By Dr. Rissa Parker
Glen Austin Equine Clinic and Bosch Hoek Equine Hospital joined forces to vaccinate ponies in the Bizana area, KwaZulu-Natal. This was supported by the AHS (African Horse Sickness) Trust, which donated our first 400 vaccines.
My assistant, Xolile Ngesi, who has been with me since 2001, comes from this area and has wanted to help the ponies in the area for a long time. As he has seen the benefits of vaccinating against AHS he has been asking that I help try to prevent the large number of deaths they have in the area from AHS outbreaks. Many of the owners we meet ask about the sickness which makes the horses’ “heads swell , foam from their noses and then they die”.
Helen Tiffin (of Bosch Hoek Equine Hospital) and I (Glen Austin Equine Clinic) set off over the weekend of 23/24 August for our fourth trip to Bizana to vaccinate the horses/ponies in the area against AHS. We were ably assisted by Sharon Rodgers and Megan Frost who helped mix vaccines, fill in passports (donated by MSD) and ran “the shop”. We vaccinated 250 ponies and provided some primary health care.
WHERE IS BIZANA?
Located 70km inland from Port Edward heading towards Kokstad in beautiful country! There are hundreds of horses/ponies in the area, as they are the main mode of transport. A number of horses are also used for “ceremonies” or ”racing”, and often arrive in beautiful ornate tack. Often many of the owners and young children ride across country, sometimes for 2 hours, to meet us with their ponies to be vaccinated.
Xolile has successfully networked with his connections so that we have various meeting points spread over about 100km radius. As the word has spread so too have the number of ponies being brought in for vaccinating, and new areas need to be visited. In August we split into two groups ‒ Helen went with Xolile, Megan and the car to the ‘’O.R. Tambo ‘’ area while Sharon and I stayed at a meeting point with our fantastic host. When we finished treating all the ponies we were served awesome peanut butter “sarmies” with hot tea.
We then got a lift to the next meeting point another 40km down the road. Here Sharon and I saw many old friends, some bringing horses for their second set of vaccinations. Quite a few have had AHS 1 and 2 since last December when we started this project. It is also so rewarding to see horses we have treated for various ailments recovering.
Once we have done the vet work we open our charity “shop” from our trailer. This is the selling of old tack collected from our clients. We keep the prices very low so all the ponies benefit from what we take. This money goes towards the drugs and cost of running the trips and will make sure the project remains sustainable.
The ponies are generally in super condition and well looked after. A small percentage is not and most of the injuries result from poorly fitting saddles, of which there are few as most of the owners ride bare-back. The owners always ask us to help treat their horses and it is refreshing when cost is NEVER their main concern.
There are many, many more areas like this around South Africa which we as private practitioners could reach. The important part is to make it sustainable financially and have someone from the area working with you and the local people co-ordinating the work. Records (passports) are also essential to ensure horses get both vaccines.