Meet the itinerant vets who care for rural horses in Mexico


LAS PALMETAS, Mexico – Pedro Parra stood by his horse as the animal fell to the ground under anesthesia. Her four hooves flew for a moment, then stopped, and a team of volunteer vets rushed inside. Someone put a pillow under the patient’s neck; Another tied a rope around his back foot and lifted it.

Their job was to castrate a stallion—a surgical procedure necessary to prevent the animal from becoming uncontrollable and a danger to its owner and other animals. “He was a little worried about the mares,” said Mr. Parra. “He’s not comfortable anymore.” Within an hour, seven more horses lay on a plot of land behind the town church, slowly awake from their surgeries.

Mr. Barra was 34 years old that day. Once his mate awoke, he would take the animal home, where it would help plow the melba—rows of corn, beans, and squash—on his family’s farm.

Mr. Parra’s stallion was one of 813 patients, including donkeys, horses and mules, who were neutered, dewormed, vaccinated or otherwise treated during a weeklong itinerant veterinary clinic in Mexico’s Guanajuato state.

The campaign was organized by Rural Veterinary Teaching and Services, or RVETS, a program that since 2010 has sent volunteer professionals and veterinary students to provide free care in remote areas of Mexico, Nicaragua and the United States where vets are scarce.

“In the equine veterinary industry, no one cares about all the animals that are in the countryside,” said Dr. Victor Urbiola, Director of RVETS Mexico. “That’s why we focus on them.”

But RVETS does more than vaccinate animals or fix their teeth. The group also changed the way people treated the horses, mules and donkeys they depended on to fetch water, plow fields, ride competitively or attend school.

At the clinic, Brenda Arias and Martín Cuevas Jr., both vet students, gently approach two mares and a colt. On hand, students prepared to squirt a pale yellow liquid — the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin — into the animals’ mouths. Some country horses, unfamiliar to people other than their owners, “wouldn’t even allow to be touched,” Ms. Arias said.

So what do you do? Seduce them, said Mr. Cuevas. “Talk nicely to them, pet them” – a technique unfamiliar to an earlier generation.

Having been raised in a family of Mexican horse riders, or charos, Dr. Urbiola learned that inflicting pain and fear was the way to make or break a horse. Dr. Orbiola said that if he had been seen petting a horse, he would have been ridiculed. Jose Estrada, the clinic’s deputy vet, blamed our “male culture” for those negative situations.

Before RVETS, some owners would use the horse’s legs and head and neuter the animal with a knife, said Juan Godinez, delegate-elect of the Las Palmitas community. “So, Viva Mexico, without anesthesia,” said Mr. Godinez. It was not uncommon for an animal to bleed to death or die from infection.

The RVETS Clinic also fills a gap in veterinary training. In veterinary schools in Mexico and elsewhere, “there is less and less emphasis on horses in favor of other things like pets, dogs and cats,” Eric Davis, who founded RVETS with his wife, Cindy Davis, said in a phone interview.

“What they teach you in school is a third of what life in the countryside is really like,” said Derek Alejandro Morin, 24, a student vet volunteer with RVETS. Many students graduate without touching a horse. In the clinic, everything is practical.

Mr. Morin gave up the medical profession after training with RVETS Mexico last year. “I’m doing it for them,” he said, “for the horses.” But speaking with Estefania Alegría that week convinced him he was doing it for Malkin like her as well.

Ms. Alegria, 33, and her son, Bruno, traveled an hour from their home in the hills, where there is no electricity or running water, to visit the clinic in Galba. Her husband, like most of their neighbors, crossed the border to send money from Texas. She said, “Everyone left.” Now, she and her kids rely on their donkey—a 13-year-old animal with a crooked ear—and a horse named Sombra for just about everything.

Dr. Urbiola said her story resonates with one of his core missions: caring for animals “which are worth very little or nothing economically but whose value in people’s lives is immeasurable.”

It is not an easy task. Securing funds for the annual campaigns proved difficult. “When I knock on government doors, they say, ‘Why? “I mean, donkeys are worthless,” said Dr. Urbiola.

Then there are security concerns. In 2019, RVETS Mexico decided to stop traveling to the communities around Chicho, Guanajuato, on the advice of local contacts who warned them that homicides there had risen sharply.

However, said dr. Urbiola: “If we can help one donkey carry 80 kilos of water for an old woman, all our efforts are totally worth it.”

Victor J. Blue Contribute to the preparation of reports.


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