The Brooke Foundation Attacks Global Poverty by Improving Conditions of Working Equines

by ELYSIAN Magazine

How the official charity of the World Equestrian Games educates people in the poorest parts of the world on how to improve care for their equines and improve their own lives in the process.

By Rebecca Carr

Rafia Arshad crept outside the shelter that she shares with her husband and five children on the grounds of a brick kiln outside Lahore, Pakistan. The sun had not even risen, but she rushed to feed their donkey, Meetu, green fodder and fresh water before a grueling day hauling bricks began.

It is a ritual that Rafia follows every morning to keep Meetu healthy. In the summer, Rafia works, children at her side, making bricks by hand in heat that can soar to 120 degrees. Meetu’s ability to haul bricks determines whether the Arshad family will be able to earn enough to eat that day. Without Meetu, they would have to borrow money to buy another donkey, sinking further into poverty, or carry the bricks themselves.

Meetu was not always the top priority in the Arshad family. When they purchased him three years ago, Rafia did not know how to properly care for a donkey. Meetu started to suffer from colic, a severe abdominal pain that can be fatal. He broke down with exhaustion and was dehydrated from the heat. Then, Rafia started attending educational seminars for women sponsored by Brooke, a London-based charity devoted to improving the care of horses, donkeys, and mules working in punishing conditions throughout the world.

Brooke targets women like Rafia because they are often the primary caretakers of working equines.

The Brooke sessions taught Rafia and the other women living at the brick kiln how to feed their donkeys nutritious green fodder, provide fresh water, and rest them in the shade at intervals during the day. Now, if Meetu gets sick, Rafia calls a Brooke-trained paravet at a fraction of the cost of a regular vet. She knows to make sure that he is vaccinated against preventable diseases and has learned how important it is to properly care for his hooves. At the end of each day, she cools Meetu off with water and gingerly grooms him.

Simple changes. But those changes have made a huge difference. Meetu has gained strength, stopped having colic episodes, and is far more dependable than before Rafia and the other women at the brick kiln started attending the free educational sessions.

“Now I know in my heart how important it is to keep my donkey healthy. When I wake up every morning, I care for him first and then feed my children after because I know if my donkey is not happy, he cannot provide for my family,” Rafia said. “If I have no donkey, I have no life.”

the connection between poverty and working equines

Through educational programs like the one Rafia attended, Brooke reaches more than 2 million working equines a year in poverty-stricken communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Brooke has tripled the number of working equines that it reaches over the past nine years under the leadership of CEO Petra Ingram. During the same time period, Brooke nearly doubled the amount that it fundraises to 21 million pounds in 2017. Ingram, a lifelong equestrian herself, does not intend to stop there. She wants to bring about “historic changes,” attacking poverty by improving conditions for working equines.

“If we change the systems that the animals are living in so that they are seen as assets that are vital to people’s survival—not as beasts of burden—you will build future generations with better practices, stronger economic security, and more knowledge about animal husbandry,” Ingram said.

As Ingram sees it, there is an intrinsic link between the health of working equines and the people they serve.

“You have to bear in mind that for many people, the income they get from the equine is the only income they have,” Ingram said. “When the animal is well, they have cash in their pocket. It makes it possible for their children to go to school, to pay for healthcare, provide food, and their day-to-day existence.

But there is much work to do. Brooke estimates that there are more than 100 million equines working in harsh environments like fiery brick kilns in India, the coal mines of Pakistan, and rugged farms of Ethiopia and Nicaragua. Working equines routinely suffer from injuries, exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition in these places. With proper care, the equines can live longer under more humane conditions. Many of the diseases they get can be prevented with proper vaccinations and care.

Brooke’s goal is to strengthen the knowledge base of the local community so that they can better care for the working horses, donkeys, and mules that their livelihoods depend on.

In some communities, cruelty is used to control the animal. For example, in Kenya, Brooke found that some villagers were afraid of the donkeys kicking them. To control the equines, they inserted rings in their noses and pulled on a foot-long rope attached to the nose ring to restrain the donkey. At first, the villagers did not understand that this caused severe pain in the animals. They did not understand that the donkeys were kicking in response to their own fear of what the humans would do to them. Brooke staffers taught the villagers how to make inexpensive rope halters to control the animals, a far less cruel method, and how to build a compassionate relationship with their donkeys.


In Kenya, donkeys play a crucial role in fetching water and food. Before she owned a donkey, Margaret Mpatiany and her husband’s two other wives would trek three hours to the closest river to collect water for their family twice a week. The women had to carry 25-liter water cans on their backs tied with a rope to their heads for support. They strapped their babies to their front. It was a rough slog to reach the river. Many women suffered severe neck and back pain.

Margaret is the chairwoman of the Naserian Women’s Donkey Welfare Group in her village in the Maasai Mara. Brooke East Africa works with the group through their partner, Farming Systems Kenya, to educate women on how to care for the donkeys. Before Brooke’s intervention, Margaret’s donkey would graze on whatever he could find in the bush. The donkeys now graze with other livestock in paddocks, and they receive grounded corn maize before work. “My donkeys look much happier now that I have more knowledge on feeding and watering,” Margaret said.

Brooke has not only taught Margaret and the other women of the village how to use the donkeys to transport water and goods, but how to make money to pay for the education of girls.

With donkeys hauling the heavy water cans, the women can fill extra cans and sell them in the village. They can also buy extra produce at the market and sell it. The group uses the extra income to educate girls in the village, who by Maasai tradition, are often kept at home and married off at a young age. So far, the group has earned enough money to pay for two girls to graduate from college, and another is currently applying.

Margaret Mpatiany is the chair of the Naserian Women’s Donkey Welfare Group, a group that works with Brooke East Africa to improve the living conditions of equines in her Maasai village.

“I feel proud because even if we don’t have the ability to make big changes for the girl child, small things make a difference. It feels good to know the girl child is not at home, and that she’s at school. It is something very emotional for us to see.”

Brooke Named Official  Charity of WEG

The Brooke was started in 1934 by a British woman named Dorothy Brooke, who was moved to take action after seeing the emaciated condition of horses in Egypt following World War I. Brooke launched a fundraising effort to purchase old war horses in Egypt and sought to restore their health and dignity. She founded the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo, offering free veterinary care for all the city’s working horses and donkeys. From there, Brooke has grown into the largest animal welfare charity for working equines in the world.

“The FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 has selected the Brooke as the official charity of the games because of the way Brooke has significantly improved the lives of working equines and the people they serve throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America,” said Katherine Bellissimo, who serves on the board of sister organization Brooke USA, which raises funds and directs funding for Brooke’s mission.

“Often their intervention means the difference between life and death for a working equine and the economic security of a family.”

“The overarching theme of WEG is ‘Celebrate the Horse, Celebrate the Sport: #Together,’ commemorating the deep connection and interdependencies that exist between humans and equines. For much of the developed world, this relationship has become one of leisure and sport, but for over 600 million people, the relationship is still one of survival,” according to Bellissimo.

“The work that Brooke and Brooke USA do for both horses and humans around the world is incredibly admirable, and it embodies our organization’s goal of celebrating the ways we depend on this beautiful creature through this event,” Bellissimo said. “It is only natural that the world’s largest working equine welfare charity be chosen as a beneficiary of the world’s largest equestrian competition.”

In an effort to draw attention to Brooke USA’s work, Bellissimo and her husband, Mark, annually host a party at the end of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington to raise money for the organization. Known as the Nic Roldan’s Sunset Polo & White Party, the event at the Wanderer’s Club has sold out every year since its inception in 2016. The event draws equestrians from multiple disciplines to raise money for Brooke.

The party was a huge success, raising $250,000 in its first year. Last year, it doubled that amount, raising $500,000. “The White Party is really amazing because of the energy and awareness that it created around Brooke USA’s funding priorities,” Bellissimo said. The event brought together the various equestrian disciplines at the Winter Equestrian Festival—jumpers, polo players, hunters, and dressage riders for one cause: improving the lives of the working equine.

“The common bond that we all share is the connection with the horse, passion for the horse, and the understanding how much horses do for us as well as the presence they have had throughout history and moving forward into the future,” Bellissimo said. “That is really the theme that we have and why it is important for us to be involved in the Brooke.”

Some might question why it is important to improve the lives of working equines when there is so much human hunger in the world. As Bellissimo sees it, working equines, like donkeys, play a crucial role in the basic survival of people living in impoverished communities. Every working equine that is helped by Brooke helps at least six people meet their basic needs.

“Donkeys and other working equines are the main source for people to survive,” Bellissimo said. They provide for the family and relieve women of the many tasks that fall to them from carrying water long distances to carrying food from the fields. “So beside our common love for the equines, supporting Brooke is multi-purposed because of the tremendous amount of help that you give to these families and their communities to become, through education and support, more self-sufficient.”

As the official charity, Brooke will showcase the work that it does at WEG. Brooke USA plans to build a commemorative walkway called the Brooke Breezeway at the Tryon International Equestrian Center and sell “Brooke Bricks” in honor of the games and the important service provided by working equines around the world.

“We could not be prouder of the role we played in bringing Brooke to WEG. Thanks to our supporters, Katherine and Mark Bellissimo, this is a unique opportunity for both Brooke and Brooke USA. Together, we are focused on increasing awareness for the plight of working equines; we know that to make a real difference, we need the support of many. WEG gives us the opportunity to make new friends, raise money for the cause, and build momentum to catapult us into the future,” said Emily Marquez-Dulin, executive director of Brooke USA.

“It is only natural that the world’s largest working equine welfare charity be chosen as a beneficiary of the world’s largest equestrian competition.”

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