India: Helping horses who help people

The working horse has helped shape our history for thousands of years. Once domesticated, we quickly became indebted to these hard-working animals. They’ve become a critical link in production across several industries, including construction, agriculture and transportation, and ultimately, accelerated global change. Even today, horses continue to sustain the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide. 

In places like India, horses – along with donkeys and mules – remain the power engines. They work most of their lives on the land supporting farming or on the streets acting as transport for the locals and tourists. Much like their owners, they often work long hours in challenging conditions to take care of their families who rely on them day in day out. Without proper veterinary care – which many owners don’t have access to or simply can’t afford – the work can take a toll on the animals’ welfare. 

Our team of international and local veterinarians in Ooty, India took action to change this. 

The team assembled a trusty vehicle, veterinary equipment and supplies and began attending to street horses and working equines across the region, at no cost to the owner. Many of the horses had never experienced basic or routine veterinary care; health checks, vaccinations, de-worming treatment and even proper hoof trimming and shoe placement and so, for each horse, the team made a world of a difference.

As the demand for expert care and veterinary guidance grew, so did the project.

The monthly clinics helped horses receive routine care and surgical treatments where needed, but also helped demonstrate to the owners how to clean a wound, apply ointment, monitor an injury and so much more.

The emergency response team gave horses who not only worked on the streets, but lived on the streets – despite having an owner – crucial support, as they were at higher risk of being injured in a road traffic accident. To combat this, the team also gave the owners reflective collars to help motorists see the horses at night.

Schools located in areas with large populations of working horses and donkeys have been taking part in our education programmes, to teach students about good husbandry, including the need for routine vaccinations, de-worming treatment and access to food, water and shade. The lesson concludes with a drawing competition where the children are asked to draw a ‘happy donkey’ and list the welfare practices they’ve just learnt.

THE IMPACT OF COVID-19

In March, a strict lockdown was in placed across India to halt the spread of coronavirus. The restrictions made it impossible for the team to run the field clinics and monthly clinics in their usual form. Furthermore, with food markets forced to close and people prohibited from leaving their homes, street horses were left stranded. For two months, owned and homeless horses wandered the empty streets in search of food and water.

But hope was not lost.

The government issued our team with travel permits to assist animals as best they could. The team packed the car with bags of feed, containers of clean water and bowls to distribute it, and set out on the empty streets. Throughout the strict lockdown, the team were able to provide Ooty’s street horse population – over 350 owned and homeless horses – with life-saving support.

The permit also meant the team could attend to distress calls, just like this one – a lame horse roaming the streets. The team immediately responded. On examination, the horse’s front right hoof was warm to the touch and sensitive to pressure. Every step must have been painful for this poor animal.

Every day, for five days, the team returned to assess the treat the horse's hoof. They administered medication to reduce pain and inflammation, and advised the owner that the horses needed complete rest, stall feeding and mild massage of the tendons, as much as possible.

Without the community looking out for one another, this horse would have suffered through lockdown.

It’s thanks to the team’s extraordinary efforts, your kind support and that of Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V. that we are able to build a strong relationship with the equine community and guide local owners on how to best care for their animals. Because, as we know, people want to do what’s best for animals, they just need to know how.

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