Wellington, FL – Three of Brooke USA’s dressage ambassadors, Olympians Kasey Perry-Glass and Allison Brock, as well as Grand Prix competitor and National Champion JJ Tate recently traveled to Guatemala to observe Brooke’s work focused on improving the lives of the working horses, donkeys and mules.
The ambassadors were joined by Brooke USA’s Development Officer Kendall Bierer, as well as staff from ESAP, Brooke’s partner in Guatemala. ESAP’s Executive Director Mario Sapon Pellecer led the group through drought-prone departments of Guatemala for an eye-opening, first-hand observation of the Brooke USA- funded programs in the region. In 2017, Brooke USA raised over $250,000 for ESAP’s programs through the 2 nd Annual Nic Roldan’s Sunset Polo & White Party, held in Wellington, Florida.
While Brooke has worked on improving conditions and educating owners on proper care, the trip focused primarily on Sinaneca and Plan del Morro; two sites that have been their most recent 18-month projects.
Brooke and ESAP, a local organization in Guatemala that focuses on improving conditions for working equines, joined forces in 2006 to provide quality care for the country’s population of working horses, donkeys and mules. They were inspired to make a difference 11 years ago after assessing the dire need for better care and education for Guatemala’s 250,000+ working equines, as Guatemala has the highest density of working equines in Central America. They began their work developing, promoting and strengthening sustainable practices through educational programs to benefit the country's working equine population, with the understanding that the equines play an extremely important role in the economic and emotional stability of families in rural communities.
“It is incredible to be part of Brooke USA, and to see the communities in Guatemala. I look forward to bringing awareness to how much help they need, and what we can do to create sustainable living for everyone — humans and equines,” Tate said. “It feels wonderful to contribute, and to see the work first-hand. It is important to bring information back to the United States, and tell people what we saw.”
“I was really impressed with how hands-on everyone was. The community was enthusiastic about learning how to care for their working equines better. The bottom line is, these animals help them survive, and they want to do right by them.”
Brooke 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. They work hard to form groups of community leaders in each locality that will understand the processes they teach and influence citizens across the area.
Unfortunately, reaching working horses, donkeys and mules and their owners in much of Guatemala is problematic due to the mountainous terrain and remote communities. This makes it difficult for animals to receive the healthcare that they need to continue their important jobs providing a livelihood for their impoverished owners.
The area of Zacapa, which consists of two project communities, Sinaneca and Plan del Morro, is a seven-hour drive from the capital of Guatemala City. The highland areas of Zacapa are prone to droughts and have no local water supply; therefore, donkeys and mules make the trek up and down a mountain carrying five-gallon water containers tied to their backs, twice a day.
To combat the effects of the drought, Brooke also teaches the community about safe water collection, drought-tolerant grass seed and carpentry techniques for building feeders to prevent food contamination.
In addition to hauling water up to the highlands, working equines are also responsible for carrying agricultural products such as firewood and produce including maize and black beans. Brooke USA’s ambassadors made the trek up and down the steep slopes with the equines to experience the hike for themselves.
“These working equines make a difference for their community. It was evident in every aspect of daily life, from gathering and carrying water, to transporting products to the market. Being able to get a glimpse of their lives, support them, and even work with them was extremely inspirational. I am honored to serve as a Brooke USA ambassador, and to continue making an impact. If anything, this trip was a catalyst.”
Before Brooke’s intervention, many of these animals suffered malnutrition due to lack of food and water, inadequate handling practices, overwork and lameness. However, after 18 months of education focusing on equine nutrition and daily care, Perry-Glass noted, “From what I've seen the condition of the animals [in Brooke’s programs] have been far better than I ever expected!” she said. “I feel like Brooke USA and ESAP have really made a difference for these animals. They’re very interactive, friendly and well taken care of.”
ESAP owes the success of their programs mostly to the fact that they utilize sustainable methods that they teach the equine owners so that they can continue to provide adequate care once the program is no longer active. The work that Brooke implements has an intense ripple effect for both working equines and their families who depend on them due to their significant emphasis on education.
Brooke USA’s first ambassador, Brock, commented that the educational method is definitely a defining factor for their immense success. “It’s not a system of free handouts — Brooke educates the villagers, and the women especially, how to handle their animals in a way that’s going to help them last and be useful as long as possible.”
“The biggest thing I would take away from this trip is a better understanding of how absolutely important these animals are to the communities’ well-being and the people’s daily lives. When you see it first-hand you realize how the animals are so unbelievably important to them. This experience has been unbelievably inspiring, and now I’m even more convinced that what Brooke USA is funding is pivotal to the success of these programs and well-being of the animals,” Brock concluded.
To learn more about Brooke USA visit www.brookeusa.org.