NFA provided several free veterinary clinics this week in the Valencia area of Mindanao, an island in the south of the Philippines. Dr. David Turoff, an equine dentistry specialist from California who had volunteered his time, trained our local vet and students on the principles involved in caring for horses' teeth.
Horses Require Dentistry Too
Equine dentistry, much as it is unheard of in the Philippines, has become prolific in western countries because of its fundamental importance to equine welfare and longevity. Due to the fact that horses' dental structures are similar to those of rodents, in that they are constantly growing and being worn down, there is huge potential for problems that can lead to death, brought on essentially by an inability to eat. Dental procedures on equines are fairly simple and the basics can be taught in day or two, so Dr. Turoff gave a lecture at the Central Mindanao University and provided hands on training for select students. The first clinic is took place in the hamlet of Quezon, about an hour's drive over extremely rough, dirt roads from Valencia. The only way to get to the town is by four wheel drive vehicle or on horseback. We set up the equipment next to a mill where people from remote mountainous regions bring horses loaded with maize to be milled. After the milling process, they load their horses with the maize meal and return to the villages deep in the interior.
There was a steady stream of horses labouring under their loads and we got to work dispensing tetanus and vitamin B shots, de-worming the horses and providing their owners with a bag of concentrates to boost nutrition. Dr. Turoff also checked their teeth and advised horse owners on the appropriate weights for the loads of maize meal. The horses in this part of the world tend to be small and under nourished and are often over loaded. On the positive side, the harnesses and saddles are well padded and there is next to no evidence of abrasion sores, something that can be widespread amongst working animals. The horse handlers cover the gamut from 10 year old boys through to 70 year old women. One little boy was so small, the only way he could mount his horse was to hook his foot onto the chest strap of the harness and then use the horses mane to clamber up onto it's back.
A Hard Life
Ferrying maize meal to and from this mill is a hard life for handlers and horses alike and is striking in its contrast with the developed world where networks of trucks and trains would do the job. A day in the life of these horses and their handlers involves back breaking labour up and down winding mud paths that connect villages in the mountainous interior with the mill. All in 30 degrees of incredibly humid heat or more. For each journey of a few hours, the handler will receive the equivalent of approximately 50 pence. With wages like this, veterinary care is simply not a reality, which is why the free veterinary care and advice we provide in this region is so essential.