Lending a Hand in Nicaragua

March 6, 2009

By David Turoff, DVM

Dr. Turoff, Alfredo and son
Dr. David Turoff looks on as Alfredo and his son work on a horse.

Nicaragua is a country of deep beauty and deep tragedy. Throughout the last two centuries, it has suffered more than its share of the ravages of war, weather, exploitation and invasion.

It is second only to Haiti as one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the rural areas, where the population is heavily dependent on the large numbers of working horses.

Over the last three years, HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) has traveled to Nicaragua, offering free veterinary care and education, and recently concluded what proved to be our most successful trip yet—both in terms of raw numbers of animals treated and involvement of local citizens.

Extraordinary help

In January, we were fortunate to have two Nicaraguan and two Costa Rican veterinary students participate, all who plan to continue with a career in their respective countries and will almost certainly be participating in HSVMA-RAVS efforts post-graduation.

Alfredo sharpens farrier skills
Alfredo, sharpening his farrier skills during a recent clinic.

We were also fortunate to work with a newly graduated Nicaraguan veterinarian, Fernando Ponce. Dr Ponce, a former agronomist, has committed to providing veterinary services in areas where critical care is largely unknown. In fact, one of the more remote villages we visited on our trip is the hometown of many of his uncles, aunts and cousins.

One other very important person we worked with was Alfredo, the president of the carriage drivers' co-operative in Granada. Alfredo has taken it upon himself to learn farrier skills in order to care for the street horses of all the carriage drivers—a service he offers at no charge.

Working with the HSVMA-RAVS team and a visiting farrier in the summer of 2008, with tools supplied by HSVMA, he has become quite proficient, and the condition of the horses' hooves reflects his efforts.

Satisfaction guaranteed

One of the most important goals of HSVMA's Working Equine program across the globe is to train and empower veterinary professionals and students in the host country, giving them the tools and education to continue this significant work between annual visits by HSVMA-RAVS teams.

As a volunteer with the program for the last eight years, it doesn't get much better than this—to have the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with others and teach high-quality technique to veterinarians, veterinary students, and horse caretakers in such a beautiful place, with such a disadvantaged and deserving economy, is unmatched by anything I do in my "normal" life.

Dr. Turoff is a longtime volunteer with HSVMA-RAVS. In his "spare time", he runs Foothill Mobile Veterinary Service in Placerville, CA.