Since January, WSPA and the Cambodian Pony Welfare Organisation (CPWO) have been equipping a mobile clinic and training Cambodian vet graduates in horse welfare. This summer, the clinic doors were thrown open to hard-working horses and their owners for the first time.
Cambodia’s 30,000 working horses and ponies are mainly owned by farmers and used to pull carts. They suffer daily: badly designed harnesses cause wounds and poor hoof care results in lameness.
When appropriate food is in short supply, horses even face starvation.
But deliberate mistreatment was not the cause of the poor welfare WSPA witnessed.
As WSPA Asia Veterinary Programmes Manager, Kate Blaszak, explains: “The owners of working horses could not rest the ponies to let them get better because they needed to make a living. They did not have the knowledge or money to improve the harnesses but they are very keen to become a member of this new Pony Welfare Organisation.”
Welfare education and resources were badly needed.
Modelled on success
WSPA’s approach in Cambodia – working in partnership with a local group and promoting horse welfare education at all levels, from vets to owners – mirrors the Lampang pony project in Northern Thailand, which has brought about dramatic and sustained improvements in pony welfare.
The ailments affecting working horses in these two countries are similar. Both share a lack of accessible, affordable equine veterinary care for horses, which is why training two Cambodian graduates and equipping the mobile clinic were the project’s first priority.
The new vets, Hang Piseth and Nop Rinda, are now busy treating ponies in towns and villages surrounding Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital; their animal welfare expertise will spread through the network of horse owners.
Before the level of welfare improvements seen in Northern Thailand can be replicated, the project must win the trust of horse owners.
When CPWO first visited the village of Srei Santhor Commune, more than 30 owners attended the initial meeting. But some were cautious, saying “other organisations come for a day, make grand promises, and don’t return”.
One owner, Mr Chaeng, watched CPWO vets treat over 60 other equines before bringing his acutely lame pony – which was still working – to the mobile clinic.
A severely bruised sole was diagnosed, initial pain relief provided and shoeing instructed to ease the pressure. The vets then visited Mr Chaeng and taught him how to soak the damaged hoof twice daily. They provided support bandages and further pain relief, on the condition that the pony was rested for at least a week.
Seeing that the vets’ treatments were working, Mr Chaeng agreed to rest the pony, despite a temporary loss of income. He told us he now feels confident that CPWO will return and can help owners provide better care for their ponies.
This is the first time WSPA has worked on the ground in Cambodia; partnering with new people to improve animals’ lives is an exciting prospect. And after their training, Piseth and Rinda are full of confidence and enthusiasm.
Piseth told us: “Our new training was so important – we did not have the opportunity to study equine welfare during our degrees. Now I know that we will be able to make a real difference to our country’s working horses.”
The project includes plans to work with the agriculture university to ensure that CPWO can provide practical training and experience for more Cambodian veterinary students.
“The mobile clinic is just the beginning,” explains Kate Blaszak. “To ensure lasting welfare improvements, we are working with the pony owners themselves, to empower them to understand the welfare problems and make practical changes to husbandry and harness design.”
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