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. The Costa Rica programme has grown over the years and we are now running a project with the Pack Horse Association in Chirripo Mountain and work in collaboration with Universidad Nacional, the University of Costa Rica creating research projects with students on nutrition and pasture. World Horse Welfare has worked with horse owners over the years in sharing skills and knowledge to better their equid's life; we believe that a healthy equid benefits its community and their livelihoods, and we are carrying out much needed research into the impact an equid has on the welfare of its community.

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. The result of poor welfare is due to the lack of knowledge in husbandry practices.

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; traditional techniques which have been passed down from previous generations include using a machete to cut away the hoof, this can lead to painful feet.
Harness equipment is available, however in many cases these can be ill-fitting resulting in injuring the equid.

There are also concerns on nutrition, parasite control, sun burn and fungal skin infections. In some instances there have also been bites from vampire bats which can lead to rabies.

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


international world horse welfare costa rica

The main aim of the project in Costa Rica is to see a significant improvement in the health and welfare of the working equids throughout the county which will benefit the livelihoods of humans. By developing strong links with horse owners in the communities, national stakeholders such as Universities and local working equid groups we aim to provide regular equine care and husbandry workshops, focusing on the main welfare problems seen within each area.

We run three specific projects in Costa Rica:

1. Guaymi indigenous communities in La Casona and Conte Burica: We have built lasting relationships with community leaders within these areas and run regular training to suit the needs of the community. An example is the head collar training which is specially aimed at helping women gain new skills and have employment opportunities.

2. The Pack Horse Association, Chirripo National Park: Cerro Chirripó Grande is the highest peak in Costa Rice, reaching 3819 meters (12,530 feet) and is a popular tourist destination. Horses are used to carry luggage, food and water up the mountain. The Pack Horse Association was formed to give members opportunities and resources to improve their horse’s life. CREW run regular workshops with the association to ensure their working equids are well looked after. Healthy working equids upload this community.

3.  Universidad Nacional (UNA), the University of Costa Rica: We work in association with the UNA giving students from the Animal Science Department the opportunity to visit indigenous communities and run research projects. Pas projects have included: Change in forages and nutrition, Community training in nutrition, Opportunity to attend community rounds with Vets and farriers.

The team also work directly with government departments such as SENASA (Ministry of Agriculture) by giving trainings and support in writing new animal welfare policies. CREW have recently run OIE chapter of working equids training to all SENASA staff; this is a great relationship that we look forward to building.

With time we know we can make a real difference to the lives of horses and their owners in Costa Rica, 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.