Jan, an equine vet from Hampshire, tells of his experience volunteering at the trust’s new centre near Mandina Lodges in The Gambia.
In December 2017, I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to be sponsored by the British Equine Veterinary Association to travel to The Gambia, to help out in a veterinary capacity at The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust’s new equine facilities at Makasutu, near the capital Banjul.
I was accompanied by an equine nurse, Marie Rippingale, from Scarsdale Veterinary Practice in Derbyshire, who had previously visited the Gambia two years earlier, so, during the outward journey I was well versed on what to expect.
However, my experiences over the previous 40 years as a veterinary surgeon was with thoroughbreds mainly dealing with breeding, lameness and poor performance issues, so embarking on a visit to Sub Sahara Africa, confronting the problems in horses and donkeys used in everyday life, was as far removed as I could have possibly imagined.
I found myself dealing with diseases I had never encountered in the UK, such as sleeping sickness and epizootic lymphangitis, diseases that the infamous Professor Walter Plowright, thankfully, had drummed into us, as students at the Royal Veterinary College in the early 70’s. These problems when compounded by no treatment, poor management and nutrition, due to lack of knowledge and understanding, can be life threatening to the animals and disastrous for the livelihood of the farmers and traders.
There were also injuries caused by ill-fitting harnesses and the bits attached to the bridles, which with a little advice and replacement or adjustment can make so much difference to the animal’s comfort and ultimately its working life. This, combined with the usual conditions of colic, infections and wounds made every day just that more interesting and rewarding.
Above: Musa, one of the members of staff at the trust
I found the Gambians to be such friendly and joyous people, willing to please and learn (one young student said to me quietly “Jan, I so much want to be educated’... that did cause a lump in my throat!), and so providing the training to develop skills of veterinary education, equine dentistry, farriery, nutrition, harness making, the Gambians can then work towards being self-sufficient in increasing the wellbeing of their animals, which will then increase the productivity in their communities, which should trickle down to the country itself.
Above: Volunteer vet Jan, with two of the donkeys at the trust's new centre
I found the trip to be so humbling and thought provoking, that the fact my everyday life is dealing with thoroughbreds bred to race at a cost of sometimes millions of pounds/dollars/euros for business purposes, which ultimately stems from pleasure somewhat abhorrent.
I shall definitely return to The Gambia as I feel I did very, very little in the great scheme of things, and would aim to help maybe just a little more.
I must thank the British Equine Veterinary Association for giving me the opportunity to experience the work carried out in The Gambia, Heather Armstrong who set up the trust (what an angel) and Marie, my trusty nurse for having to put up with me during the trip.
Jan Puzio B.Vet Med M.R.C.V.S
Further reading: Kathryn, from our Marketing Department, recently visited The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust and you can read about her experience, including meeting Jan, on the Mandina Lodges new blog: New Neighbours, The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.
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