Equitarianism Brings Veterinary and Farrier Care to Dominican Republic Equids

Through literally hundreds of vaccinations and dewormings, 60 surgeries, nutrition training, and a nationwide farrier clinic, all from June 6-13, the Dominican Republic's horses, donkeys, and mules are once again benefiting from a new concept known as "equitarianism."

The equitarian effort, headed by Jay Merriam, DVM, MS, of the Massachusetts Equine Clinic in conjunction with the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, targets the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is part of the association's "Samana Project." Since 1993 veterinarians, technicians, and other volunteers have been traveling to the Dominican Republic twice a year to provide much-needed health care to the country's working equids, as well as small animals.

The Samana Project summer 2010 team just completed "the most productive year ever," according to equine podiatrist and Samana team member Steve O'Grady, BVSc, MRCVS, of Northern Virginia Equine in Marshall. "“The horses were just coming out of the woodworks, nonstop," he said. Vaccines and dewormers were given until the team’s stock, donated by U.S. manufacturers, was depleted. A team of three veterinarians and and numerous veterinary students performed 52 castrations in addition to other necessary surgeries in four days.

Castration not only promotes better working equids but also prevents uncontrolled breeding and reduces major health risks including injuries sustained from fighting stallions, O'Grady said. However, castration is not easily accepted in Hispanic culture, where stallion ownership represents a long-standing, proud tradition. Through education efforts over the years, the Samana team has been able to promote not only the benefits of gelding but also the increased breeding of mules, which are sturdier for work than the horses and are sterile with regards to breeding.

Nutritional education is also starting to show results, O'Grady said. No longer being tied to the side of the road to find forage for themselves, the working equids are now being fed grasses grown and cultivated just for them. "Compared to the kinds of animals the team was seeing five years ago, these horses and mules looked phenomenal," he said.

Now in his second year in the project, O'Grady and the team organized a nationwide farrier clinic, attended by at least two local farriers from each province. "Farriery addresses one of the most common and serious concerns of the working equid: problems with the feet," he said. Farrier equipment was donated and shipped to the Dominican Republic by Farrier Products Distribution in Shelbyville, Ky.

Like humanitarianism, equitarianism is meant to promote sympathy and benevolence towards individuals, but in this case, the individuals are the equine inhabitants of developing countries. Equitarian interests are on the rise, with more and more opportunities becoming available to equine health care professionals wanting to make a difference, said Merriam during the first official session on equitarianism, held at the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Convention last year.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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