Some devoted owners walked with their animals for days for the opportunity to take part in the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust’s annual show.
The show, televised throughout Gambia, provided owners of working animals with the chance to show off the standard of care that can be achieved, despite the need to work the animals in a land vulnerable to tropical diseases and food shortages.
The trust’s Anna Saillet said the Gambian owners had put in a huge amount of effort to keep their animals healthy for the event.
“Keeping horses and donkeys healthy is difficult at the best of times in Gambia, and the owners of the show winners deserve great recognition for overcoming the obstacles of tropical disease, food shortages and poverty to maintain healthy working animals,” Saillet said.
“Without their animals these people simply cannot survive, and by providing an incentive to keep their animals healthy we are also seeing a change in attitudes towards their animals.”
The show, she says, provides proof that it is possible to maintain a healthy working animal in Gambia, despite the difficult living conditions.
Without luxuries such as lorries or horse boxes, Gambian horse and donkey owners are known to walk for several days with their animals to attend the show and to be in with a chance of winning a prize.
Classes were judged on a combination of condition of the animal and how well the animals were handled by their owners.
This year’s show saw almost 200 horses, donkeys and mules in attendance and, once again, the overall standard of the animals had improved.
That has been a constant thread throughout seven years of competition.
Trust director Heather Armstrong said: “In the year that the show was initiated, it was difficult for judges to choose a winner because so many animals were in poor condition.
“This year it was difficult to choose winners because the general condition of the animals was so good, particularly that of the donkeys.
“This is in part down to the fantastic success of our educational programmes, teaching both children and adults how to take good care of their animals.
“This improves the lives of the animals and also enables the animals to be more productive for their owners who rely on them for their own survival.”
The event was televised throughout Gambia, and attended by many Gambian dignitaries.
Although the event is enjoyable for all who attend, it is also an important platform to help to raise the profile of the plight of working equines in Gambia.
Huge progress has been seen in the way that animals are cared for in the Central River Region since the British-registered trust began its work almost 12 years ago. It is hopeful that there is even more positive change ahead.
A second centre for equine welfare is planned to be built in 2014, to enable its services to reach further working equines in the more urban areas of the country.
The new centre will provide an opportunity to work closely with both The Gambia College and Gambia University, offering training to young professionals and will see an expansion of veterinary services and educational programmes.
The trust was established in 2002 by Heather Armstrong and her sister, the Late Stella Brewer Marsden, to improve the health, welfare and productivity of working equines in Gambia.
A healthy working equine can increase a family’s income by 500 percent, so through improving equine welfare it is possible to improve the lives of their owners.