An African trip for equine care

Our vet Amie Wilson travelled to The Gambia for a fortnight in January.

She spent her time with The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust (GHDT), providing veterinary care, educating owners and educating trainee paravets.

Horses and donkeys are heavily relied upon for transport and work, and are often the most valuable possession a family will own.

There is no veterinary degree taught in the Gambia and only five qualified vets living in the country, none of whom have any specialised equine training.

The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa, where subsistence farming is common. Horses and donkeys are heavily relied upon for transport and work, and are often the most valuable possession a family will own. It is estimated that a healthy working animal can increase a family’s income by 500 per cent. An injured animal can have devastating effects on the people relying upon it.

Many of the injuries are caused by badly fitting harnesses and bits, through lack of knowledge and equipment. The GHDT aims to swap any locally made painful bits for donated British ones. It also uses donated headcollars to dissuade owners from tethering animals by their leg or neck, which can lead to rope injuries.

As donkeys are often cared for by children, GHDT has many educational programs aimed at schoolchildren to encourage better welfare. Donkey Club is held weekly and teaches the children how to care for their donkey and play Donkey Ball, netball on the donkeys’ backs.

Amie saw a variety of cases, including eye injuries, wounds, a donkey with tetanus, colics, broken legs, and even had to try to treat a few human patients who were too far from the hospital.

Battery acid and car oil are commonly applied to wounds by the local people as they believe it will keep infection and parasites away. The GHDT not only treats the affected animal, but also educates the owner about the risks of such a practice.

The Gambian people were incredibly grateful and kind, and it was overwhelming to see how happy they were, despite having so little.

Transporting patients to and from the clinic can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. Donkeys were usually sedated and taken in the back of a pick-up truck. Horses were treated at home, or walked to the clinic. One of the horses was returned by Amie and the staff riding 20km bareback to the edge of the Gambian river where it was met by the owner in a fishing boat and had to swim the rest of the way.