Helping Hooves

Local organization helps Antigua’s carriage horses

When an accident forced her to stop riding five years ago, California-raised Suzanne Divoff was determined to keep working with horses, and on the streets of La Antigua Guatemala she saw an opportunity; Helping Hooves (HH) was born.

Made up of three women, Helping Hooves started working with Antigua’s horse and carriage drivers with the goal of improving the well-being of the horses and educating the owners on how best to take care of them. Five months on, the project is going from strength-to-strength.

by Anna-Claire Bevan (  photos: César Tián

by Anna-Claire Bevan ( photos: César Tián

“A lot of people used to complain about the conditions of the horses, but now the carriage men are doing everything in their power to help them, and you can really see a difference. The horses’ coats are shiny and their bones don’t stick out,” says Divoff. “We told the men that the horses needed to have stalls in the rainy season and they built them within two months.”

With help from the British charity World Horse Welfare, Helping Hooves has introduced a strict schedule of regular shoeing. The cost for worming and equine dental clinics is split between owners and HH.
In the past, the horses were shod by laymen with little expertise, which often resulted in many of their hooves being off balance, but now they have their shoes changed every three weeks.
As well as organizing clinics and giving advice, Helping Hooves has also implemented a number of rules aimed at improving the working conditions of the horses. Each carriage displays a sticker stating how many people are allowed on board at one time and the drivers are awarded gold ribbons depending on how closely they abide by the rules.

“We have a great relationship with the carriage owners. They trust us and understand why we wanted to start working with them. So far three of the carriages have gold ribbons for good maintenance and we’re hoping that they all will soon,” says Divoff.

The treatment and clinics are not free, but costs are kept to a minimum thanks to the generosity of local vet Jorge Caballeros and students who have been working with Helping Hooves to improve the conditions of the carriage horses. As well, “we’re forever indebted to World Horse Welfare; if it hadn’t have been for their support we wouldn’t be where we are today,” admits Divoff.

Dental work

Dental work

In the future, Helping Hooves hopes to set up nutritional clinics and obtain smaller carriages, which will be lighter for the horses to pull.

“The horses changed everything for us,” says Divoff. “Now it’s like we have 14 grandchildren.”

Teeth are filed down, smoothing jagged points that inhibit proper chewing, also allowing for more comfort while wearing a mouth bit. Other assistance includes treatment against parasites and new shoes with a lip that helps to protect the hoof from rubbing against Antigua’s cobblestones.

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