Project Samana was the flagship program for the Equitarian Initiative, an international group of volunteer veterinarians who “deliver health care and education to improve the health, nutrition, productivity and welfare of horses, donkeys, and mules, and to empower their care providers for sustainable change.”
Project Samana’s equine team typically consists of 2-4 veterinarians (hailing from all over the United States) and 3-5 veterinary students and assistants. We travel by 4WD vehicles packed with equipment, veterinarians, veterinary students and assistants to public town green spaces or remote, hillside organic ginger farms to perform examinations and surgery. Because of the consistency of our annual schedule, people start the trek hours or even days prior, leading and ponying their horses to the designated sites for care.
HORSES, MULES, AND DONKEYS ARE ECONOMICALLY IMPORTANT IN SAMANA
Horses and Mules
Horses and mules are integral to everyday life in the Dominican Republic. Over the years, their primary use has transitioned from hauling goods and products (such as coconuts and sand for concrete) to carrying tourists to waterfalls and other natural sites of interest. Looking at the loads of sand these animals used to haul, one would think that hauling a person would be a nice break for them, but given the ever-increasing size of the human waistline, some of these animals are now faced with far heavier loads than the sand or coconuts. But, they remain critical to the livelihood of the local residents and need to be kept as healthy and strong as possible.
SURGERY IS JUST THE BEGINNING
Our equine team focuses mainly on castration of these equines to keep behavior and unwanted breedings under control. These animals travel in packs and need to be well behaved not only for the safety of the other animals in the pack, but also the workers and tourists. In addition to surgery, we provide dentistry services to these animals, as diseases of the mouth and teeth can contribute to malnutrition and pain. Lameness evaluation and treatment, senior horse care, and wound care are also priorities for our teams.
Our teams provide educational services to communities, including children and horse owners. We focus on best practices in equine care, but a two-way dialogue and exchange of knowledge promote sustainable, long-term solutions to challenges specific to the region. We have also encouraged a local breeding program to promote mules over horses. Mules are generally hardier, healthier and more robust than horses, making them better candidates for the work asked of them.