2016 Equitarian Program in Honduras
Written By: Dr. Julia Wilson
Printed By: PonyPals Magazine
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Five Equitarian team members were met by a megawave of heat and humidity as they stepped off the plane in Tegucigalpa. This is our fifth year working in Honduras to improve the health and welfare of working equids. Three Honduras “veteran” veterinarians (Team leader Julie Wilson, Tracy Turner, and Marta Granstedt-Volkmann) were joined by newbies Dr. Chelsea Farnsworth and certified veterinary technician Katie Jones. Significant support for this year’s medications and supplies was provided by a grant from the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation. Boehringer Ingelheim kindly donated the equine vaccines. Our supplies and equipment, packed into 7 Action Packer boxes, encountered a young customs officer who meticulously went through all of the medications (and more) to be sure that all were on the pre-approved list that had been specifically compiled and approved with the help of Dr. Dario Caballero Reyes, our Honduran faculty liaison. The Honduran veterinary college at the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Catacamas has been our partner in this project since its beginning, as well as World Horse Welfare, the British charity that has fostered our fledgling veterinary organization in several countries.
About an hour and 20 official stamps later, we sallied forth from the airport to be greeted by Dr. Caballero, ~30 3rd year veterinary students as well as half a dozen of 4th and 5th year students that we were delighted to see again. Foremost among them was final year student Gerald Padgett, who has worked with us in the communities and served as a translator multiple times. He also spent 3 months in Minnesota last spring as part of his final year rotations, staying with Equitarians Drs. Marta and Chris Powers. Dr. Orlando Cartagena, now the large animal clinician for UNA, was another welcome face, as we had gotten to know him when his class joined us 4 years ago in San Pedro Sula. Daniela Robles, the new manager of the World Horse Welfare Honduras program, greeted us too. Their Honduras program has been rebranded as Equinos de Honduras (EQUHS). She proudly presented Dr. Dennis Benavides, another member of the San Pedro Sula charter class, as their new veterinarian. We are incredibly pleased that our project has contributed to the development of two outstanding young equine veterinarians. The sad point of the day was the absence of Dr. Dave Turoff, who has been a core and invaluable member of the team. We pray that he will be able to come in 2017.
After a quick lunch by the airport, we headed south on the UNA bus (packed to the gills!) down the treacherous winding road to Choluteca. The students were in good spirits, singing along to favorite songs, and affectionately joking with each other. Finally, exhausted by our super-early USA departures, we quickly fell asleep at our usual little hotel, Ely Mar.
Thursday, November 3rd
Our first work day began with the welcome loud, rolling laugh of Albino, a favorite veterinary student who drove from El Salvador to join us for the 3rd year.
Albino transferred from UNA to the El Salvador veterinary college after his first year working with us. Albino was as enthusiastic as ever, and told us he hopes to focus on a career in equine and avian medicine. We trundled off to our usual breakfast spot, a roadside café, for a Honduran breakfast of rice, beans, plantains and mystery meat, i.e. species not always identifiable.
At EQUHS headquarters, we were glad to see a number of our vital friends including farriers Fabian Santos, Noe, and Marcos, along with saddlers Adriano, Angelica and equine community based advisor, Doña Julia. A hectic resorting of the new supplies and those stored at the World Horse Welfare office since our last visit began. Katie was amazing, quickly putting the supplies into order so that we could head out to the first community. While that was going on, Tracy and Marta gave the new veterinary students a crash course on horse handling followed by Julie’s introduction to physical examination and the medical record form. We were immediately impressed by Jaime Santos, the 3rd year class president, who not only quickly got the students into order, but also spoke English well.
That afternoon, we worked in another familiar community, La Fortunita. The students caught on to the work rhythm quickly and began to grow in confidence as they started to identify abnormalities on their own. A rotation of the student groups was planned so that each group would have the opportunity to work with Tracy (intake and surgery), Katie (intake and anesthesia), Chelsea (intake and dentistry), Marta (intake and reproduction), Julie (intake and medicine), and Dennis (intake, horse handling and farriery). One of the more unusual patients had a very enlarged occipital bursa just behind its poll. A small fluid filled area was lanced, yielding very caseous pus, suggestive of a long standing abscess.
Friday, November 4
The team headed to Santa Lucia, passing by two solar panel farms. We learned that solar and wind power has become a significant export for Honduras. A very large number of horses awaited us in the sparse shade around a soccer (futbol) field. The team had to kick in to high gear to examine each horse efficiently, administer ivermectin (dewormer), vaccines for rabies and tetanus, and apply topical fipronil to diminish the huge numbers of ticks. Chelsea’s team was kept busy with dentals, as were the saddlers due to a large number of harness wounds. Both Drs. Orlando and Dennis very effectively led student groups and helped the farriers whenever possible. Albino led a few students too to help with physical examinations. Students were able to participate in multiple castrations with the Equitwister tool. The surgery group students performed the surgery under Tracy’s close supervision, while Katie’s group induced general anesthesia of the stallion with xylazine, detomidine and ketamine. Both groups did well, and all the castrations were uneventful.
Donated grooming supplies and small fly masks were given out to grateful owners of horses with severe rain scald and sunburned faces. These came from Minnesota horse owners.
We were dismayed to see a number of horses that were very thin despite the educational efforts of EQUHS and our yearly veterinary care. This warrants further discussion when we can compare this year’s medical records to last year’s.
The horses kept arriving at Santa Lucia, 93 altogether. We were hot, tired people by the end of that afternoon. Some of the students were more worn out than others.
Sweaty, dirty but smiling, we piled back into the bus at dark, listening again to popular songs as we bumped along dirt roads back to Choluteca. After a quick dinner and visit to the adjacent grocery, the gringos (Americans) celebrated their survival of the day with a chocolate ice cream feeding frenzy in the style of Dudley Dursley.
Saturday, November 5
A new phase of the Equitarians’ work began as we embarked for two new communities near the town of San Lorenzo. Many of these horses are used to carry water from a single town pump to outlying homes. EQUHS began working with these communities just 3 months ago. As in many new communities, few of the owners were interested in castration of their often unruly stallions. Perhaps next year they might be persuaded. An unusual case that Julie saw had a lesion on its nose and ulcers on its lip margin. The owner attributed these to a spider bite. Julie wondered that this might be another manifestation of vesicular stomatitis.
The students proved their worth, as we were able to get 103 horses done, including two foals. In this culture, it’s hard to persuade the owners that there are better ways to catch foals than to rope them. The ever smaller circle of humans with outstretched arms was demonstrated multiple times, in hopes of demonstrating a less traumatic way of taking care of the foals.
After the San Lorenzo community days, the grand total for number of horses treated and vaccinated in southern Honduras was 226.
Sunday, November 6
This day was spent riding the bus back up to Tegucigalpa with an airport stop to pick up team member #6, Dr. Marta Powers. Marta P. became Martita to help the students. Martita, another Honduras veteran, had just been at a continuing education meeting on equine reproduction in California. On the four hour drive to Catacamas in the northeastern part of Honduras, the main highway had significantly deteriorated. Between the speed bumps and the frequent pot holes, there was little chance of napping. We pulled into the UNA campus just after dark. The students quickly unloaded all of the action packers into the veterinary faculty offices and headed off to their dorms. We were driven to a small nearby hotel were we stayed the year before.
Unfortunately, the internet was down at the hotel and availability was very limited during the rest of our stay. On the brighter side, internet reception was better for our cell phones so texting back to family in the US was often possible.
Monday, November 7
Somewhat rested and fed a desayuno tipico, Bryan, the UNA driver, picked us up in a minivan to head to the veterinary program office. UNA is a unique institution. There are about 400 students at UNA. The campus is quite lovely, with huge trees, open pavilions, and no garbage anywhere. All of the students are required to spend several hours a week to keep the campus clean, and the landscape in order. The students must live on campus in dorms, and wear uniforms
– blue cotton shirts and jeans. The Universidad provides training for multiple different careers, in addition to veterinary medicine, including agricultural engineering, food science, business administration, and natural/environmental resources.
UNA’s extension program, Escuelas de Campo, has been working with a number of the communities in the area with good success with their livestock. Those with large horse populations were advised that the veterinary team was coming for the first time. About 300 horses were anticipated in total.
So, as we loaded up to go to our first community, El Pataste, we were not sure what kind of turnout there would be. To our dismay, no horses awaited us at the little park adjacent to a school. A group of young boys were setting off firecrackers during their school recess which made us glad that the horses had not been there.
Just as the students began practicing bandaging on each other, horses began to show up. The teams got to work with their physical examinations. Some of the boys started setting off firecrackers again, so a delegation had to go speak to them to get them to stop. In the midst of this, a good looking herd of cows came through, followed by a group of loose horses. One of these was extremely lame.
Unfortunately, without an owner to give permission, there was nothing that we could do. Thankfully, the horses we were working on weren’t bothered at all by either interruption.
The slower pace of the morning provided more time for teaching with the cases which was much appreciated. Just one castration was performed, with the usual circle of curious onlookers.
When small children arrived with their parents, we were able to hand out the Equitarian coloring book and crayons. These were created by Equitarian Angie Gebhart Varnum and her 4H Club kids. Each drawing has a health message.
Twenty-four horses were all that came. Notable here as well as in other communities were severe bits and bridles. Here are two examples.
The pace changed drastically after a quick lunch when we arrived at Vallecito around 3 in the afternoon. Chaos reigned as there were over 70 animals milling around in a small sloped hilly pasture surrounded by barbwire fencing. Stallions were screaming, mules were braying, and their owners thought it was a party. We thought it was insane and unsafe.
We quickly set up our team stations while the EQUHS staff registered and numbered the horses. We were joined by 6 students from Guatemala, two of their professors, and a Colombian veterinary college faculty member, Dr. Diego Duque. The going got tough, as a stallion broke loose and bred a mare while the horsemen cheered.
Several mules were highly resistant to any veterinary interventions. One ended up snubbed to a palm tree by Marta’s team. Eventually, the mule received both vaccines and dewormer. Tracy took on the challenge of another one. It took a while, but Tracy finally persuaded the mule that it could be vaccinated. Many needed hoof work too so everyone was very busy.
We finished up just as it was getting too dark to see. That was a lot of equids: 110 in 3 hours, for a daily total of 134! The downside: hitch-hiking pests – with the long grass, some of us had too many visits from ticks and chiggers.
Tuesday, November 8
This morning we discovered the option of French toast for breakfast. It seemed somewhat traitorous to eat something different, but it was a delicious change. Following the same routine, we headed to the veterinary offices to load up. A pair of yoked oxen with a beaming driver along the roadside made us all reach for our cameras.
At the first community,
El Pozo, no horses awaited us and there was very little shade. This required spray on sunblock for Chelsea, the porcelain princess.
To constructively fill the time, we started an impromptu game of veterinary jeopardy with the teams competing against each other. We soon lost track of the points because we had to keep moving on to the next team to get the right answer. Finally, a single horse showed up.
Oh well. We moved on to the second community, Guanabito. Once again, no horses awaited us, but we were assured that we were early.
In late morning, the horses began to trickle in. By lunch time, there were no more horses to do, so the students had an impromptu futbol game. Then, more horses began to arrive. One had the worst saddle many of us had ever seen. Adriano did a marvelous job repairing it when the owner said he had no other options. As the heat became less bearable, the farrier group retreated to the shade of an enormous ficus tree next to the futbol field.
Dennis impressed us greatly with his horsemanship. A wild two year old that had never been haltered evaded all conventional efforts to catch her. Somehow, Dennis was able to catch her, teach her to quietly follow him, graze quietly beside him, and accept her vaccines and dewormer. We wish we could have watched the whole process!
By the end of the day, we had provided health services to 32 in that community. We were glad to have an earlier ending to our day. As soon as we got back to the veterinary office, we all immediately got on the Wi-Fi and found a place to sit to get caught up on our email.
Wednesday, November 9
Aguaquire was the last community of the week. The students were hopeful that there might be some surgeries so that more could have practice in castrations and general anesthesia. Unfortunately, many of the owners were not interested as we were new to them. The team on dentistry kept busy as did Tracy the horse tamer.
Once again we had to employ the shrinking human circle to catch a number of foals. Julie realized she should not try to stop a bolting 3 month old foal by herself. Albino was now the acknowledged best foal catcher. He was quick, gentle and strong. A number of the horses had degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis with dropped pasterns, particularly in the rear legs. In speaking to the horsemen, several noted that there was Peruvian Paso Fino breeding in some of the horses. The students were surprised that the disease had a genetic predisposition. There were many very thin horses here, most of them mares that were working, nursing foals and pregnant all at the same time. The expression, “sucking her dry” certainly came to mind. Bony backs then predispose the horse to harness wounds. At least one horse owner did not care when we strongly advised weaning the foal.
Another interesting case was a mare that had suffered a pelvic fracture in the past, but had sufficiently recovered to return to work.
We ended the day with a total of 54 horses. That brought our three day tally up to 213 horses, which is a great start for a new project. Many more will be expected next year, and the work will likely expand to several more communities.
Thursday, November 10
Today was an historic day for the veterinary college as it hosted the first ever international veterinary conference in Honduras.
Covering all species over 3 days with 4 sessions going at once, it was a great undertaking for the small staff. The conference included a trade show and scientific posters, including one authored by Gerald. There was no community work as the majority of the veterinary students had signed up to go the conference. The Equitarian team tackled reorganization of all of the action packers and inventory. The coolest spot to do so was out on the lawn beneath one of the huge trees.
Hopefully, the careful sorting and detailed lists will make planning the supplies next year quite simple. The left over vaccines and medication that would be out of date before our return were divided between Dr. Orlando at UNA and Dr. Dennis with EQUHS. Both were also given farrier tools and Equitwisters. Their gratitude was heart felt.
Afternoon plans to go see nearby caverns did not come to fruition, leaving the team with little to do for the afternoon. Finally, David, one of the students we worked with in 2011, offered to drive us back to our hotel. All 6 of us piled into the cab of the small pickup. Air conditioning in the hotel restaurant plus margaritas, cold beers and/or ice cream soon brightened up the team.
Friday, November 11
Julie gave two lectures in Spanish, on the topics of equine neonatology and equine infectious diseases at the conference. Tracy gave a talk on equine lameness. All three talks were well attended. The veterinary students from Guatemala were very attentive, and eager to ask questions. A number of good discussions ensued. In the meantime, the rest of the team was waiting for the promised excursion to the caves. Transportation was finally arranged and all but Julie went off to explore this local attraction. The cool air in the caverns was very welcome. The caverns were formed by a river. Stalactites, looking like melting soft serve ice cream swirls with sparkles were very beautiful.
Ancient human remains have been found there, making the site of archaeological interest too. The government hopes to make the caverns a tourist destination.
Saturday, November 12
On the last day of the conference, Dr. Martita gave her presentation on equine reproduction for the conference. She too had a number of great questions and interesting discussion. Julie finally got the opportunity to meet with the head of the Escuelas de Campo program, Kenny Nájera Aparicio. They talked about the development of curriculum for equine owners that could be delivered through the veterinary students and the Escuelas de Campo. Kenny invited Julie to come see their fledgling equine therapy program for special needs children. With a small riding ring, donated horses, donkeys and volunteer moms, the program is off to a great start. Permanent stalls
are being built with government support, and the ring will be upgraded. These same horses will be available for teaching purposes for the veterinary students.
When Martita’s talk was finished, the students were summoned for a last teaching session. A video on passage of the nasogastric tube was followed by a live horse demonstration. Next, an ultrasound machine for diagnostic imaging of the equine reproductive tract was finally unveiled. It had been donated by Drs. Matthew Kornatowski and Ashley Leighton. Both are enthusiastic Equitarians after coming to the Equitarian Workshop in January. The students were greatly intrigued by the images Dr. Martita could show them of a mare that was five months pregnant. Working outside, the screen was challenging to see, so a hood was improvised with a black garbage bag. Efforts to show the use of the ultrasound for looking at lung surfaces and the abdomen were less successful due to the lighting. The ultrasound will stay at UNA for use in the equine teaching program.
After the ultrasound demonstration, Dr. Marta demonstrated the insertion of a microchip for permanent identification. The students recognized the advantage of doing so in the communities if accurate follow up is to be attempted. Microchips will be used next year, we hope, as the scanner and chips did not arrive in time to use this year.
The day concluded with a grand closing ceremony for the conference. Before the Secretary of Agriculture, Rector of the University, Dean of the Veterinary College and a number of other dignitaries, the ultrasound machine was formally presented to the veterinary college to great applause. May they use it well.
Sunday, November 13
Our trip home began at 3 AM as we boarded a bus to take us and a number of the foreign conference speakers to the airport in Tegucigalpa. We barely all fit in the bus, and there was a lot of luggage on top. We had not gone very far when a call went out from the middle of the bus that the luggage was falling off the side of the bus. Fortunately, it was just the covering tarpaulin that had come loose. That was fixed and we took off again. About an hour and a thousand pot holes later, Julie heard another part of the tarp hitting the back window of the bus. Once again, we had to stop to rope all of the luggage down again. It seemed a very long drive. As we got close to Tegucigalpa, the sun rose to show mist rising from the valleys up towards the top of the green hills. The sight left us with an indelible image of the beautiful countryside.
As we awaited our flights in the airport, we had some great discussion about the future of the project and what we would like to do to improve it in the future. More opportunities for the students to observe equine practice need to be searched for. Despite the heat and the huge number of horses (459!), newbies Katie and Chelsea agreed to come again next year. Both are teachers at heart, so it’s great to have that commitment. This was an unusual year because of the conference, so we expect that the schedule next year will allow for more classroom and wet lab time with the students.
Here is a PDF version of this article. PPM6-7EquitarianInitiative