The journey to the Samal Valley tea estate in Ilam district involved a steep climb up a road of broken tarmac in poor condition that reduced in places to a muddy track.
It was decided not to risk the vehicle further and we walked the last 20 minutes into the community.
On arrival we had a meeting with a group of owners from the three wards of the Samalbung village development committee.
Most owners have one horse. They are used for carrying agricultural commodities, especially vegetables, to market. Their horses also carry tea leaves from collection points close to the fields to the local tea factory.
They can travel for an hour and a half to bring tea to the factory and also farm a field of tea as a smallholding, so as equine transport providers they can carry their own tea as well as their neighbours’ leaves to the factory on a daily basis in season.
This was the group’s second meeting after forming two months earlier. As a group they support each other on welfare matters and receive education sessions from the Animal Health Training and Consultancy Service (AHTCS).
They also gained access to an equine insurance scheme initiated by a local cooperative, and one member of the group has received farriery training.
He shod 35 animals in two months. Each foot is charged at 50 rupees (around 35p) including the cost of the shoe. He is also showing other horse owners how to do it correctly without harming the animal so that they can ‘learn by seeing’, to eventually do it themselves.
Associated with poor hoof care and the often treacherous condition of the tracks horses travel along, the group has come to realise that hoof shape has a role to play in avoiding lameness.
The manager of the tea factory - who has been in charge of the plant since its establishment four years ago – said his key concern was improving quality in order to acquire organic accreditation and so gain access to a bigger market.
We suggested that the role of and treatment of equines in the story of tea could be part of his criteria for improvements on the road to organic status.
Shree Antu village development committee
There were 14 members in the group and half the group had walked one hour to meet with us. Most owned one horse each for vegetable and tea transportation.
Since being associated with AHTCS they have learnt to use the correct medicine for deworming instead of the types used for cattle and buffalo.
Ilam is one of 18 districts Brooke works in in Nepal. It’s estimated that 100,000 working horses and donkeys play an important role in supporting the livelihoods of approximately one million people.
In 2007, Brooke started a Working Equine Welfare Project in partnership with the Animal Health Training Consultancy Service, which was given a Special Recognition Award for its work during the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake by Ceva Animal Health in the UK.
This manual helps explain the animal welfare issues that affect horses, donkeys and mules working in developing countries.
Love tea and cake? Host a tea party for your friends and family and make a difference to the lives of working animals and the families that depend on them.