Working with indigenous communities in Costa Rica

international world horse welfare costa rica

World Horse Welfare, in collaboration with Costa Rica Equine Welfare (CREW) has been working in the Ngabe (Guaymi) Indigenous Territories since November 2013. This collaborative programme works directly with indigenous communities to provide husbandry and equine care workshops to the horse owners, as well carry out much-needed research and information gathering in the area. World Horse Welfare has focused its approach in Costa Rica on equipping horse owners with the necessary information and skills for correct care of working horses as well as supporting local organisations to improve their capacity to further improve equine welfare across the country.

Horses in the region are used primarily for agriculture and the transportation of both people and materials. Poor bodily condition, improper foot care and mechanical injuries are evident amongst many of the working horses due to poorly fitting harness equipment, insufficient nutrition and non-existent equine service provision within the reserve. Owners are not aware of basic husbandry practices and - through no fault of their own - lack the essential skills required to meet the daily needs of their horses, resulting in poor welfare.

international world horse welfare costa rica

About the area

In the Ngabe (Guaymi) indigenous territories the majority of equines are used for agriculture and transport. Due to the very steep terrain the horses are used as pack animals or ridden, rather than pulling carts. Most of the reserve is impassable to vehicles, so horses are used for all forms of transportation.


Hoof care is a major issue. There are no farrier services available to these communities, and horse owners, in an attempt help their horse often use machetes to crudely cut away the hoof, having learnt this technique from previous generations. This means that on many occasions too much hoof is cut away and the horses are left with extremely painful feet.

Harness equipment is available, but it is very much a one-size-fits - or doesn't fit - all  approach.This means that although there is good equipment available, the equipment rubs and cuts into the animals because it is either too big or small, or the animal is the wrong shape. Mechanical injuries are prevalent in all areas.

international world horse welfare costa rica

More general health concerns in all of communities seemed to centre on nutrition, parasite control and fungal skin infections. Sun burn also seemed to be readily occurring. Bites from vampire bats are a concern for many of the owners.

Our project

The main aim of the project in Costa Rica is to see a significant improvement in the health and welfare of the working horses of the Ngabe people. As no money is exchanged within these territories, the direct training of owners in basic hoof care, husbandry and equine health is the best way to encourage improved equine welfare. By developing strong links with horse owners in the communities we aim to provide regular equine care and husbandry workshops, focusing on the main welfare problems seen within the reserve.

World Horse Welfare began working with owners to share the importance of daily foot care and basic husbandry.  Training workshops had to be carried out very sensitively at first as the Indigenous people are generally very shy to newcomers. Over time trust has been develeped with the in-country team and a strong relationship developed. It is important we are respectful and are fully aware of any traditions that the community may follow.

international world horse welfare costa rica

The team also work directly with government departments to support them on creating better guidelines to improve horse welfare across Costa Rica, and ensure the capacity of local veterinarians is improved specifically in the area of of equine health and animal welfare.

With time we know we can make a real difference to the lives of horses here, thanks to our supporters around the world. We look forward to updating you as the project progresses. If you would like to keep up to date with the very latest developments from our international projects you can follow us on Facebook and sign up to our enews.