A Healing Hand For The Horses Of The Goddess
month thousands of poor Indian families arrived with their horses
and donkeys in Jaipur at the temple of the Hindu goddess Kalkani
Matha - the goddess of equines - for a dramatic 300-year old festival.
the people, the colourful annual celebration is always a welcome
break from grinding poverty. For their animals all too often it
means exhaustion and suffering - but this time teams vets from the
British-based charity Brooke Hospital for Animals were standing
by to offer free treatment, advice and training in equine care.
and foals, some taken from their mothers only days after birth,
arrived by truck. Donkeys arrived on foot, malnourished and often
lame, accompanied by their owners or donkey dealers from poor villages.
The festival takes place at Luniyawaas, a village 30 km from Jaipur,
India, on the Hindu festival of Dussehra, just before Diwali. The
fair is a tradition passed from generation to generation of equine
Joy Pritchard, Brooke's Veterinary Advisor has just returned to
the UK from the fair, and reported a growing problem. Dealers now
offer dozens of foals, taken abruptly from their mothers, for sale
to anyone who will pay the price.
recalls "Foals, some as young as 15 days old, barely able to
survive without their mothers' milk, are tied up side by side in
long lines. They have no choice but to nibble at the piles of dried
grass placed in front of them, or chew in vain at each other's manes.
When the sun moves round from behind the temple where they are tied,
there is no respite from the heat and dust except a quick drink
of water given whenever the owner remembers them. All to often they
are forgotten. We wormed all the foals, treated wounds and tried
to put pressure on the dealers to offer water more frequently.
foals are Rajasthan's famous Marwari breed, bays and prized skewbalds,
with curved ear tips. The lucky ones will be bought outright. Others
will be bought by speculators or even 'in bulk' by a middle-man,
to be re-sold at the same trading fair or, worse still, packed into
lorries and moved on around the state from sale to sale. Under these
conditions many will die from malnutrition, poor immunity, diseases
caught from so many other stressed foals, or fractures and injuries
sustained during transport.
5,000 rupees (£60) you can buy a thin little bay colt, destined
for the tonga taxi carts of Jaipur's busy streets. A bright skewbald
filly which may be used as a future 'marriage horse' to carry Rajasthani
grooms to their weddings, costs 8,000 rupees.
promises: "The dealers have brought them from so far afield
that it is nearly impossible to prevent this trade in tiny foals,
but Brooke will be putting pressure on the Luniyawas fair committee
and other fairs at which we have a presence to set a minimum age
at which animals can be bought and sold at fairs in India."
Hospital for Animals had a mobile equine clinic present for the
four days of the fair and treated more than 1,200 horses and donkeys.
We have provided and maintain four permanent water troughs that
are crucial to the hundreds of other horses, mules and donkeys at
the fair. Our vets gave free treatment to all equines and our farriers
re-shoed animals as necessary. We replaced inhumane hobbles and
ran workshops on equine care and welfare. In particular, we targeted
children and young people using traditional Indian puppet shows,
games and quiz competitions to educate them in equine care.
new owner of a foal went home having received foot care and grooming
training and with a clinic card, telling them where to bring the
foal for any treatment needed in the future. Those foals that survive
and remain in the area will have the assurance of free veterinary
care from Brooke for their entire working lives.
There are an estimated 2.5 million working equines in India.
These animals are usually the only source of income for their poverty-stricken
families and work under extreme conditions of heat, pain, exhaustion
and illness. A combination of economic, social and cultural factors,
including lack of education, superstition and poverty, result in
unnecessary pain and suffering for these animals.
Brooke Hospital for Animals was founded in 1934 to improve the condition
and well-being of equine animals overseas by providing free veterinary
treatment for the working horses, donkeys and mules of some of the
poorest people in the world and by advising and training their owners
and users. We are the only organisation dedicated to providing veterinary
treatment for working equines, alongside training owners, to bring
about lasting change.