The Texas Equine Veterinary Association's biannual Equitarian Project commenced on November 9 with the group of 5 veterinarians (Lisa Stephens, Pat Garrett, Tammy Vretis, Chris Brasmer, Rob Franklin), 2 students from Texas A&M (Emily Hood, Melanie Hensley), MWI sales rep Cecilia Mink and Dr. James Vretis. Our trip began at DFW on a direct flight to Guatemala City. Tammy fell ill during the flight and required hospitalization/evacuation upon arrival.

We were all very thankful for the presence of her physician husband’s presence and are also grateful for her safe return home. We miss you, Tammy.  Immigration and customs were passed and the remainder of the team safely arrived at our home away-from-home, the hotel Palacio Chico in Antigua. Friendships were kindled at our local hangout, the Chimenera.

On Sunday morning we departed for the ancient Mayan town of Chichicastenango, where an amazing market takes place each Thursday and Sunday. The trip up exposed us to over 6,000’ of elevation change, agricultural diversity, cultural disparity and again, team building on the 3-hour excursion.

Once there, we were enchanted by a large market full of everything from flowers to handmade Mayan goods. We also visited ancient Mayan temples that were transformed into beautiful Catholic churches by the Spanish. The cultural blend persists today with people worshiping a mixture of religions within common grounds.   

Fruit/Veggies market at ChiChi


Our team assembled outside of the hotel in Antigua. 

Monday morning we headed an hour out of Antigua, Guatemala, to San Andres Itzapa, where there were at least twenty people and horses eagerly awaiting our arrival. We met up with Danilo Ramirez, our local partner from the World Horse Welfare organization, and by the time we unpacked our equipment, the number of people and horses doubled.

The team split up, some for new, incoming horses, assigning numbers to each animal, and asking basic information on each horse, and some perform dental procedures, which is where Dr. Lisa Stephens and I were assigned for the day. Once each horse received vaccinations (encephalitis, tetanus and rabies), dewormed , and a basic health history and physical performed, those who had dental problems came to our station. Horses arrived with many various issues: from saddle sores, lameness, retained caps and sharp dental points, to vampire bat wounds.

Orthopedic problems were perhaps the most common issues and were largely caused by the overloading of fine breed Spanish horses at an extremely early age before growth plates have closed. This leads to tendon/ligament failure, angular limb deformities and resultant hoof deformities. All in all, a depressing syndrome that stems from a cultural lack of understanding, something we hope to change through education.

Although some people had to wait extended periods of time before we could get to assess their animals, they waited patiently, and happily. There were a large number of children who either accompanied older family members, or were the primary handlers of the horses.  

Concepción Ramirez, our Mexican farrier/veterinarian/saddler friend, also worked with horses throughout the day that exhibited behavior problems. He demonstrated to owners a different way of working with their horses, in order to have a more productive working animal, and at the same time, training the horses. We were also joined by our old friend Dr. Jaqui, who was accompanied by Carlos Castellanos (our organizer for Feb 2013 trip) and her children who were out of school for their annual break.  Jaqui always provides a positive attitude and sets the tone for helping the campesinos. 

Patient owners were very attentive to instruction given by the team. Here, Concho performs a clinic on proper horsemanship skills.  

Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Disease is very common in the area and results in lifelong lameness. This horse, only a yearling, suffers from bilateral forelimb suspensory failure. The culture is to begin loading the animals with cargo very early on in life which exacerbates the genetically predisposed problem. 

Fetlock varus and tarsal varus (angular limb deformities) are very common and a result of overloading skeletally immature animals. The hoof deformities persist through life and can only be managed by good farriers. We are thankful to be working with World Horse Welfare and for Concho, our teams farrier who was very busy.  

Brazo and Cecilia performing initial examinations and history taking 

Lisa and Emily teaching the kids about a horse’s mouth

While performing dentals, we showed each of the owners the sharp points within the mouth, having them feel the surfaces, and with the help of Guatemalan veterinarian, Leonardo, we explained to owners the importance of maintaining a proper occlusal surface. The majority of the horses were young, with sharp points being the primary problem, but we did see a handful of horses with more intensive dental problems. Everyone was extremely curious about the equine mouth, and thoroughly enjoyed being able to take a peek, before and after floating. Many of the children helped us throughout the day, aiding us in flushing mouths, or pressing the pedal for the power float.

Out of the 108 horses seen, approximately 40 of them had their teeth floated, and all of them were vaccinated and dewormed. Many services were provided today, but every person involved also learned something from another.

The day wrapped up with some farrier work, the kids playing soccer, and the whole team ready for a new group of horses tomorrow, higher into the mountains of Guatemala.  

Thanks to Emily Hood (TAMU 2014) for today’s blog. 

TEVA Equitarian Project Day 2

This morning was overcast and cool while everyone piled in the van, ready for our second day in Guatemala. In the town of Parramos, we turned down a tiny side street and suddenly were on a steep, narrow dirt road heading up into the mountains. We could see the entire county below from clearings in the trees, and after about 45 minutes the road opened up into a small town. This town was tiny, much smaller than where we were yesterday, and we set up in flat space right next to the road in the midst of people’s homes.

Our worksite on the mountainside village of Xeparquiy.

We split into teams similar to yesterday, but Emily worked in receiving and I worked with Dr. Stephens and Dr. Leonardo, a local Guatemalan vet, doing dental exams and floating teeth. It was great practice for me to hone my skills with the float and attempting to speak with owners in Spanish. Everyone I have met has been incredibly gracious, patient, and curious, and the Guatemalan people have a great sense of humor.

Dr. Brasmer working with Cecilia Mink


Dr. Lisa Stephens, Leonardo & Melanie providing dental care while teaching the children about a horse’s dentition.

Today was a much slower day than yesterday from the veterinary perspective: there were only 39 horses and quite a bit of downtime.  However, while I was standing with a horse’s head on my shoulder as Leonardo floated the teeth, there was still a lot going on. Everywhere I looked someone from group was talking with the locals. Emily and Cecelia were using livestock chalk to draw on the cobblestone road, playing hopscotch with some local girls.  Next to the dental area, a group of local men were gathered around while Concepcion was using some of their horses to teach basic horse handling and proper hoof care.  While we were waiting for more horses, I got to talk with a sweet boy named Luis who taught me how to say kite in Spanish and proudly took me over to show me his mare.  Today reinforced what Dr. Franklin emphasized yesterday: this is not about rushing through to treat vast numbers of horses, it is about taking time with each person to build relationships and educate. As we headed back down the mountain today, I was already curious and excited for what tomorrow would bring.

Chris Brasmer doctors on a horse with a tendon injury.

Dr. Garrett and farrier Jaime discuss a difficult case.

Our ‘customers’ depart with smiles.

Blog by Melanie Hensley (TAMU 2014)

TEVA Equitarian Project Day 3

The mountains high up at Chimachoy, Guatemala, provided a surreal environment for us today, with the clouds moving in and out throughout the day. Light jackets were not sufficient enough to keep the majority of us warm, but that did not stop us nor the people of Chimachoy from coming out to have the horses assessed and taken care of. The majority of the horses today were in a much better body condition than the previous days, and were also much stockier in their build.  The high mountain grasses may provide better forage though the animals still showed signs of skeletal and hoof deformities. They also had quite the ornery attitude in comparison.

People slowly trickled in all day, we ended up seeing approximately 50 horses with 30 of them having their teeth done as well. Melanie and Cecilia did a wonderful job at assessing the horses, with many of them having more intensive healthcare issues than the previous days. We happened to see a dentigerous cyst in one mare, and Concepcion worked with the majority of horses today, due to various behavior issues. The communities we visit never cease to amaze us. The people are extremely grateful, and all the children show up with smiles.  Soccer balls also continue to be a favorite and Dr. Franklin impressed us all with his futbol skills.

A local waits patiently for the team to prepare treatments.

Local children play futbol.

Concho had to spend time working with this horse as it did not want to allow Melanie and Cecilia to mark it with the livestock markers. By the looks of things, the horse is now fully sacked out.

Dental team working on the soccer goal.

Melanie Hensley doctors on a saddle sore.

Skeletal abnormalities and secondary hoof deformity were noted in many horses

Local vet Dr. Leonardo and a customer waiting in the clouds.

Pat and Brasmer stop to investigate the local church.

Dr. Stephens, Emily and Leonardo become local stars as they were featured in a local paper.

Blog by Emily Hood (TAMU 2014)

TEVA Equitarian Project Day 4

The team set out for another community workday in a village outside of Zaragosa. World Horse Welfare, the British Charity we partner with, has set up a community center in Zaragosa in order to focus their efforts on not only providing care for the working equids, but also to try and change the minds of their owners through education.  They employ a country coordinator, Danilo, a community project coordinator, farrier Jaime, a community veterinarian, Leonardo, and also enlist the help of a single community elder for local buy-in.  The TEVA Equitarians fit nicely into this project and it looks to be a partnership that should be fruitful for years to come.

We had been to today’s village in October of 2012 and I quickly remembered the ill-behaved nature of most of the local horses. Although many were fine specimens, by local standards, they almost all lacked any type of real training. Pat, Jorge, Cecilia and Emily attempted to work the small crowd- addressing health issues of concern to the owner, providing deworming, vaccination, welfare assessment (body condition score, lameness, illness, behavior and wounds) and dental assessment. 

Before the receiving team could really get underway (they couldn’t even touch the horses without them becoming aggressive), Concho had to step in and provide some schooling on the rank horses. As usual, Concho took his time and demanded the attention of the owners as he instructed them simple techniques to teach the horses respect, without instilling brutal measures. In a matter of minutes he had the unruly submitting to a peaceful coexistence.  The clinic was repeated throughout the day and each time you could watch the kids and owners practicing these techniques on their own. They were sold on the idea that it was easier to get along with their horses than it was to have to work in bilateral fear.

More wounds, both saddle and leg injuries, were treated by Pat and Brasmer today than usual. Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Disease was very prevalent and resulted in more lameness issues then we would have cared to see. As a degenerative, genetic process compounded by nutritional deficiencies and overworking at a young age, there was little the team could do but to explain and educate the locals on the issue.

Dr. Stephens took charge of the goal post converted to a dental station. Lisa was very patient in providing instruction to local veterinarians and veterinary students. Every horse was a teaching opportunity for the owners and young vets. The dental problems were corrected and everything went smoothly until a horse frightened and the powerfloat found it’s way into Melanie Hensley’s hair, ouch…

The kids in this community were awesome, as usual. We were befriended by scores of 3-12 year olds who were out of school this time of year. Their parents were rarely if ever seen and they would cling to our team members for the whole day.  Lunches were shared by all and even stories of  ‘la biblia’ were told and translated at their request. Everyone seemed to communicate without a common language just fine. Stethoscopes were used to listen to hearts, lights were used to look in the backs of horses’ mouths, soccer balls were kicked around and eyes were opened wide to how much of a blessed life we all live in Texas and how sharing and giving makes us feel good.

Tomorrow we will host a veterinary training day with local vets and vet students at the WHW center in Zaragosa.

"Be Good  & Do Good"

Rob Franklin