What exactly is an “equitarian,” you ask? Jay Merriam of the dictionary Merriams wrote this piece in the June 1, 2009 issue of The Horse.com. As he says, he feels personally empowered to make up his own definitions, so we’ll go with what he creates:
An equitarian is one whose only reward for providing medical or humane services to needy horses is the satisfaction of a job well done. There are millions of our equine friends worldwide who could use such a person.
In December 2008, many veterinarian “equitarians” interested in some of the worldwide equine welfare projects–both ongoing and proposed–gathered at the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention in San Diego to discuss the status of working horses all over the world.
According to Joe Bertone, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, of the Western University of Health Sciences, in Pomona, Calif., the United States has approximately 10 million mostly-pleasure horses, with maybe a million of those also considered to be working horses. This number is a lot higher than I expected, though compared to the number of working horses in the rest of the world, estimated to be as high as 100 million, it seems very small. The global number might include show and pleasure horses, but there may be between 60 and 90 million equines working every day around the world to provide a living for their humans.
Many working equines suffer from malnutrition, overwork, and lack of basic veterinary care and farriery. Working equines have many jobs: the transport of basic materials, the production of milk, transportation of humans, the representation of accumulated wealth, living property maintenance workers, etc. Merriam reminds us that perhaps we should think about how that coconut in our candy bar began its trip from tree to the package in our hand. It’s quite possible it started on the back of a mule.
In my previous posts on the subject of an equine bill of rights, I spoke about my desire to see a uniform code of ethical and humane treatment for horses worldwide. Merriam reminds readers that though there are many groups providing care for and help to working equines, their needs are less romantic and compelling than the plight of an injured racehorse or show horse that occupies headlines.
Cultural differences often provide a window into these animals’ needs. These equids are vital, but they’re not pets or family. They must be replaced often, but usually at the cost of a year’s income. When injured, rest is out of the question and veterinary care unavailable. And the needs are not going away. There is no such thing as an “unwanted horse” in the Third World.
At the AAEP convention in San Francisco, Merriam proposed that the AAEP Foundation assist various groups in working together to get supplies and medications to regions where they are unavailable due to poverty, governmental red tape and conflict. However, the problem of matching willing donors such as major pharmaceutical companies with aid groups is significant.
The altruistic desire of many veterinarians to “give back” is often short-circuited by requirements of long-term service, cost, or simply the pressures of keeping a practice together while away. Students who want to help are stymied by debt, lack of knowledge of available programs, and time constraints. But the group meeting at the convention showed without a doubt that the profession stands ready to help share the gift of healing with the world.
A half-day program at the 2009 AAEP convention (Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas, Nev.) will feature several of the groups represented.
If you know of groups within the veterinary profession that are serving horses in need, or of areas of particular need, please contact Mr. Merriam. Leveraging professional strengths and resources to help equines and their human partners in need by matching participants with willing donors, partners, and hosts is a huge project, but one that can be successfully undertaken.
Please visit Project Samana for more information or to learn how you can be of assistance. There are lots of great photos of the project’s work in the Dominican Republic.
The health of many families in the Third World depends directly on the health and strength of their animals. The support of the AAEP for young veterinarians starting their careers on an altruistic path will be a source of pride and strength for us all. The idea of “giving back” the gift of healing all veterinarians possess will resonate for generations to come.
Become an equitarian!
© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal
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