With projects in 16 countries across Latin America, Asia and Africa, we work through local partners to deliver horse care knowledge to communities who rely on working horses for their livelihoods, and provide practical training to vets, farriers, saddlers and others to help raise standards and improve availability of equine care. Working in partnership with universities, government agencies and other charities, we work to have the too often invisible equines included in government policies and on veterinary curricula.
Project countries are in various states of emergency and each has some form of lockdown due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, which is having a significant knock-on effect on the horse-owning communities. Many people are experiencing a loss of income brought about by the closure of business and industry and, without earnings, it is likely that many families – and their animals – will suffer. Unlike in the UK, many countries in which we work will be unable to offer government income support and many equine owners operate within informal economies, so there is a desperate need for support.
The first concerns have been around providing food for the animals and, in some countries, our project teams have been able to provide subsidised feed and bedding to owners, whilst other project teams have liaised with local municipalities to ensure that they include the equine-owning communities in their lists of those to receive basic emergency food supplies. Some were also able to provide our community advisors and service providers with resources that could be used to manage basic first aid care, with telephone support from the teams during lockdown.
While almost all our project field activities have been halted, support for owners is being provided remotely through telephone calls to offer advice on specific concerns or as a more general check-in and discussion on management of their equids. Even the poorest areas have access to mobile phones, and these are offering an important lifeline for horse-owning communities.
Project teams and Regional Co-ordinators in the Americas have taken the initiative to come together twice weekly via video conferencing to share experiences and discuss ideas of ways to operate in this new environment. This has included how best to support and engage with owners, such as ideas for developing messages that can be sent by text and ways of identifying and offering training remotely. In fact, this initiative has been so successful our International team is looking to maintain this connectivity once life begins to return to normal. Throughout the whole emergency, the UK-based team have been continuing to provide support remotely, and the current situation has also given them the opportunity to identify ways to further improve how they work.
The situation in each country is being closely monitored so that our teams can get back into the field and directly help working horse owners as soon as possible. They are also keeping track of other on-going equine welfare issues, such as the concerning outbreak of African Horse Sickness in Thailand, and taking action. Our team in Cambodia, for instance, is already out in the border provinces with the support of the government’s animal health department, helping owners to put in place prevention measures such as shade netting for shelters and insecticides to try to tackle the threat of an outbreak. The team are also working with other working animal charities as part of the International Coalition for Working Equids to produce informational posters and webinars on identifying and preventing the deadly disease.