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New horse health program lends a helping hoof to Guatemala’s carriage drivers

By Anna-Claire Bevan

When an accident forced her to stop riding five years ago, California-raised Suzanne Divoff was determined to keep working with horses, and on the streets of La Antigua Guatemala she saw an opportunity; Helping Hooves was born.

Guatemalan carriage drivers receive dental care for their horses as part of the Helping Hooves program.

Made up of three women, Helping Hooves started working with Antigua’s horse and carriage drivers with the goal of improving the well-being of the horses and educating the owners on how best to take care of them. Five months on, the project is going from strength-to-strength.

“A lot of people used to complain about the conditions of the horses, but now the carriage men are doing everything in their power to help them and you can really see a difference. The horses’ coats are shiny and their bones don’t stick out,” says Suzanne. “We told the men that the horses needed to have stalls in the rainy season and they built them within two months.”

With help from a local Guatemalan vet and the British charity World Horse Welfare, Helping Hooves has introduced a strict schedule of regular shoeing, deworming and has even hosted equine dental clinics.

In the past, the horses were shod by layman with little expertise, which often resulted in many of their hooves being off balance, but now they have their shoes changed every three weeks.

As well as organising clinics and giving advice, Helping Hooves has also implemented a number of rules aimed at improving the working conditions of the horses. Each carriage contains a sticker stating how many people are allowed on board at one time and the drivers are awarded different coloured ribbons depending on how closely they abide by the rules and how well they care for their horses.

“We have a great relationship with the carriage owners. They trust us and understand why we wanted to start working with them. So far three of the carriages have gold ribbons for good maintenance and we’re hoping that they all will soon,” says Suzanne.

The treatment and clinics are not free, but costs are kept to a minimum thanks to the generosity of World Horse Welfare, the local vet and Guatemalan farrier students who have all been working with Helping Hooves: donating their time and expertise to improve the conditions of the carriage horses.

“We’re forever indebted to World Horse Welfare; if it hadn’t have been for their support we wouldn’t be where we are today,” admits Suzanne.

In the future, Helping Hooves hopes to set up nutritional clinics and obtain lightweight carriages.

“The horses changed everything for me,” says Suzanne. “Now it’s like having 14 grandchildren.”

Anna-Claire Bevan is a Guatemala-based freelance correspondent for Latina Lista.

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