Ashleigh Brown, Global Welfare Assessment Adviser

Ashleigh splits her time between the London office and all of Brooke's country programmes.

Ashleigh Brown

Ashleigh Brown

What are you responsible for in your role at Brooke?

My job is varied, but includes training Brooke’s overseas staff in assessing welfare and related topics (for example, equine behaviour, animal handling), developing measures to assess and monitor animal welfare, interpreting data and reporting the results, and providing advice to UK and overseas staff on incorporating animal welfare monitoring into programmatic activities and the organisational strategy. I work (directly or from a distance) with all of Brooke’s country programmes.

How did you get your job?

I knew about Brooke from adverts in Pony magazine when I was 10 or 11, just starting to learn how to ride and rapidly becoming obsessed with all things horsey! I hated the thought of horses suffering anywhere in the world, and contributed to Brooke by raising money at my local riding school.

I knew I wanted a job which would allow me to help animals, and I had also spent several years working and travelling around the world. Several months after completing an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare, I heard about the vacancy at Brooke via the MSc course director.

I knew immediately it was my ideal job – I had to have it!

I knew immediately it was my ideal job – I had to have it! My passion for the role must have come across in my (extremely long!) job application and I was interviewed by telephone while in the mountains in northern Thailand where I was working with elephants. I travelled back to the UK two weeks before starting at the London office, and I’m still as pleased and privileged to be working with Brooke now as I was on my first day.

What’s a typical day for you?

My time is split between working in the London office and working with teams in the country programmes (with the occasional long weekend back home in Scotland whenever it’s possible to squeeze in a flying visit).

When I’m abroad, a typical day will start at 6-7am when I check my emails (if I have internet access/electricity) and respond to anything urgent.

Then I’ll travel to the animals’ communities. If we’re collecting welfare assessment data, we need to explain to animal owners who we are, why we are here and what we are doing, and ask their permission to examine their animals. Most of the time they’re very obliging and give us useful information in addition to what we gather from the animals.

A welfare assessment takes approximately seven minutes per animal, and we typically examine a sample of animals from each area and each type of work. This allows us to compare information and see how welfare differs between work types and geographical location so that Brooke can decide where and how we should work.

When we find significant welfare issues, we bring them to the attention of the owner and offer advice on how to improve or prevent them, or refer them to local service providers if necessary.

At the end of the day we enter the information onto Brooke’s database so that it’s ready for analysis when we’ve finished all the data collection.

When conducting a training course in a country programme, a typical day will involve delivering a mixture of classroom-based theory sessions and practical training with local animals where trainees can practice the theory they’ve learned in the classroom.

We may travel to sites where the animals work, or visit the home villages of the owners in order to see the animals. This also provides a useful opportunity to observe the way the owners/users interact with the animals and their working and living conditions. We raise awareness with owners about the importance of assessing their animals’ welfare and give tips on welfare-friendly handling techniques.

I’m always touched by the kindness of the animal owners towards us. They’re very generous with their time and understand that in order to deliver the best projects and ensure we maintain the quality of our work, our own staff need training and practice as much as people in the community do.

I’m always touched by the kindness of the animal owners towards us. They’re very generous with their time and understand that in order to deliver the best projects and ensure we maintain the quality of our work, our own staff need training and practice as much as people in the community do.

When I am not dragging a suitcase to or from the airport, I take the bus to the UK office in London, arriving around 9am. In the morning there are usually lots of emails to get through, and I never know what will be waiting in my inbox. Colleagues in country programmes may be asking for advice on interpreting welfare data they’ve collected – maybe to identify priorities that need to be addressed with different groups of animals, maybe requesting help with designing measures to monitor a specific project.

Emails from UK colleagues may be looking for information about a welfare problem or requesting feedback on various projects within the different departments in the UK.

I will typically have several meetings with UK colleagues throughout the week to discuss projects or developments, and meetings with my own team to make sure we're all up-to-date on what each other is working on. Each country programme has a ‘buddy’ in the UK Animal Welfare and Research team; my buddy countries are Afghanistan and Jordan.

As I travel a lot for work, usually I will be busy with preparations for forthcoming visits or writing reports on recent visits, and working on my own projects (for example, producing resources for the welfare assessors overseas, or investigating potential developments in assessing animal welfare which may be useful for Brooke). I also read reports from my colleagues, or articles/publications on animal welfare science, equine health, animal behaviour, and other topics related to Brooke’s work.

What’s your most memorable work moment?

I don’t feel I can choose one memorable event as there are so many, particularly from my travels abroad.

For me, the animals are probably the most memorable part of my role. I must have seen literally hundreds of working equids over the past few years, but there are lots of individual animals I can still vividly remember – what they looked like and their personalities.

....there are really encouraging moments when owners have been excited to show me what they are doing to prevent injury to their animals...

Some things are memorable in a negative way. There are memories that break my heart and can reduce me to tears and that, in some ways, I wish I didn’t have.

On the other hand, there are really encouraging moments when owners have been excited to show me what they are doing to prevent injury to their animals, or when visiting an area where the working animals look great and seem happy. I also have lots of happy memories of good times with my colleagues and training participants from the country programmes, and a few ‘interesting’ journeys too!

What’s the worst part of your job?

Even after several years of working in animal welfare, I still find it distressing to see animals suffering – not only the working equids, but all species. Sometimes it’s really difficult to hold back tears or anger at the things I have seen, and some of the terrible images stay in my mind even after they’re no longer in front of me. This is definitely the greatest challenge for me, and it never gets any easier.

What’s the best part of your job?

I find it inspiring to think we can create change that will benefit animals in the future as well as the present through changing owners’ behaviours and practices for the better, which can then be transferred to new generations of horse owners.

It’s really exciting to consider where the Brooke may be in five or 10 years’ time, and how many animals we could be helping around the world. I find it inspiring to think we can create change that will benefit animals in the future as well as the present through changing owners’ behaviours and practices for the better, which can then be transferred to new generations of horse owners.

I also love the fact that I am always learning. This organisation has a culture in which everyone is encouraged and supported to keep on learning and continually improve what we do and our ability to do it.

What would be your Plan B? What would you be doing if you didn't work at Brooke?

I would most likely be working for another international equine or animal welfare charity as I feel this is my calling in life! Failing that, I would probably be working in academia, in research or teaching.

What do you do after work?

Well, half the time I am working abroad in the field, so evening activities are somewhat restricted depending on the location! Often I need this time for rest, and to try to keep up with office-based work. When in London, I train in boxing several times a week (you can take the girl out of Glasgow…), and socialise with friends, many of whom are colleagues. I am currently studying towards another MSc outside of work, so need to dedicate some time to that.

What makes you proud to be Brooke?

Since I was a wee girl I’ve been supportive of our mission, which is in tune with my own ethics and values. I am so proud to be able to contribute to such a wonderful cause: helping the hardest working horses, donkeys and mules around the world.

Animal welfare refers to the physical and emotional state of an animal. It is impacted by the environment in which it lives and works, human attitudes and practices, and available resources.