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Blog: Six Feet in the Andes


May 2017

Six feet in the Andes

We’re often asked before/during/after a ride to some far off country, ‘Can we do anything for the local equine welfare needs?’ And the answer is of course, “Yes”.

Client number one: Robin sets to work

So this trip wasn’t actually about feet at all, it was about teeth. And the story begins with a rider who went on the “In the Footsteps of the Incas” ride last summer. This is a stunning ride that begins in Cusco, which is high in the Andes (3,000 m) and goes up even higher. The panoramas, views and vistas just have to be seen to be believed: huge mountains, tiny tracks, permanent glaciers around you and the colourful, evocative Inca culture all about. The horses take us way away from the traditional tourist centres and you really do see a part of Peru that is rarely visited by westerners.


The horses we use aren’t the pampered Pasos that Peru is famous for; the Paso was bred to be a plantation owner’s horse and carry him around (tölt) without jiggling him or his clothes. The Paso is a lovely breed, but specialises in low altitude environments. We use something altogether different. I first met Edwin in 1999 when he had just a few horses and earned his living by carrying scientific equipment for archaeological expeditions. He was really taken with the idea of carrying guests into the mountains and 18 months later the first BHS group arrived, and it’s been our most enduring ride ever since, as many of you will attest.


Edwin believes that his horses are the remnants of the Conquistadores horses from 300 years ago: they are smaller than Andalusians but have the same strength of character. They are brave and big-hearted and really do give 100% on these high, challenging trails. In the absence of DNA testing I choose to believe Edwin: compact Conquistadores’ chargers!

Under supervision, Edwin tries his hand

Cusco is not a booming economy, but it’s doing OK. Consequently the standards of equine welfare are not what we have in Blighty. I think Edwin’s horses are just about the only horses in the Sacred Valley that have an anthelmintic strategy in place. Local horses are rarely groomed and tack is made to fit, rather buying new tack for a new horse as we tend to do. I have seen a mule shod by tipping it onto its back, holding a foot at a time and working at ‘table-top’ level! Teeth are just neglected due to the shortage of vets (and the expense) and the total absence of an equine dentist. Different standards and different practices.


Jody was one of the riders on the last “Footsteps of the Incas” ride and she also happens to be a vet. She spotted the correlation between some of the horses not eating like a horse and consequently not being good doers; she joined the dots and identified the need. Returning to the UK she raised funds to fly Robin Earnshaw (equine dentist) to Peru armed with equipment and knowledge and prepared to share both. Robin generously donated his time and expertise.


Some of Edwin’s horses are a little long in the tooth, to use an apposite phrase; to this day I can’t tell an old tooth from a young one, and those dealers who casually walk by a horse, flick its lip and say “Seven years old” are surely making it up as they go along! Edwin’s horses range in age up to about 20 yrs old. The day was appointed and Robin was there in full regalia; his eager audience included local vets, a university professor and a human surgeon!

Edwin (far rt) and ‘students’ with Robin (pink shirt, centre)

Over the three days Robin was able to explain the basic anatomy and theory of equine dentistry and teach basic hand floating skills which, with practice, will enable the participants to provide routine dental maintenance. Following basic hand floating practice he demonstrated how to fully balance a mouth and he performed a partial extraction of a fractured tooth in one of the older horses.
The dental health of all the horses was generally good – better than one would find in the same sample of untreated horses here. Robin attributes this to the diet which is quite limited in Peru and much closer to a natural diet compared to what we feed our pampered pets here in the U.K!


So one man, two feet, helped one horse, four feet, making six; with a nod to Dervla Murphy!

But the audience was receptive, and all 16 horses benefitted. Edwin benefitted from the gift of the equipment, but the real gift was the intangible, the know-how, the gift of knowledge.


Good on you Robin and Jody; above and beyond the call of duty.


[P.S. You can make a difference on an overseas ride: redundant bits, grooming kits and any equine equipment will be gratefully received by your host stable. But different destinations have different needs: call us for specifics.]


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