A world away from polo, player sees equine life on the other side of the tracks

Nic Roldan and a working donkey in Guatemala. © Enrique Urdaneta
Nic Roldan and a working donkey in Guatemala. © Enrique Urdaneta

It is a far cry from the glamorous world of polo, but last month pro US player Nic Roldan ventured south to Guatemala for a first-hand look at the country’s working horses, donkeys, and mules.

As a Brooke USA Ambassador, Roldan traveled more than 2000 miles in seven days to visit communities in the Zacapa and Quiche regions. Guatemala’s arduous terrain made the trip challenging, since the distances between communities is vast.

Roldan was accompanied by Brooke USA Executive Director Emily Dulin, and Brooke Guatemala/ESAP (“Healthy Equines for the People”) Executive Director Mario Sapón Pellecer.

Roldan and Dulin were moved by the plight of working equines in Guatemala and the life-changing work that Brooke is doing on their behalf.

Guatemala's 250,000 equines make it the most densely populated country for working equines in Central America. © Enrique Urdaneta
Guatemala’s 250,000 equines make it the most densely populated country for working equines in Central America. © Enrique Urdaneta

“I was blown away by the number of people, particularly women, who rely on the donkeys they use to carry their essentials such as wood, water and other goods,” Roldan said. “It was an emotional moment to see how these people live, how proud they are and how enthused they are to learn. It was truly inspirational. It was amazing to see where the funds that Brooke USA raises were being used.”

Guatemala’s 250,000 equines make it the most densely populated country for working equines in Central America. Most of the working equine population is used for transporting agricultural products (produce, firewood, etc). Reaching working horses, donkeys and mules and their owners and users in much of Guatemala is problematic due to the mountainous terrain and remote communities, which make it difficult for animals to receive the healthcare that they need.

Roldan observed that through educational programs, Brooke develops, promotes and strengthens sustainable practices for the care of working equines. Brooke Guatemala/ESAP operates from a perspective of community-based involvement, working to engage civic leaders and local institutions in learning and sharing best practices for equine welfare.

Nic Roldan sits in on a educational clinic in Guatemala. © Enrique Urdaneta
Nic Roldan sits in on a educational clinic in Guatemala. © Enrique Urdaneta

Roldan’s first visit was to the mountainous region of Zacapa, a seven-hour drive from the capital of Guatemala City. The team visited two project communities, Sinaneca and Cimarron, where a team from Brooke was giving an educational program to local residents on parasites as well as hands-on practical lessons in equine welfare.

The highland areas of Zacapa are prone to droughts and Roldan saw one of the ongoing efforts put in place by Brooke to combat this issue within the community. In this area of the country, working animals suffer malnutrition due to lack of food and water, violent handling practices, overwork, and overload. Additionally, they are affected by high tick infestation, wounds, poor hoof condition, and lameness. Brooke provided bags of drought-tolerant grass seed for owners to provide forage for their working equines even when conditions would not normally allow for grass to grow.

During a visit to a small mountain community, Roldan got a personal taste for how difficult the lives of Guatemala’s working equines can be. This community had no local water supply. Donkeys are used to walk down to the river to get water and haul it back. Roldan and the Brooke USA team did the hike themselves in order to see what the donkeys experience.

Roldan and the Brooke USA team next traveled to The Quiche region. This area, roughly five hours north-west of the capital, had a lush alpine landscape and a high level of poverty. In this area, working animals suffer from poor hooves, lameness, tick infestations, and wounds.

“We went to visit a man who had three mules he used to fetch wood,” Roldan explained.  “He was having trouble with one of them so the Brooke team was helping by teaching him how to handle his mule correctly so that it could be a more useful asset for him.”

Roldan and the Brooke USA team also spent time in a community where Brooke has had a long-term presence. They met a local man, Don Roberto, who was taught to shoe the working equines of the local community by Brooke, which is not an easy endeavor.

Don Roberto, a farrier in Guatemala who has improvised many of his tools. © Enrique Urdaneta
Don Roberto, a farrier in Guatemala who has improvised many of his tools. © Enrique Urdaneta

“You have to realize that he has to remodel a normal pair of pincers into hoof clippers, for instance, in order to do his work,” Roldan said. “It was great to see the work he did and again how amazing all The Brooke’s field staff are – caring, welcoming, professional – I’m very proud to be a part of this organization.”

While Brooke has been working around the world for more than 80 years, Brooke Guatemala/ESAP has been operating only since 2006 with a goal of developing, promoting and strengthening sustainable practices through educational programs to benefit the country’s working equine population. The organization pursues solutions in a a sustainable manner, such that good practices remain after withdrawal, and they benefit this and the next generations of working equines.

nic-roldan-donkey
© Enrique Urdaneta

Nic Roldan will be hosting the second Sunset Polo & White Party to benefit Brooke USA on Friday March, 24 at The Wanderers Club in Wellington, Florida. The 2016 event raised more than $140,000 to benefit working equines around the world. 

To learn more about Brooke’s work in Guatemala visit http://esap.org.gt/.

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