of Cairo. The video was made by California equitarians, Dr. Eric Davis and veterinary technician Cindy McClinn, and very well narrated by Cindy. These hard-working equids were hauling loads of over two tons of bricks with poorly designed harnesses. Due to rapid growth in Cairo, the demand for bricks, and therefore donkey work, is on the rise. The Donkey Sanctuary subsequently implemented a care program based on the five welfare issues they have illustrated using the shape of a hand. The big changes included relatively simple improvements in harness design, housing areas for donkeys, and education of the people using the donkeys. The challenge was to get BUY IN BY ALL those involved in the kiln brick-making business as they were community owned kilns. Once this was achieved (through education efforts), donkey health improved and the numbers of wounds were considerably reduced. Further, production actually increased as the donkeys were largely able to continue to work while their harness wounds healed once new and improved harnesses were put into use. Next, Stephen Blakeway (director of The Donkey Sanctuary’s International Program) gave a presentation on hands-on donkey welfare and re-emphasized the “hand” approach with the four fingers representing body condition score, wounds, lameness, and other problems and the thumb representing communication, the most important aspect of encouraging equid owners both to accept care and follow-up, in order to maintain or improve health and productivity of the animal and the family it supports. Finally, Dr. David Turoff gave a great overview of many of the considerations that must be addressed in order to organize a successful equitarian program – a must see for those that were unable to join this group in Mexico (hopefully on AAEP website in the near future).

After a short break, the 3rd Equitarian Worshop was officially opened with introductions of the leaders of the participating organizations as well as local governmental officials and the organizing committee. Then, after a quick lunch, we loaded up the vans and headed to the outskirts of Santa Cruz to get to work.

Dr. Mariano Hernandez Gil translates the gracious remarks of local leaders opening the workshop.

The morning mist had burned off and we had great weather for our 30 minutes of travel and work in the village of Guadalupe outside of Santa Cruz. We arrived at a community sports field about 2:30 pm and the preparation crew was just finishing erecting the tents for each work station (registration/triage, lameness, dentistry, surgery, reproduction and internal medicine, and harness and saddle fitting). There were about 50-60 horses, mules, and donkeys tied to trees and eating grass around the perimeter of the sports field and it was a bit noisy with different neighs, whinnies, and brays. The first impression by most of us was that most of the animals were in reasonably good condition and few obvious wounds were apparent, although a number of white patches of hair along the top line and halter areas clearly indicated prior wounds. A particularly docile donkey with a long and very shaggy hair coat caught my eye shortly after arrival as Cushing’s disease does not appear to be all that common in donkeys, although they may live into their 40’s! Later in the day I was touched to find out that this old donkey (estimated at 30-35 years of age) was no longer in work but was basically a pet – she got her teeth fixed up and some dietary recommendations were made and she was back to her retirement. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The equid owners gather to discuss their animals’ most pressing health concerns while the animals rested in the shade.

Whole families came with their well-cared for animals, including this elderly donkey with signs of Cushing’s disease.

After we arrived we gathered with the villagers around the registration/triage tent. Dr. Stephen Blakeway, Avril Rivero Moreno and Dr. Anisha interviewed the villagers for about 90 minutes to determine what their major concerns were and what

problems they deemed most important to either discuss or have addressed with their equids. Then we dispersed and tried to choose a tent where we could get to work. The initial group system sort of fell apart so we gravitated to where we felt we might see some action and finally start to get our hands dirty. The podiatry tent and the dentistry tent were the busiest for the next couple of hours – closer inspection revealed some animals with

fairly bad feet and opening mouths also revealed a number of equids in need of dental work. The neighs, whinnies, and brays slowly diminished as animals were sedated and slow dispersed after they were examined, treated, and headed for home. One of my favorites was a group of three donkeys that came jogging along tied to the back of a truck. After they were evaluated, it was impressive to watch them back up as the truck reversed and then they jogged back home behind the truck. There was also a 10-12 year old boy with this family that was wearing a Mexican soccer team hat. The FullBucket nutrition team was right there with one of five soccer balls they gave away during the course of the afternoon. This boy was initially unsure if was going to be his or not but was very pleased when he was told to take it home with him. In addition to a bag of vitamin/mineral supplement for almost all of the equids, the FullBucket gang actually brought along 25 soccer balls (5 for each day this week) that were acquired via a connection with access to pro soccer balls left over from last season.

Hoof deformity secondary to a coronary band injury

Julie Wilson and Suzie White work on a slightly thin donkey.

The FullBucket team & soccer balls for the children.

Since we’re here for helping equids, I should probably talk about some of the problems we saw today. There were some thin horses (diet was largely seasonally dry pasture grass and some maize – with any green grass they could find), many were in need of dental work, and also a number were in need of farrier work. We also saw a couple of foals (one with some diarrhea – sand or worms), several donkeys with lower limb fly bite dermatitis, a horse with heaves (or lungworms), a donkey with several small facial sarcoids, one of which Jay banded, the others injected with EqStim; and one castration that was performed. (More were recommended but experience in other villages suggests that the people are sometimes a bit reluctant at the first veterinary team visit).

During all the commotion of the afternoon, about a half dozen equids got loose and ran around between the tents but there were no calamities and, importantly, no participant or villager was injured, although the bottom of more than one hoof was seen a bit closer than desired. All in all, we serviced 40-50 equids and almost all of them were also dewormed with ivermectin. Many of the villagers were effusive in their thanks, wished us well in our work and blessed us for helping their animals. As the sun was sinking around 6:30 pm, the crew brought down the tents and supplies were packed and loaded for the next day. It was time to head back to La Trinidad (a return time pool was again started by Rob Franklin) for a cool cerveza and dinner with informal discussion of the day’s events and cases.

Finally, it is with a bit of pride that I am able to say that ACVIM Large Animal Diplomates are the largest group with advanced clinical training in attendance at this workshop: I counted 6 in the attendees – myself (Hal), Susan Ewart, Julie, Suzi White, Rob Franklin, and Maria Masri, plus Dr. Leslie Easterwood who works as an internist at TAMU.

Today’s blog and pictures by Dr. Hal Schott

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