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UW Specialist’s Work Overseas Gains Perspective on U.S. Equine Care

January 31, 2011
Man, woman and a donkey
UW equine specialist Amy McLean demonstrates using a plastic bag attached to a stick to train a donkey. (Cooperative Extension Service)

A University of Wyoming equine specialist has found similar maladies between donkeys struggling to take goods to markets in Mali and high performance horses in the United States.

Amy McLean recently was the only representative of a U.S. university presenting research at the recent International Colloquium on Working Equids in New Delhi, India.

She presented results of her studies examining training methods and working conditions of donkeys in Mali, but says she's also gained perspective while traveling and working with equine owners in India and Africa.

"The first time I went to Mali, I was so concerned about what I was going to see, the condition of the animals, I thought I'd be heartbroken, scarred for life," McLean says. "Actually, I've seen more inhumanity toward horses here in the U.S. in displays of ignorance and poor welfare. That so enlightens me to provide more information and be more involved with responsible horse owners here in the U.S."

Donkeys are used in Mali to haul commodities - and people - to markets. Most are rented by drivers who have limited time to get goods to markets. The donkeys have many lesions from poor-fitting harnesses, suffer from dehydration, are emaciated and overworked.

"A lot of the problems we see in working equines are the same problems we see in the elite show horses or performance horses in the U.S. - lameness and how to improve their performance -- just on a different level," she notes.

Treatments may be the same, but "with an elite or performance animal, generally, money is not much of an issue," she says. "When you are dealing with someone making $1 a day, you have to go about things differently."

The colloquiums bring together those interested in the welfare of working equids from the social, human and animal aspects, says McLean, who in 2009 began as a lecturer in the UW Department of Animal Science. Many of those attending represent charities or non-governmental organizations and all are based in the United Kingdom.

McLean's research is in collaboration with the Society for Protection of Animals Abroad. Members set up veterinary hospitals and provide free vetinary care in developing countries. She joined veterinarians at the mobile clinics to treat equines and educate owners how to better care for their animals. While in India, she taught at a high school and college.

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