Equitarian Initiative 2016 Costa Rica Workshop: Perspectives of an SDSU student Back »

The SDSU team with a patient and his owner.

Written Brittney Schlaikjer under the direction and review of Rebecca Bott.

Contextualizing the Equitarian Initiative

“An Equitarian, is one who serves equids with compassion, and who’s only reward is their improved health and welfare.” On January 22, 2016, Dr. Becky Bott and two undergraduate students, Jordan Nichols and Brittney Schlaikjer, traveled to Costa Rica to do just that. These SDSU delegates, along with many other students, veterinarians and veterinary techs, joined the Equitarian Initiative 2016 Workshop in Costa Rica and spent 9 days working in the blistering Costa Rican heat treating the working equids of the country. In Costa Rica, there is an underserved working equid population and an obvious lack of veterinarians, money, ability to travel, supplies, and general knowledge of equid health. Thus, the purpose of this workshop was not only to provide veterinary care to the horses, but also to raise awareness of the critical role of working equids while improving the knowledge of harness problems, tropical diseases, and field surgery.

The Equitarian Initiative originated at the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Annual Convention in 2008 and the 1st Equitarian Workshop was held in Mexico in 2009. Dr. Bott, Brittney, and Jordan participated in the 6th Equitarian Workshop, and it surely will not be their last.

Throughout the duration of the workshop, they learned the critical role of horses to small rural farming and urban families. For example, the horse may be responsible for fetching water for daily activities such as cleaning, cooking, and bathing. The horse may also be responsible for fetching food for the family to eat or sell. These tasks normally involve the use of improperly fitted harnesses that leave gaping wounds on the body of the horse. Additionally, farrier work is rare in Costa Rica, making it common for the horses to have “sleigh” hooves or multiple abscesses, which may diminish their ability to perform their tasks. The average yearly income for a family in Costa Rica is $7,000, and these equids may very well be the sole source of income for some families. Taking this into consideration, there is not much spending room left for vet bills or opportunity for the horse to take a day of rest when it is sick.

(Above) Hoof abscess. Photo by Matt Kornatowski.

Experiencing the Equitarian Initiative

Severely dehydrated & malnourished horse. Photo by Matt Kornatowski. Ticks infest a pony’s ear.

Although the days were busy with medical emergencies and basic veterinary care, our SDSU Extension Equine Specialist, Dr. Becky Bott, led a research project and made time to educate the children of the community. The research involved evaluating and recording Body Condition Score and numerous measurements on the body of the working equids. Prior to evaluating the horse, the owner was asked basic questions about the horse such as the type of work they performed. These conversations would not have been possible without Jordan’s superb translating skills. Temperament and attitude scores were also evaluated and recorded for each horse.

Along with research, a large part of our work included working with the local children to educate them about respect and care for equids. The afternoon “breaks” normally included taking time to sit down with the children and educate them about proper care for their horses. The language barrier is always an issue in a foreign country, so prior to the trip Dr. Bott, Jordan, and Brittney, and SDSU graduate Angie (Gebhart) Varnum created coloring books, matching games, and flashcards to use as educational games for the children. It is important to educate the younger generation so they can grow up teach their fellow peers and future children the proper way to care for a horse, thus, making a lasting impact for the community.

(Above) Dr. Bott and Brittney collecting data

The days were long, the sun was hot, the bugs were biting, but the reward of successfully providing urgent veterinary care to hundreds of horses made it all worth it. It was an emotional experience had by all, a trip we will never forget. The working equids of Costa Rica are valuable to everyday life and unfortunately there is an obvious lack of veterinary care and education. Thanks to the wonderful team of participants in the 2016 Equitarian Initiative Costa Rica Workshop, a difference was made in the lives of many four-legged creatures and their caretakers. Although an emotional trip it may have been, Dr. Bott, Jordan, and Brittney have all agreed this will surely not be their last. For more information, please visit: EquitarianInitiative.org.

Brittney, Dr. Bott, and Jordan with a donkey and her foal.

About the Author

Brittney graduated from SDSU with a degree in Animal Science on May 7, 2016. She will begin veterinary school at Iowa State University this fall.

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