photo: New York Daily News
Horses and guides stand ready to take visitors up the steep mountain path that leads to the Citadelle Laferriere in northern Haiti
With over 100 million working equids in the world and about 99 percent of those in developing countries with only 1 percent of equine veterinarians located in developing countries, care for those working animals is sparse, according to Judy Batker, a Wisconsin veterinarian who travels to Haiti to provide veterinary services for donkeys and horses.
I had a chance to hear Batker, a local veterinarian near me, recently speak at the Wisconsin Dressage and Combine Training Association’s annual meeting in Wisconsin Dells.
Batker, a University of Wisconsin Madison 1995 graduate who co-owns Country View Veterinary Services in Oregon, has started a group called “One Horse at a Time.” The goal is to help the Citadel horses in Milot, Haiti. The horses on average are about 12 hands and weigh about 450 pounds. In comparison, the average quarter horse is about 15 hands and 1,000 pounds.
There are about 100 horses at Milot whose jobs are to carry tourists up a steep mountain to the Citadel fortress. The mountain is about 3,000 feet high and the fortress another 1,000 feet high. The fortress was built by Haitian slaves about 200 years ago.
The horses tend to be very malnourished with severe saddle sores and parasites, Batker said.
Her initial trip to Haiti was in February 2013 and she returned in February 2014 to provide care to the Citadel horses. Care includes treating saddle sores, parasites and gelding horses.
“Two families, about six to 12 people, often depend on each horse for their sole income,” Batker said. “The money earned buys food and sends their children to school. On average each horse makes three to five trips up the mountain per week. This equals $30 to $50 per week split between the families. There is nothing leftover to care for the horses. They do the best they can – both the people and the horses.”
Veterinarians traveling to Haiti hope to train vet agents in the region to provide animal car as needed and to educate the horse owners and handlers on care and nutrition It is a collaborative effort between Batker, Kelly Crowdis of the Christian Veterinary Mission, World Horse Welfare and the Haiti Ministry of Tourism.
“Our hope is to make the lives of these little horses better and longer, thus helping the families (who) depend on them,” Batker said, noting the average lifespan is probably under 12 years for the horses. Mares tend to have shorter lives, particularly if they have a foal.
As of August Batker started a sponsorship program where people can sponsor and individual Citadel horse, learn the name of the animal and its history.
At the gallop level or $150 the donation contributes to veterinary care, vet agent training, extra feed and saddlery improvements for the horse. The donor receives pictures and reports on an individual horse they select and sponsor. At the trot level for $75 the donation contributes to bet care, vet agent training and extra feel. General progress reports are received on the Citadel horses. A donation of $30 is the walk level and will contribute to vet care and vet agent training. There are also general progress reports on the horses.
In the works, is a plan to have tourists buy extra feed at the top of the mountain to give to the horses they rode. It is similar to buying feed at a petting zoo. It also would employ two to three locals and help keep the horse nourished.
For more information on Batker and the “One Horse at a Time” program or to sponsor a horse visit www.equitarianinitiative.org or find them on Facebook.