In October I had an amazing opportunity to photograph a equine humanitarian effort In Mexico. Now I’ve photographed a few humanitarian subjects like horse auctions and horse rescues, but this was a life changing experience and I hope I can write this and describe this amazing adventure adequately.
I was approached to photograph for a non-profit equine organization called Equitarian Initiative.
Equitarian Initiative prepares volunteer veterinarians worldwide to deliver health care and education to improve the health, nutrition, productivity, and welfare of horses, donkeys and mules, and to empower their care providers for sustainable change.
This group was planning their annual trip to South America to provide care to horses, donkey and mules in the rural part of central Mexico. The plan was to travel to 5 locations in 5 days to very small villages about 2-4 hours east of Mexico City. They would talk to villagers to discuss their needs and problems they have with the health and welfare of their animals and then set up camp at each of these locations to provide actual care for the equines of that area. Some of the locations we went to they had been in previous years.
Equine Initiative hired me to photograph so they had images to use in their print marketing and web media. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. The Equitarian Initiative “workshop” as it’s called, was organized by a woman named Julie Wilson, DVM from Minnesota, whom I have known for years but didn’t realize until recently that she was involved in this project. I was so surprised to get a call from her wanting me to attend this workshop and photograph for this effort, what a shock!
So with my “gear” all packed, the animals taken care of by my Mom and my friend Linda, I headed to Mexico City on October 22nd, 2012. At the airport I met over 80 other members of the group participating in this workshop mostly from the US, but there were also some from the UK, Canada and one vet from Portugal. The group consisted of veterinarians, vet students, farriers and volunteers. We traveled in 5 vans to a Hostel in the town of SANTA CRUZ, TLAXCALA STATE, Mexico. When arriving Santa Cruz the group joined about 80 Mexican veterinarians, farriers, and vet students which brought our group to about 170 people all working together to provide care for these animals.
I am not going to go over every day of the workshop if you want to read more about the exact happenings of each day you can go to the Equitarian Initiative blog.( This blog was written after each day by a different person on the trip, I took almost all the images they posted.)
Now we were not in the touristy part of Mexico, no margaritas, no 4 star hotels, no beaches… we did however stay at the nicest hotel in the area (it’s all relevant… we only found one scorpion.. ahhh). It was a hostel, which meant dorm style rooms and shared bathrooms by all. Each morning we would set out in the vans for about a 2 hour drive to a our location. Some of the towns we traveled to were, Capula, San Jose de Villarreal (a beautiful mountainous area), San Juan Tepulco. At each town we set up 5 covered tents; Reception, Teeth, Internal Medicine, Saddle/halter fitting, and farrier. The volunteers would then be divided into groups and rotated throughout the week so everyone got a chance to work each tent. As we arrived at a new location each morning there were many animals and owners waiting for us, tied to trees, trucks, each other, some had traveled many miles on foot for their equine to be looked at by our veterinarians.
Now in these rural areas of Mexico, there are no veterinary services, and even if there were vets that would travel that far, owners could not afford the cost of care. But on the other hand these animals are an important part of the culture and survival of these families that own them. They are used for riding, pack, plow and many essential jobs and without them the families could not survive. Most of the mules and donkeys are cared for by women or children. It was a haven for photo “opps”!
As an owner would arrive, they would bring the animal to the “Reception” tent, were they would be evaluated and sent to the tent they needed depending on what their issues were. Some owners went to almost every tent but it’s funny that owners never said their equines teeth needed done, but after the evaluation by the vet most equines had their teeth floated and it was always the longest line. Some animals were in good shape and just needed maybe their feet trimmed, others seems to have many problems. The most common procedures were feet trimmed, teeth floating, castration and saddle/halter fitting. One of the most amazing things that I noticed was that all of these animals were loved and even if they looked starving or hurt to us, the owners had a genuine care for them. I sure learned a lot about human nature on this trip.
My job was to document in photography the happenings of the week. I had many assignments, first I was to get photos of all the injuries, wounds, etc. Then the people, the volunteers working on the animals, the owners and their equines. As I walked around each day trying to find my best subjects, angles, and lighting, I always had to keep in the back of my mind the mission statement, so I would not get sidetracked to just shooting procedures or cute kids with donkey’s. I wanted to come away with many types of images for different usages; images vets could show to other vets of injuries, diseases, and wounds; some that could be used to entice people to donate money to the cause in their fundraising efforts; images that could be used to get students and other volunteers involved in the cause. I wanted to come away with images that could be useful for many applications of advertising and marketing for this equine humanitarian effort. I sure had the opportunity and I sure had the time… five long hot days! It was very hard work, carting my heavy equipment everywhere over dirty rocky terrain, carrying two cameras over my shoulder for 7 days, thinking… my wrists were aching by the end of the week but I loved it. I had to always be thinking of getting the right shot, with the right lighting, at the right angle… fun but exhausting work. Then at night I would charge batteries, examine all my camera’s, download all the days images to my computer and provide a few images for the blog. I was so tired that worrying about scorpions in the bed was the last thing on my mind when hitting the pillow.
I did get to wonder away from our working site a few times to try and capture the communities and people of the villages. These people I met along my long walks were the most friendly I have ever met, they brought me into their homes and although I didn’t speak much Spanish we did communicate somehow. I was taught from one woman how to make tortillas and got to eat fresh warm ones right off the stove top in her outdoor kitchen. Another woman I met on the street with her two boys, took me to her sister’s house where the daughter knew how to speak English so we could communicate better, from there they showed me their home, their cattle and I photographed them. Later that day the daughter helped us out at the worksite translating for some of the vets. The Mexican people are proud and very family oriented.
The most amazing thing about this trip for me was not the equines worked on but the people! I was so impressed by the kindness of the volunteers, these people were all professionals, some of the top veterinarians in our country and the UK, top farriers, including one supplement company called Full Bucket that did soil tests from our location prior to the trip and gave out 6 months of vitamin supplements to every animal. These people all had careers and families, they worked 10-12 hour days and we never left until every animal had been seen and cared for. All these volunteers made time in their life for 8 entire days help working equines in rural Mexico.
Anyway, the adventure ended with a little bit of sickness, I guess my stomach cannot handle the homemade Mexican food we ate when away from the hostel. I did get home safe and sound and was asked to photograph another equine project in Peru next August! Cant’s wait. Below are some of the images, if you want to see more images of this trip go to my website at Equitarian Workshop images.