Equitarian Workshop Kicks Off in Mexico

Nearly 60 veterinarians and veterinary students from Mexico, the United States and Canada gathered this week to participate in the Equitarian Workshop, a four day exchange of ideas and concepts designed to foster equine welfare on all continents.

The workshop is sponsored by an unprecedented collaboration of professional veterinary associations—Asociacion Mexicana de Medicos Veterinarios Especialistas en Equinos (AMMVEE), HSVMA and AAEP—in conjunction with World Horse Welfare (WHW) and The Donkey Sanctuary.

HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) veterinarian, Dr. David Turoff, is at the event and will be reporting daily on his experience.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Group gathers for lesson
A group gathers for a hands-on lesson in equine medicine.
David Turoff, DVM/HSVMA

The first annual Equitarian workshop opened today near Veracruz, Mexico, where almost 500 years ago the very first European horses were reintroduced to the North American continent. Opening remarks emphasized the interdependence of the human and equine species, and the obligation of humans to honor that relationship and improve the welfare of the working horse worldwide.

Presenters from The Donkey Sanctuary discussed the philosophy and methodology for assessing the welfare of working equids. They emphasized the need for assessment techniques to be objective and quantitative enough to be reliable and reproducible—both within and between populations—while at the same time being subjective and qualitative enough to satisfy the requirement for brevity and practicality. A strong consideration for the community in such assessments should also be considered, as well as psychological factors between owners and their working equine partners.

Topics to be discussed in the coming days include all aspects of medicine and surgery, parasitology and nutrition, equine behavior and handling, and hoof care and harnessing. Following the morning’s meeting, most of the group traveled to a village in the countryside for a productive afternoon and early evening of hands-on work.

October 19, 2010

2011 stipend recipients
This group of veterinary professional received a travel stipend from HSVMA to attend the workshop.
David Turoff, DVM/HSVMA

Discussions on the second day of the workshop centered on dentistry and pharmacology, and the various factors which determine which interventions are appropriate. There is a wide range of opinion on these points, and the overall consensus which emerged is that communities differ significantly with respect to various risk factors, and therefore, appropriate interventions differ as well. This is true for all aspects of medicine and surgery.

For example, in some places and times, large groups of uncastrated male donkeys may be relatively easy to manage, and castration may be unnecessary or contraindicated. In contrast, at other places and times, castration of horse stallions and male mules may be nearly mandatory for equine welfare and human safety reasons. In a metapopulation as large and diverse as the world’s working equids, few principles are written in stone, and nearly everything is situational.

October 20, 2010

Equine dental work
Equine dentristry is a primary focus at the workshop.
David Turoff, DVM/HSVMA

We continued the discussion of dentistry as it relates to equids in developing economies and how it compares to the dentristy that is commonly practiced in the first world. This included a consideration of the effect of grazing compared to diets of hay and grain, differing types of tack, and the various dental interventions. A similar discussion revolved around the issue of parasitism and treatment of parasites.

Following the morning meeting, the group traveled to a mountain community with approximately 120 animals, including at least three cases in which dental disease was so severe as to be life-threatening in the short term.

October 21, 2010

Hundreds of working equids have received veterinary care in the field.
David Turoff, DVM/HSVMA

The discussion today was short, as we had a full day’s field work planned treating nearly 100 horses. Topics discussed included nutrition, including mineral deficiencies of the soil, and feeding practices, which in this area include provision of green chop, as well as access to grazing and some supplementation with corn. Of note was that lameness issues may limit ability the animal's ability to graze extensively and therefore affect body condition score.

Additional factors affecting body condition score were mentioned; most interestingly, the effect of varying seasonal workloads and the yearly work cycle. One common example of this is the seasonal coffee harvest, which is largely transported by equids rather than by truck, due to the remote locations where coffee is grown.

It was also pointed out that body condition score and parasite load—as determined by fecal egg numbers, or EPG—are not well correlated, especially in donkeys, and that those animals most likely to be heavily contaminating pastures may not be those most clinically affected by parasitism. The implication is that treating the most symptomatic animals is most likely to benefit only those individuals, and that from a herd-health perspective, sometimes it is the least overtly affected animals—identified only by fecal analysis—who should be treated. Overall, this reinforces the value of laboratory monitoring of parasite control problems, which is relatively easy and cost-efficient.

October 22, 2010

The final working day of the Equitarian Workshop began with an abbreviated meeting, which allowed us to visit a local sea turtle sanctuary and learn about conservation efforts for endangered turtles and restoration of mangrove swamps. Following the presentation, we had the opportunity to release a turtle hatchling into the ocean, which was—at least for me—a surprisingly playful, affecting and emotional experience. Everyone was asked to name the hatchling they released; I named mine Octavio, after Octavio Paz.

Survival rate for turtle hatchlings is thought to be on the order of one or two per 1000 released, and unfortunately, at the time of our release, a swarm of seagulls immediately began that attrition. Somewhat irrationally, I hope Octavio survived.

In the afternoon field clinic, about 75 animals were treated, including one who needed an umbilical hernia repaired by Dr. Merriam.