BEVA Trust volunteer travels to Cambodia to support the work of the Cambodia Pony Welfare Association and World Horse Welfare | British Equine Veterinary Association
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BEVA Trust volunteer travels to Cambodia to support the work of the Cambodia Pony Welfare Association and World Horse Welfare

Volunteer stories
13 Dec 2023 BEVA

In February 2023 Dr Emma Preston joned BEVA Trust trip to Phnom Penh with The Cambodian Pony Welfare Association. Emma shares her expereince of volunteering with the BEVA Trust. I left the cold and wet tarmac of Heathrow on a gloomy Friday evening in February, still glued to my laptop at the gate, I shovelled in chips and raced to complete PowerPoint presentations while I still could, before boarding the plane and losing my Wi-Fi connection. The Cambodian Pony Welfare Organisation manage and run an awe-inspiring project, funded by World Horse Welfare, involving veterinary knowledge exchange and working to improve the welfare of working equids in Cambodia. Although I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, I felt excited, a little bit nervous and really privileged to play a small part in the work they do during my BEVA trust trip. It took me a great many hours and a layover in Korea to reach my destination, I owe a huge thankyou to Izzy from World Horse Welfare and Leaya from BEVA Trust, who helped organise logistics and worked with the CPWO team to decide what equine veterinary topics would be most useful. Arriving late at night to hot, sour humidity, I was relieved to be met by Rinda Nop, head vet at the Cambodian Pony Welfare Organisation and their smiley driver Sengly. They helped me to my hotel, transferred me and my luggage on to a golf buggy and I was whizzed across the dark to my room at the Cambodian Country Club, apparently to avoid the snakes who are attracted at this time of year to the swimming pool. This was to be my home for the next week and my mission was to work alongside Rinda to deliver a series of lectures and practical sessions on equine veterinary topics at a workshop for Cambodian ‘village vets’. The ‘village vets’ are a group of local individuals who are the first to be called upon for veterinary care should a pony in their community be sick or injured. The village vets come to a workshop each year to learn about equine conditions and treatments, with many proudly attending their 7th or 8th workshop. Cambodia is a country blighted by genocide. The horrors of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s regimen saw millions of innocent people murdered. Academics and professionals especially were targeted, which has led to a huge shortfall in veterinarians, especially those who specialise in horses. Cambodia has a beautiful population of ponies. Thought to originate from Mongolia, they are small but very strong and used in the rice fields and to transport goods and timber for the logging industry. Training village vets equips them with vital skills and knowledge to take back to their communities and has been really effective in improving overall health and welfare of the working equids of Cambodia. The workshop was great fun and thoroughly rewarding, as the room came alive day upon day with laughter, questions and people sharing cases. The frantic preparation prior to my trip was the result of a long list of eagerly anticipated topics including Tetanus, which is sadly encountered commonly as a result of wounds and a lack of routine vaccination, partly due to issues with availability. We also covered laminitis, which seemed to often result from grain overload or corticosteroid injections and an approach to the ‘skinny horse’ to name just a few topics that we covered. Rinda kindly shared images and videos that fit the context to include in my training material and he did an amazing job of translating. CPWO runs outreach programmes, facilitating human behaviour change by using participatory approaches to engage communities. We travelled out to a rural province far from the city and I was amazed to see this in action in the grounds of a temple. The village vets worked with their own community, first assessing the welfare of the ponies and providing worming treatments. Next all of the owners gathered together on a tarpaulin and discussed with CPWO and the village vets some of the health issues that affect their ponies. Common symptoms were collected on post it notes and used to map out the main diseases of concern within the community. Once this was established the group came up with some possible management solutions that may be effective in preventing recurrences of the common illnesses for example prevention of impaction colic by giving working ponies more access to water. One of the most interesting conditions I learnt about and observed was Big Head, or secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism, that is common amongst these working ponies who are fed a diet of bran and tropical grasses. This leads to calcium deficiency through a number of physiological pathways I (vaguely) remembered from vet school. Rinda and his experienced team also provide emergency care, and this sounds especially challenging, as they are relied upon to travel huge distances to attend ponies in need. During the week I was fortunate enough to spend a day delivering lectures and practical sessions to veterinary students at the university in Phnom Penh, where Molly, a very sweet natured pony joined me and a small number of students for a practical session at the University farm. A great many students had never interacted with a pony before and were unsurprisingly nervous, but they were amazing, gaining confidence to attempt their first equine clinical exam and to practice bandaging a distal limb. The university are really keen to work more closely with CPWO on the equine curriculum and they even send students for internships, to help develop equine skills in the future generation of vets. My BEVA trust trip was humbling. I learnt that there are no textbooks published in Khmer, the language of Cambodia and this presents a huge barrier to knowledge for Cambodian vets. I don’t have the words to describe how powerful I found the human behaviour change project and the dedication shown by Rinda and the CPWO team. They carry a huge weight of responsibility, a big workload and their work is truly inspirational. Their work has a huge impact, improving the health and welfare of Cambodian ponies and therefore the welfare of the communities they support. Thank you to the BEVA trust for the opportunity.