Commentary: International Resources Help Working Equids

Working equids are the donkeys, mules, ponies, and horses that are integral to transporting of goods to market, plowing the land, and clearing brush and trees in most of the world. Even if roads were traversable and the terrain could accommodate motorbikes, cars, or small trucks, such vehicles remain beyond the economic reach of most people in developing countries.

Families rely on these equids for their survival, and these animals are highly valued by their owners. Their loss due to injury, disease, or death can throw the family into economic crisis.

Working ponies have been integral to trade in Lampang City, the provincial capital of Lampang Province in northern Thailand. For 90 years the ponies have been a symbol of the city, primarily pulling carriages for the tourist trade but also as working equids of local farmers. In 1998, the possibility of studying an unvaccinated, isolated pony population in this region provided a unique opportunity. Information gained from the owners revealed no routine vaccinations or anthelmintic administration; routine health care was unavailable. Only two of the original 200 ponies in the study had been given a single tetanus toxoid injection.

As a result of geographic location, self-imposed isolation, and the owners' inability to obtain routine health care for their ponies, we needed to offer services of value in exchange for samples we wished to collect to study this population. (The income of many of these families averages 2,000 to 3,000 Baht [$60 to $90] per month.) Our working group provided routine physical examinations, free microchip placement for each pony if the owner agreed, wound care, and access to an at-cost calcium feed supplement to address the ponies' rice-based diet (low calcium, high phosphorous). Big Head Disease (secondary hyperparathyroidism) is prevalent in northern Thailand due to limited varieties of native roughage and grain.

In subsequent years, hair and blood samples were collected, and each pony was administered a tetanus toxoid and drenched with an anthelmintic. This project represents a collaborative effort of many clinicians and scientists, all of whom have been essential to its success. As remaining testing is completed and as we continue our interaction in coming years, we anticipate using the results to create specific management and health care programs to address problems affecting the native ponies in northern Thailand and the wider rural pony populations in the region.

More than five years of effort culminated in the opening of the Lampang Pony Clinic in 2004. The clinic provides year-round routine veterinary care, dentistry, farrier services, nutritional advice, and educational programs to pony owners in this province.

Globally, the infectious disease surveillance methods used in France, genetic research in Kentucky, and studies of rural equids in Thailand are contributing to our overall knowledge of horse diseases to promote the best health care and welfare for equids around the world.

Contact: Dr. Carla L. Carleton; 517/353-3267; Michigan State University; College of Veterinary Medicine; East Lansing, Mich.

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

Read more about working equids.

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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