Getting to Know Brooke and the World’s Working Equines

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Absorbine® is celebrating our 125th Anniversary by sponsoring Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare organization, helping to alleviate the suffering of working equines in developing countries.  In this segment of our five-part blog series, we learn about the crises facing working equines around the world and the incredible work of Brooke towards alleviating their suffering.


5-Part Series

One     Brooke: The World’s Largest Equine Welfare Charity

Two     Absorbine® & Brooke: A Shared History, A Shared Love, A Shared Mission

Three  Getting to Know Brooke and the World’s Working Equines


In honor of our 125th Anniversary, we have decided to give back by sponsoring Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare organization, helping to alleviate the suffering of working equines in developing countries.

In the last segment of our five part blog series following Brooke, we learned about the histories of Absorbine® and Brooke, both of which were started by strong women determined to improve the lives of working horses and alleviate their suffering.  What inspirational role models!


While horses in developed countries like the United States are mainly used for pleasure and competition, this is not the case in most of the world.  95% of donkeys and 60% of horses in the world live outside the U.S. and many of those are found in developing countries.  It is estimated that there are 100 million working equines around the world – laboring in brick kilns, coal mines, and rubbish heaps – where they support the livelihoods of over 600 million people.  One such equine, perhaps used for haulage, transportation, or production supports an average of five to twenty people.  Brooke considers these animals “invisible workers”, as most international and national development programs and livestock policies neglect equines, instead focusing on what are considered “critical livestock”, or those animals that can directly produce food or fabric.  Due to this, equines are often left out of government vaccination programs and in many cases equine health is not included in veterinary training.

Horse struggling with its heavy load in a brick kiln.

However, Brooke has chosen to intervene and promote better health for these working equines, many of which suffer from dehydration and starvation, exhaustion due to overwork, respiratory infections, lesions from ill-fitting equipment, and poor hoof health due to lack of care.  According to Brooke veterinarians, 80% of the suffering of working equines could be prevented through small changes in basic care.  Brooke strongly believes that healthy working equines can have a positive effect on the economies of their nations and help to raise their owners from poverty.  Through the advocacy of Brooke, in 2016 the United Nations Committee on World Food Security recognized the paramount importance of working equines to providing food security to millions of people for the first time.

Donkeys carrying packs full of coal out of a coal mine.

In 2016 alone, Brooke served over two million equines, helping to secure the livelihood of over 12 million people in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central America.  Currently, Brooke carries out intervention projects in Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico, but their ambitious five year plan has them looking to expand to more countries and expanding their services in existing countries to be even more comprehensive by 2021.  Brooke’s intervention program is intersectional and multi-faceted.  They train owners, handlers, farriers, vets, harness-makers, and farmers in order to improve the lives of working equines from every angle.

A donkey who has suffered from nose slitting, a practice based on ignorance that is thought to improve the donkey’s breathing. Through education workshops, Brooke helps to end these misinformed practices.

Through their dedicated work, Brooke has provided working equines with comfort from the elements in the form of shade shelters and water troughs for relief from hot summer conditions and warm blankets for cold winter weather.  They have trained farriers to make shoes from affordable and accessible materials, such as old tires, as well as offered continued professional development for those already working in the profession.  They support farmers in growing drought resistant green forage so that locally sourced, nutritious food is available for equines.  They have organized mobile vet units that treat equines on site as they work and offer emergency care, as well as established veterinary clinics, all of which are staffed with trained community professionals.  The goal of any treatment is always that the animal is able to continue working so that the owner does not lose their livelihood.  Compassionate end of life care is only given as a last resort.  Brooke’s training focuses especially on reaching women and children, as they are believed to be the true change-makers in their communities.

A vet treating an open wound caused by poorly fitting equipment and over-sized loads.

Brooke is committed to intervention that is practical, sustainable, and that follows culturally competent practices.  The extensive research that Brooke undertakes prior to beginning a new program helps to ensure that the intervention will be successful.  Brooke ensures sustainability by carrying out both short-term interventions, such as providing emergency medical care or food rations for equines, and long-term interventions, which include training the local community and advocating for animal needs with local government and local partner organizations.  They utilize community-based animal health workers, or CBAHWs, to lead training workshops, as they have personal insight into the community and culture and can better reach their audience when teaching animal husbandry skills that can do away with cruel cultural practices, such as nose slitting, that are based on ignorance and misinformation.  These workshops often use role-playing as a way to teach empathy for working equines, which among many cultures are viewed as a tool for production, not as a member of the family.  Many of these educational programs are carried out in schools, as Brooke recognizes the importance of shifting attitudes regarding animal welfare at an early age, thereby changing the practices of the next generation.

Manuel Albeno and his family with horse Caramelo. Albeno uses Caramelo to work his land in Guatemala in order to support his very large family – nine children and many more grandchildren.

Through Brooke Innovation Fund, they are able to help fund local organizations doing similar work in countries where Brooke does not yet have a presence, supporting novel and innovative approaches to improving equine welfare. Finally, Brooke is committed to an investment in research that will help to improve the effectiveness of future interventions and provide better care for working equines.  Such projects include the development of the Standardized Equine-based Welfare Assessment Tool and documenting the importance of working equines to the livelihoods of their owners.  Through this research, Brooke holds itself accountable to meeting the goals it has set.

Nasreen Bibi and her family with their cart donkey. Bibi lives near Bocheri Pul, Tangi, in the Charsadda District in Pakistan. She supports her family of seven children and husband who was injured during the floods in 2010. The donkey is her only source of support to ensure an income for her family. Brooke helps her by providing much needed veterinary care to her donkey, as well as education on how she can keep her donkey fit for work.

To support the incredible work of Brooke, visit www.brookeusa.org to donate today!

(Source: Cindy Rullman at Brooke USA and Jaime Whear at Brooke)

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