By Freya Dowson (Digital content and community officer)
23 Oct 2012
Yesterday was a day of opposites. In the morning we spent some time at one of Managua’s eight rubbish dumps (well, there are eight legal ones, but over a thousand illegal tips are scattered throughout the city).
Rubbish dumps in many developing countries can become like cities within a city, like little ecosystems where animals and people scratch out a living side by side.
I saw horses trying to chew through plastic bags to get to the corn husks inside, while their owners picked through the trash to try and find anything to sell.
They make a living by picking up the garbage that the unreliable government disposal service misses, then they are paid by land owners to transport it to the dump where they then sift through it for anything of value. Glass and plastic is recycled here in Nicaragua, while some metals are sold and transported as far as Taiwan – a world away from its origins where children and horses sift through decaying scraps, looking for breakfast.
After a morning spent talking to the owners and learning what life is like for them and their horses, we leave the dump just as an official looking truck shows up to drop off a freshly discarded load of faeces and urine samples from the local hospital.
Where we spend the afternoon could not be more different. In the hills of Las Enramadas the beautiful rolling pineapple fields and ample grazing pasture seem a far cry from the rotting heaps and walking skeletons of the rubbish dump.
It seems like an idyllic place to be a horse in Nicaragua but of course it isn’t the paradise it appears to be – if it were we wouldn’t be here.
In the 10 days I spend in Nicaragua, this is the first place I have seen people using bits on their horses. These animals are mostly used for riding as most roads are not accessible by car – though we do see the occasional brave little tuc-tuc attempting to navigate the pot-holed dirt tracks. They are also used for pulling home-made wooden ploughs, as this is a predominantly farming community.
The bits are harsh, flat and thin, so the horse’s heads fly in the air at the lightest touch on the rains. There are some saddles, but they are either poorly fitted or not used at all; one girl was using a folded sleeping bag in place of proper equipment.
Another unexpected hardship that these horses have to endure, quite aside from fleas and mosquitoes, are vampire bats. Almost every night theses bats fly out of the caves in the hills above to feed on what livestock they can find.
Many owners complain that they wake up in the morning to find their horses covered in blood from bat bites, often all over their neck and shoulders.
Local remedies for bat control include covering the horses neck and shoulders in oil and garlic, but the bats always come back, carrying with them the possibility of disease – rabies is not common here, but it does exist, and bats have been found to carry it.
Today has shown me how the working lives of horses can vary so much in two places only thirty minutes drive from each other. Each group of equines suffer from very different welfare issues. It only goes to show that where one form of intervention may work in one area, a different form may be required in another.
That is why scoping visits like this one are so important for the Brooke. So that we can make sure that if we work in a country, no welfare issue is overlooked. And no working animal - no matter how debilitating or idyllic their life may seem - is left behind when we start to work with communities to try and improve the welfare of horses, donkeys and mules.
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