It is midday. In a dim room in Dadupur, a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Greater Noida region, a bunch of women sings the last few lines of a song you won’t hear too often: the Ashva Gan (horse song).
Bright sunlight shining through a lone window illuminates a wall covered with posters featuring horse anatomy, lists of measures that animal owners should take, and detailed data charts with information on each horse, mule or donkey in the village.
The singing is wrapped up; everyone has arrived. Now it is time that this Equine Welfare Group (EWG) gets to work. Suddenly business-like, the women discuss the bulk purchase of balanced animal feed, review medicine stocks, collect a monthly fee to contribute to their fund and determine whether any animal needs money for treatment. Before you know it, the atmosphere changes, and they slowly disperse, chatting convivially. The entire procedure has an air of practised efficiency about it.
Simple as it is, this process is the base of a layered support system that has seen the health of every equine (horse, donkey and mule) in the village drastically improve. And it is a system that The Brooke India, a charitable equine welfare company, has successfully engineered in hundreds of centres around the country.
In Dadupur, residents work in a nearby brick kiln and use their mules to draw loads, a task that occupies most working donkeys and mules in the country. But six years ago, the villagers would not have been too proud of their animals’ condition. That is when The Brooke’s members — doctors, assistants, community helpers — came to the town, treated injured animals with their free veterinary service, and began to show them ideal animal care practices. “One major change we introduce,” says Dr. Abdus, a veterinary officer, “is balanced feed,” referring to a diet that includes appropriate nutrient content. “We also educate communities on basic equine welfare and treatment.”
“Within six or seven months, we form an EWG that functions with the help of veterinary assistants who work in several villages around the district,” adds Rachna Rishi, communication officer, talking about the process that generally works in the communities which The Brooke works with. “For problems they can’t solve, they can contact the organisation’s vets.”
The village now has four such EWGs — two comprised of women, two of men. Because of the differences in the way a husband and wife typically spend their day here, multiple groups working in slightly different ways end up complementing each other quite effectively. Dharmpati, the head of one women’s group, says: “Now that they see the benefit, every animal owner is part of one of the groups, and regularly attends gatherings.” She adds with a smile, “And if they don't, we go and hold the meeting in their house.”
“One of the things we did through the group,” explains Pushpa Devi, a veterinary assistant in Dadupur, “was to list out all possible problems that an equine can encounter, and then we drew out measures we can use to prevent them.” A local resident, Manoj Kumar, says thoughtfully, “Now, with all this information, I have begun to imagine I was the horse, and then think of all the things that I might need.”
Shyampal, another resident, explains the workings of a pictorial data representation — resembling a rangoli. A simple enough design, it can be used to keep tabs on whether people are following numerous aspects of equine care: vaccination, grooming, balanced nutrition, and hoof and shoe maintenance. As it turns out, Shyampal has been named the ashva mitra (friend of horses) for the example of animal care that he has set.
The Brooke, a company that originally began operations in Egypt, also trains farriers (horseshoe makers) and cart makers on crafting their products in the most animal friendly way. “Unlike bovines, in India, there is no government policy for equines, no schemes, insurance, anything,” describes Dr. Abdus, who combines his vet duties with managerial ones as well. He puts in: “Veterinary colleges generally do not even teach equine treatment.”
Left to themselves, the owners indulge in treatments that have their roots in tradition but sometimes have “questionable results”. In response to these “bad practices”, Dr. Abdus says, “we educate the community to involve themselves in better practices.”
Manoj Kumar puts it simply. “Before Brooke came, we knew that we had to get our animals treated, but there was no treatment available. Now, we know what to do, and we can do it ourselves. With less injuries and better health to our horses, our lives have become better as well.”