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Jess Wilson

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Four-Star Care for Egypt’s Horses, Part Six: The Long Road Home

Eventing grooms are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, some of the hardest-working people out there. For every six minute dressage test, or moment of glory over the final fence, there have been countless hours of conscientious care behind the scenes to ensure that the sport’s equine heroes are feeling and looking their absolute best. When the season wraps up and the horses’ shoes are pulled for a well-earned break, their #supergrooms finally get a chance to enjoy a much-needed rest (and an alarm that sounds later than 5 a.m. — what a concept!). But one top groom has chosen to spend her time off in a slightly different way this year. 

Meet 24-year-old Jess Wilson, head girl and travelling groom for the legendary Sir Mark Todd. It’s no small task looking after Mark’s formidable string of top-level talent, and she’s on the road almost constantly throughout the season fulfilling her duties as the lynchpin of the team. But her love for horses extends well beyond the four-star competitors she tends to. She’s on a mission to improve the lives of working equids in some of the most underserved communities in the world — and this winter, she’s bringing us with her.

We’re so excited to have Jess on board the EN team, as she shares with us her experiences in Egypt and gives us a first-hand look at what Animal Care Egypt and Egypt Equine Aid are doing to help working horses, ponies and donkeys abroad. Fancy getting involved? Take a look at her JustGiving page, where she’s busy raising vital funds for both charities, and follow her on Instagram, too, for live updates from the field. 

If you missed them, check out part one, part twopart threepart four, and part five of Jess’ blog. This month, Jess brings us the final installment in her incredible saga. Take it away, Jess!

Enjoying an outing on a camel, borrowed from one of the locals.

I’m back in the dark, wet and windy UK, and although it’s only a five hour flight from Cairo, it seems like I’m a whole world away from Egypt. I’m trying to process my experience and whilst I have some amazing memories to look back on — taking a hot air balloon ride over the valley of the kings, visiting the Giza Pyramids, and riding in the desert, to name a just few — I’m still feeling frustrated and troubled by some of the things I’ve seen. Out of sight is definitely not out of mind, and my heart still aches thinking about the thousands of working horses across the globe who, right now, are struggling along on weary, injured legs, under heavy loads, with shoulders and withers rubbed raw down to the bone, taking step after step in agony. If they’re lucky, they may eventually get untacked and offered water, but they have no chance of a full haynet or deep, soft bed ready for them at the end of a long, hard day. And after a night tied up or hobbled on a concrete or stone floor, regardless of how deep their sores are or how lame they are, they’ll be out to work again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…

Egyptian hospitality turned out to be brilliant, with mint teas, guava juice, and dates offered up constantly. Here, a traditional Egyptian lunch fuels an afternoon of hard work at the clinic.

My heart also aches though for the young boys with no shoes and tattered clothes bringing their faithful but weary farm horses and donkeys to be treated, for the children in the street begging for money or food from taxi windows and for the men in the markets desperately trying to sell their produce.
Whilst poverty, tradition and lack of knowledge undoubtedly play a part in the suffering of working horses, I will not, and cannot, defend cruelty and neglect! Many owners don’t have the funds or resources to give their horses the level of care that we, in Europe and the USA, would find acceptable, and we have to appreciate that our way of life and level of  wealth is actually only obtainable to the minority of the world’s population. However, there’s so much needless suffering caused by pure carelessness and people having no empathy for their animals. Being poor is not an excuse for whipping a horse until it bleeds, shredding a horses’ tongue to pieces with a sharp bit or not untacking it for days on end. Of course, better education and training for vets and farriers would help improve things hugely, but for the horses to benefit, their owners need to change their attitudes and take the welfare of their animals seriously.

It’s easy to take European and American standards of care for granted, but not every horse is lucky enough to sink into a deep, clean bed at the end of his working day.

So what’s the solution? If carriages were banned, what would happen to the 1000+  surplus horses? What would their owners and their families do for a living? Surely the people, and therefore horses, would be far worse off? Laws and regulations desperately need to be put in place, but in a country so corrupt and full of bribery, I still fear that implementing these laws would be a mammoth task and wholly dependent on the police’s conscience. Would they care about the welfare of the horses, or would they be happy to turn a blind eye to the law breakers for a baksheesh reward? What is the future for horses in agriculture? There seems, slowly, to be more machines used in farming, but that’s actually putting more pressure on the farmers who do things the traditional way to keep up, and their horses or donkeys are having to work longer, harder and faster.

Exploring Giza’s famous pyramids.

The more I’ve learnt about the lives of Egyptians, the more questions and fewer answers I have about what we can do to help their working horses and honestly, I’m currently feeling a bit overwhelmed and at a loss. One thing I do know, though, is that we have to do something! I will forever be inspired by Kim from Animal Care Egypt and Jill from Egypt Equine Aid for standing up and taking action against something that is undeniably wrong, and for continuing to persist and overcome challenge after challenge, day in and day out. They are truly playing a crucial role in creating a better future for the working equids of Egypt, and I can’t bear thinking about what would be happening to the horses there without them. Everyday, the horses I met amazed me with their nobility and faithfulness — considering the agony they must have endured and the trauma they have faced at the hands of humans, to allow people anywhere near them at all, let alone to keep on working, cements my unfaltering respect for these incredible animals and only ignites the fire of wanting to help them even more. I’m now more determined than ever to play my part in improving their working conditions.

Not every horse in Egypt is poorly-treated – this one proved a great companion for a mounted exploration of the desert, though perhaps a bit different from a four-star eventer!

I was — unnecessarily — really nervous about going to Egypt before I got there, and was actually shocked and ashamed of my own ignorance and naivety about the culture in that part of the world. Although very different to Western countries, I experienced nothing but kindness and hospitality from the Egyptian people and really came away with an overriding feeling that deep down we’re all much more similar than we think. On a personal level, it was not only a really fulfilling experience, but a huge challenge and adventure, and it really accentuated to me that the more you put into life the more you will get out of it in return — if you follow your passion, get out of your comfort zone, believe in yourself, and open your mind there are no limits to what you can do!

A slight change of scenery: back home in the UK, it’s time to get Sir Mark’s horses — including Kiltubrid Rhapsody, seen here — back into work and ready for next season.

I am so grateful to Eventing Nation, especially Tilly Berendt, for inviting me to share this journey and have been truly overwhelmed by everyone’s support of this cause — your encouraging words helped me through some difficult times, and I’m ecstatic that we have raised £1,485 so far — a huge thank you from the bottom of my (now heavier) heart to every single person who has donated, and even those who haven’t donated but have cared enough to follow my blogs and educate yourselves a little bit about what is happening to Egypt’s horses. Alone, I feel like any difference I can make is just a tiny drop in the huge ocean of deprivation these poor horses face, but if we put all our drops together we can make a wave that ripples deep into the cycle of poverty, ignorance and tradition and paves the way for a brighter, fairer future for these virtuous animals and the many that depend on them. For now, it’s back to my awesome life as an eventing groom, but I’m feeling so motivated to continue on this mission — watch this space!

Support Jess: Instagram|Egypt Equine Aid|Animal Care Egypt|JustGiving

Four-Star Care for Egypt’s Horses, Part Five: Conquering Cairo

Eventing grooms are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, some of the hardest-working people out there. For every six minute dressage test, or moment of glory over the final fence, there have been countless hours of conscientious care behind the scenes to ensure that the sport’s equine heroes are feeling and looking their absolute best. When the season wraps up and the horses’ shoes are pulled for a well-earned break, their #supergrooms finally get a chance to enjoy a much-needed rest (and an alarm that sounds later than 5 a.m. — what a concept!). But one top groom has chosen to spend her time off in a slightly different way this year. 

Meet 24-year-old Jess Wilson, head girl and travelling groom for the legendary Sir Mark Todd. It’s no small task looking after Mark’s formidable string of top-level talent, and she’s on the road almost constantly throughout the season fulfilling her duties as the lynchpin of the team. But her love for horses extends well beyond the four-star competitors she tends to. She’s on a mission to improve the lives of working equids in some of the most underserved communities in the world — and this winter, she’s bringing us with her.

We’re so excited to have Jess on board the EN team, as she shares with us her experiences in Egypt and gives us a first-hand look at what Animal Care Egypt and Egypt Equine Aid are doing to help working horses, ponies and donkeys abroad. Fancy getting involved? Take a look at her JustGiving page, where she’s busy raising vital funds for both charities, and follow her on Instagram, too, for live updates from the field. 

If you missed them, check out part one, part twopart three, and part four of Jess’ blog.

Unfortunately, my last afternoon in Luxor was spent in bed! Maybe the stress and emotion of this trip finally got the better of me, and after a few days of battling with a nasty stomach bug the daily stench of fermenting fodder when stomach-tubing colicy horses and the smell of puss from infected wounds became too much. I decided to try sleep my illness off so I would be able to function for the final week of my trip. Rest did the trick and I was feeling much better and able to fly to Cairo the next day where I was visiting a second charity — Egypt Equine Aid, or EEA.

I was picked up from the airport by EEA’s founder Jill Barton, who is simply a remarkable lady with endless drive and determination to change the dire situation of horses in Cairo and its surrounding areas. Jill founded EEA in 2014, having seen a desperate need for medical help for the working horses in the area and has basically single-handedly developed the charity from the ground up. Now, it’s well-established and able to offer lifesaving care for over 60 patients. EEA is situated close to the Abu Sir pyramids on the outskirts of Giza — a place which, to me, summed up Egypt. On the same stretch of road I was driven past opulent Arabian stud farms behind elaborately decorated high walls — then, 25 metres further along, we’d see barefoot children gathered around the village tap, filling up dirty plastic containers with water. The extremes of everything here are immense!

Rubbish in the streets, just metres from the opulence of Egypt’s richest citizens.

I was surprised to hear from Egyptian vets that veterinary careers are not very well-respected here at all, and require only mediocre grades in school and absolutely no practical experience. So not only is Jill serving a poor and uneducated population and fighting against the lack of animal welfare laws in Egypt, she’s also tackling the problem of massively incompetent and unregulated vets on the loose. EEA regularly has patients here suffering from problems caused by local vets making huge mistakes in their treatment or diagnosis. It’s frustrating when owners have tried to do the right thing by seeking help from a professional, rather than a traditional witch-doctor, only for the so-called professional to actually make the ailment worse!

Enormous swellings like these are a common complaint of Cairo’s working horses — often, such as in this case, they’re caused by infections from the dirty needles used by some local vets. Photo courtesy of Egypt Equine Aid.

Luckily for the horses of Giza, EEA has a knowledgeable and dedicated team, all closely supervised and managed by Jill, who has also started a 10-week training program for newly-qualified vets to gain hands-on experience around horses. This helps not only from a medical perspective but, perhaps more importantly, to get them more competent in being around horses — Jill has had to teach her ‘trainees’ (fully-qualified vets) colours and markings so they can describe their patients, as well as often having to show them how to check heart rate, with some trainees not knowing where the heart is, and how and where to give injections. The first two weeks of the training program also involve being allocated horses to muck out, groom and feed so the trainees gain some general horse knowledge, get more confident being around them and, perhaps for the first time in their lives, experience getting a bit of dirt of under their nails!

Jill has also run a farriery apprenticeship program supervised by Gareth McWhinney — a much-needed initiative as there seems to be a real lack of knowledge or thought amongst Egyptian ‘farriers.’ I have seen every shape of hoof imaginable — from the longest toes with the lowest heels to the most upright square hoofs and everything in between, including several laminitic horses still forced to work despite their pedal bones protruding through the soles of their hooves. The traditional Egyptian cure for this seems to be to cover the sole with used engine oil and nail a rubber or metal pad on top. These overworked horses have ridiculously long days anyway, but the undue stress and strain put on their legs from poor shoeing is surely putting them through a lot of pain, and it’s no wonder they often trip or fall over.

The pace of life for locals here seems fast and aggressive, and the working horses and donkeys seem to be taking the brunt of a frustrated and unempathetic generation, as I found in Luxor and my initial trip to Cairo. Cairo roads were famous in Luxor for being totally chaotic, and I can see why now. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, it’s very common for horses to get run over in Egypt, and I’ve seen some gruesome wounds caused by traffic accidents. With patience and strict wound management — of which there’s plenty at EEA! — I have been astounded to witness miraculous recoveries of horses brought in with unimaginable injuries. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for horses to be left dying in the street after being run over — it’s truly so sickening to think of them already exhausted and abused, to then get run over and be abandoned in agony on the filthy, loud streets.

Appallingly skinny and covered in wounds, this patient was found abandoned to his fate in the street.

I’ve also seen some disgustingly deep pressure wounds on the hips of horses here. Once a horse gets too old or ill to work at maximum pace, they get sold very cheaply. Only very poor people can then afford to buy them, with very limited resources and money to look after them, but their reliance on them is huge so they are worked harder, getting slower and more sick and sold for cheaper and cheaper. This vicious cycle continues until the poor horses are too ill to stand, so they are then left collapsed on the concrete, their skeletal frames offering no protection or cushioning from the hard ground and their protruding hip bones taking the brunt of their weight.

In what is starting to feel like a hopeless and impossible situation, Jill’s perseverance, unyielding high standards and relentless determination are really inspiring. The training programs at EEA seem revolutionary, and providing locals with skills that not only improve their own lives but will have a much wider impact on equine welfare in the community is beneficial on so many levels. It sounds like Jill has big plans for developing these schemes and many more in the future — she’s currently supervising a barley grass growing project and mentioned the idea of a harness making/fitting/adjusting workshop involving local women.

I have often felt during this trip that these destitute horses are at the end of a very long line of problems and questioned how we can have a long-term and bigger-picture impact that gets to the root of the issues to try and break the cycle of abuse. Every day I’m delving deeper into the complex puzzle of animal cruelty here and the line between neglect and ignorance is getting very blurred. My heart is getting broken over and over again looking into the eyes of the most dejected, despondent horses and through the anger and frustration I am trying to find some understanding and some hope that if charities like ACE and EEA continue to be supported we could in the future have better lives for working equids and their owners.

Support Jess: Instagram|Egypt Equine Aid|Animal Care Egypt|JustGiving

Four-Star Care for Egypt’s Horses, Part Four: Every Day’s a Different Story

Eventing grooms are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, some of the hardest-working people out there. For every six minute dressage test, or moment of glory over the final fence, there have been countless hours of conscientious care behind the scenes to ensure that the sport’s equine heroes are feeling and looking their absolute best. When the season wraps up and the horses’ shoes are pulled for a well-earned break, their #supergrooms finally get a chance to enjoy a much-needed rest (and an alarm that sounds later than 5 a.m. — what a concept!). But one top groom has chosen to spend her time off in a slightly different way this year. 

Meet 24-year-old Jess Wilson, head girl and travelling groom for the legendary Sir Mark Todd. It’s no small task looking after Mark’s formidable string of top-level talent, and she’s on the road almost constantly throughout the season fulfilling her duties as the lynchpin of the team. But her love for horses extends well beyond the four-star competitors she tends to. She’s on a mission to improve the lives of working equids in some of the most underserved communities in the world — and this winter, she’s bringing us with her.

We’re so excited to have Jess on board the EN team, as she shares with us her experiences in Egypt and gives us a first-hand look at what Animal Care Egypt and Egypt Equine Aid are doing to help working horses, ponies and donkeys abroad. Fancy getting involved? Take a look at her JustGiving page, where she’s busy raising vital funds for both charities, and follow her on Instagram, too, for live updates from the field. 

If you missed them, check out part one, part two, and part three of Jess’ blog.

I’ve been in Egypt for two weeks now, and honestly, I’m feeling a bit drained from all the amazing things and equally hideous things that each day brings. I hate to use such a cliche, but it’s the most extreme rollercoaster of emotions imaginable!

We’ve been venturing out into Luxor in the evenings, and what an amazing place it is. Hustling and bustling with busy locals, and steeped in history with the awe-inspiring Karnak and Luxor temples, the streets are ablaze with sights, sounds, and smells — there’s just so much to take in. The tourist scene has been very quiet in Luxor since the Zoll Revolution, and although it seems quite busy inside the tourist sites due to the busloads of tour groups coming in from nearby resort towns, generally, in town and in the restaurants, we’ve barely seen any westerners. The only thing I can say to anyone put off coming to Egypt because of its portrayal in the media as some sort of warzone is this: I’ve felt completely safe and in no way threatened whilst being here; I’ve eaten some of the most delicious food, seen some of the world’s most best archeological sites, and been able to get a small insight into a life and culture so different from my own, too.

Working horses wait at bus and coach stops for customers. ACE sees many cases of carriage horses who’ve been hit by cars in the line of duty.

One thing that’s really surprised me about Luxor is that there are horses everywhere. Literally crammed into every nook and cranny of the city, amongst stray dogs, crazy traffic, and the swarming population, on every street corner, down every back alley, there are horses. These are mostly carriage horses offering tours of the city, though some offer ‘pony rides,’ in which non-horsey Egyptians are put on feisty, revved-up stallions and allowed to gallop around on a big swathe of concrete, amongst mopeds and quad-bikes, supervised by groups of what look like twelve-year-old boys. Some pull carts of produce between farm and market. If the number of horses was a shock to me, the thing I genuinely can’t get my head around is the lack of resources and regulations to protect them — in the whole of Luxor, with its equine population of roughly 900, there are two water troughs. That’s all. No washing facilities, no stables, no grazing areas.

The Brooke charity fundraised and built a roof above the carriage parking bays, where most carriage horses are tied up overnight — sometimes without the carriage and harness even being taken off — and during the day on the rare occasions they’re not being worked, but that unfortunately burnt down. The Luxor government wouldn’t grant the charity permission to rebuild, so there’s no longer any shade for the horses, either, in a city where temperatures can easily reach 50˚C/122˚F in summer.

Left out all night with his carriage still attached and no water, this working horse spends the early hours of the morning foraging from scraps of rubbish for breakfast.

Not only are their living conditions appalling, but there aren’t any regulations for their working conditions, either — no weight limit, no limit to the hours they can work nor the distance they can travel, and there’s no authority to reprimand owners who mistreat their horses, or to say that a horse is too young, too skinny, or too lame to be working.

The result of this free-for-all is that the horses are really suffering. There are no incentives or rewards for the good owners, of which I’ve seen a few, and with business appearing slow the carriage drivers are getting desperate, staying out into the early hours hoping for work, which makes for a very long day for their horses. Even worse, they’ll often try to impress potential customers by galloping their horses up and down the road.

Foals have to come to work, too. It’s not uncommon to see serious leg deformities — the result of having to work too hard, too young.

On the plus side, at least many owners are making use of the resources and care available at Animal Care Egypt, where I’ve been volunteering. It’s surprisingly well-equipped, without being extravagant, and ACE’s team of competent vets is always eager to think outside the box, meaning that any ailment or wound presents an opportunity for recovery. Having spent a lifetime with animals I’ve seen my fair share of injuries, but every day at ACE has brought something new, from the calf born without an anus, the horse with a wither sore exposing the spinal processes, and the donkey with an amputated tail — it’s been great to learn so much through working here.

Horses have hopped into the clinic on three legs, and I’ve thought, ‘there’s nothing we could do to help; the owner will have to go home without them,” only for them to walk out totally sound a few days later after some rest, a substantial bandage as needed to immobilise the limb, and some anti-inflammatories. Other times, though, horses have come in with seemingly mild symptoms, for example, a minor colic, and it’s escalated into something very serious and life-threatening. Every day brings a different challenge.

Horses eating trash is an all-too-common sight in Luxor — it’s little surprise that ACE has to deal with so many colic cases.

Some of the owners we deal with are very polite and grateful, while others have been rude or even downright obnoxious — with the latter it can be difficult, as they need to be told (quite sternly!) that how they’re treating their animal is not acceptable, but we don’t want to put them off coming back and risk the horse not receiving the medical care it needs. I often have to remind myself that ACE’s role is to provide free veterinary care to the animals brought there — it’s not a sanctuary, and all the horses we help must go back to their owners, whether it’s the right thing for that animal or not. The horses don’t belong to ACE, and to buy or rescue every single animal with an unpleasant owner simply wouldn’t be maintainable and, moreover, with absolutely zero legislation or rules, there’s no way to report any of the abuse we witness. There’s simply nobody with the power to seize the horses or punish their owners.

The victim of pure carelessness — this horse’s teenage owner was one of the trickier clients to deal with, but with careful treatment, he was soon on the mend.

The consolation is when they come to us, but I often find myself being kept awake at night, more so than by the busy roads, guard dogs, and calls to worship, by the thoughts of these poor horses once they’ve been discharged, forced to struggle on, day after day.

My time at ACE will soon be over — and what an experience it has been! There have been times when I’ve felt like I’ve been watching miracles happen, and times when I’ve felt like we’re trying to walk through a brick wall of ignorance and carelessness. But in success and failure I’ve seen nothing but professionalism and kindness from everyone at ACE, and I really hope their great work will continue. Please do consider making a small donation at the link below — your contribution can help this incredible team continue their important work for these marginalised animals.

The ACE volunteer dream team — Sam, Di, Billy, and Jess check out the Valley of the Kings.

Next I’ll be heading to Egypt Equine Aid — stay tuned for my next dispatch!

Support Jess: Instagram|Egypt Equine Aid|Animal Care Egypt|JustGiving

Four-Star Care for Egypt’s Horses, Part Three: An ACE of Hearts in Luxor

Eventing grooms are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, some of the hardest-working people out there. For every six minute dressage test, or moment of glory over the final fence, there have been countless hours of conscientious care behind the scenes to ensure that the sport’s equine heroes are feeling and looking their absolute best. When the season wraps up and the horses’ shoes are pulled for a well-earned break, their #supergrooms finally get a chance to enjoy a much-needed rest (and an alarm that sounds later than 5 a.m. — what a concept!). But one top groom has chosen to spend her time off in a slightly different way this year. 

Meet 24-year-old Jess Wilson, head girl and travelling groom for the legendary Sir Mark Todd. It’s no small task looking after Mark’s formidable string of top-level talent, and she’s on the road almost constantly throughout the season fulfilling her duties as the lynchpin of the team. But her love for horses extends well beyond the four-star competitors she tends to. She’s on a mission to improve the lives of working equids in some of the most underserved communities in the world — and this winter, she’s bringing us with her.

We’re so excited to have Jess on board the EN team, as she shares with us her experiences in Egypt and gives us a first-hand look at what Animal Care Egypt and Egypt Equine Aid are doing to help working horses, ponies and donkeys abroad. Fancy getting involved? Take a look at her JustGiving page, where she’s busy raising vital funds for both charities, and follow her on Instagram, too, for live updates from the field. 

If you missed them, check out part one and part two of Jess’ blog.

I’ve been helping at Animal Care Egypt for a few days now, and wow! What can I say, other than what a fantastic place. The founder and manager, Kim Taylor, and co-manager, Ayman Butros, have been so helpful and generous in welcoming me to Luxor and ensuring I have everything I need for my stay (as well as being on hand for some great restaurant recommendations!)

The facility, in great contrast to the rest of Egypt, is kept immaculate and orderly by an awesome team of local staff, and there’s a large office and education area where local children come to learn about how to better look after their animals. There are two treatment rooms for small animals where Egyptian nationals can get their dogs and cats spayed or neutered for free, and then there’s the equine clinic, where I’ve been spending most of my time.

Immaculately maintained sand turnout paddocks allow the clinic’s residents the chance of a leg-stretch and a roll — commonplace pleasures for our own horses, but a luxury for a working horse in Egypt, who may live his whole life on concrete. Photo by Jess Wilson.

There are two parts to the equine clinic: the inpatients, who are admitted to stay in our hospital, and outpatients, who are treated and sent home with creams that their owners can treat the animals with at home. Alongside this is a large wash-off area, where all owners are asked to hose their horses off before seeking treatments. Here, they’re taught about the importance of keeping their horses cool, clean and hydrated.

ACE’s outpatient clinic and wash-off area, where horse-owners can provide some relief from the sweltering heat as well as essential hygiene for their animals. Photo by Jess Wilson.

I’m lucky to have been joined at ACE by three other volunteers – Dr Billy Fehin and nurse Sam Feighery from Rossdales veterinary clinic in Newmarket, and vet nurse Dianna Wilson. Not only is it a great experience to work alongside these guys, they’re also fun company, and I’ve found it much less stressful getting out and about outside of the centre, compared to my usual solo travel missions, where I’m a massive target for touts and hawkers!

Morning meetings cover every patient’s needs for the day — fortunately, the process is aided by an enormous treatment board, and the diligent team at ACE leave nothing to chance when it comes to offering these horses, ponies and donkeys the very best of care. Photo by Jess Wilson.

Our days start in the inpatients’ clinic, where we go around and check each patient, administer medications, and write notes about the condition of each horse or donkey, before heading back to the treatment room. There, we meet with ACE’s team of fantastic vets and go through a plan for what we need to do with each patient that day. Then I get to work cleaning, flushing, debriding wounds, changing dressings and bandages, helping give the horses fluids, and trying not to get in the way of the pros!

Once all the inpatients are looked after, I head to the outpatients are to lend a hand there. Horses are brought in for a number of reasons — from lameness to wounds to colic. There’s a bit of a language barrier between myself and the owners, but if the issue isn’t obvious, I can normally figure out the gist of the problem, using a bit of pointing and some hand gestures! Then, whilst waiting for one of the vets to be free, I can make some further investigations, checking vital signs, taking temperatures, assessing the cause of lamenesses, cleaning wounds, applying bandages, putting dressings on, and so on.

A deep abdominal wound, like the one seen here, isn’t an uncommon site at ACE. Photo by Jess Wilson.

After a thorough clean and flush, the wound can be dressed. The dressing is secured and then taped over with duct tape, which gives the wound the best chance of healing without infection. Photo by Jess Wilson.

We’ve had quite a few horses come in with really deep wounds and sores on their withers from ill-fitting tack. I find these cases quite hard to deal with, as really, the horses need a long period of time without any tack on the wound to allow it to heal, and for the area to be immobilised so it can close over. Sadly, that’s just not possible in most cases, as the owners need their horses to work every day, so the best we can do is clean the wound, apply a honey-soaked dressing, administer some painkillers, and give the owner a doughnut-shaped cushion, which relieves pressure on the area. The heartbreaking part for me is sending them back out the gate, back to their lives of pain and struggle, not knowing if the owners have listened to and understood what we’ve told them.

Sometimes, a little bit of ingenuity is required — here, a deep wound to a horse’s face is cleaned with a homemade saline flushing system. Though the wound itself was heartbreaking to witness, and the healing process will likely take a long time, this patient’s long-term outlook is bright, thanks to the dedication of the ACE team. Photo by Jess Wilson.

It’s obvious, up close, that these horses have a tough life — not only are they all very skinny, they have scars and open wounds on their knees and hips from lying down in the busy streets or on the concrete patches on which they live. They often have scars between their hind legs and on their rumps from a lifetime of being whipped, and deep gashes on the inside of their fetlocks from poorly-shod hooves, which cause them to brush as they’re hammered along the roads.

Knee injuries like these are common for working equines and, because of their proximity to the delicate structures of the joint, they need to be treated diligently. Photo by Jess Wilson.

This horse’s owner lives 1.5 hours away from the clinic, so he was able to be admitted as an inpatient for ongoing cleaning and treatment. Photo by Jess Wilson.

Often, when they come to the clinic, I don’t know where to start when cleaning them up and making them more comfortable. But thank god they have somewhere to come, where we can, and will, help them, and thank god their owners are seeking help and trying to do the right thing for their horses.

It must be strange for a rural Egyptian man to arrive at the clinic to be greeted by a white girl in a t-shirt, but the local horse owners have been nothing but polite and extremely grateful towards me. What gives me hope and keeps me determined to carry on is that most of the owners I’ve met are genuinely concerned for their horses and they really want us to help them, so I’m starting to think that, if we continue to educate them we might start to see a change — albeit, a slow one — in the way horses are kept and used here.

Until next time!

Support Jess: Instagram|Egypt Equine Aid|Animal Care Egypt|JustGiving

Four-Star Care for Egypt’s Horses, Part Two: An Eye-Opening Layover

Eventing grooms are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, some of the hardest-working people out there. For every six minute dressage test, or moment of glory over the final fence, there have been countless hours of conscientious care behind the scenes to ensure that the sport’s equine heroes are feeling and looking their absolute best. When the season wraps up and the horses’ shoes are pulled for a well-earned break, their #supergrooms finally get a chance to enjoy a much-needed rest (and an alarm that sounds later than 5 a.m. — what a concept!). But one top groom has chosen to spend her time off in a slightly different way this year. 

Meet 24-year-old Jess Wilson, head girl and travelling groom for the legendary Sir Mark Todd. It’s no small task looking after Mark’s formidable string of top-level talent, and she’s on the road almost constantly throughout the season fulfilling her duties as the lynchpin of the team. But her love for horses extends well beyond the four-star competitors she tends to. She’s on a mission to improve the lives of working equids in some of the most underserved communities in the world — and this winter, she’s bringing us with her.

We’re so excited to have Jess on board the EN team, as she shares with us her experiences in Egypt and gives us a first-hand look at what Animal Care Egypt and Egypt Equine Aid are doing to help working horses, ponies and donkeys abroad. Fancy getting involved? Take a look at her JustGiving page, where she’s busy raising vital funds for both charities, and follow her on Instagram, too, for live updates from the field. 

Check out part one of Jess’ blog here!

As every penny donated to my JustGiving page is going straight to my two chosen charities, I’ve self-funded all my expenses on a pretty tight budget. Direct flights were nearing £1000, so I was left with two choices: do an 18-hour trip, or arrive in the middle of the night. I opted for what I thought was the safer option, and booked a flight to my first stop, Animal Care Egypt in Luxor, with an 11-hour layover in Cairo.

After reading multiple travel blog horror stories from solo females in Cairo, ranging from hotel scams to being sexually assaulted by so-called ‘tour guides’ in the pyramid chambers, it did cross my mind to just stay in the safety of the airport for the duration. After all, 11 hours seems like nothing compared to some of the mega-long drives I’ve done across Europe and the USA en route to competitions!

Heading off on the first leg of the long trip to Egypt. Photo courtesy of Jess Wilson.

In the end, I decided staying in the airport would be massively wimping out, and if I had any chance of surviving three weeks on my own in Egypt, I had no choice but to grow a pair. So, as ever, I put my faith in TripAdvisor, and through their recommendations, I arranged a driver to take me on a super-speedy tour of Cairo. The main area I wanted to see was Giza — obviously for the pyramids, but also to really see and experience what’s happening to the horses there.

I landed in Cairo at 4:30 a.m., and after the very easy and efficient process of getting a visa and going through immigration, I left the terminal to be greeted by a wall of men trying to sell me taxi rides. Luckily, I had trusty Ahmed pre-booked and waiting for me, so off we went into the madness of Cairo.

Horses pulling carts are a common sight on the streets of Cairo — and often, they can be spotted working from sun up until sun down, with rare, if any, breaks for food and water. Photo by Jess Wilson.

It really is hard to describe a place so full of contrasts between rich and poor, traditional and modern, filth and beauty. Side by side are five-star hotels and homes made of cardboard boxes. Traffic — six or seven cars wide across a three-lane road — is a mix of brand new Mercedes and the oldest battered Toyotas, spewing black smoke, missing mirrors, and with paintwork patched up in multiple colours. Across the street from beautifully manicured gardens, piles of rubbish and plastic are heaped along the roadside and dotted through the street, and within those piles, skinny and lame stray dogs and cats — and even, sometimes, horses — could be seen scavenging for scraps.

At the Great Pyramids of Giza — the bright and beautiful side to Cairo. Photo courtesy of Jess Wilson.

We arrived at the pyramids at around 7:30 a.m., which turned out to be a great time to go, as it was before the crowds and hawkers appeared. The pyramids really are amazing, and they surpassed all my expectations; I’m so glad I got to see them.

A working horse in the streets of Cairo. Photo by Jess Wilson.

Unfortunately, the experience was slightly ruined by the heart-wrenching sight of the poor pyramid horses and camels tied up — and, in some cases, down — on a rough, rocky plateau with absolutely no shade, and not a drop of water in sight, waiting hour after hour for tourists to come and ride them.

I can understand that their owners have limited money to buy feed, so they’re going to look thin, with protruding ribs and hips. I can understand that lack of knowledge and training is going to result in poor farriery skills, so there are hooves and shoes of all different shapes and angles, resulting in deformed legs and lame steps, and I can understand that animals aren’t just seen as pets or friends in many cultures. They’re a way of transport, or a way to make money so that people can feed their children, but I will never be able to understand how or why people can be cruel and nasty to their animals for absolutely no reason.

The most vivid and spine-chilling memory I have of Cairo is the constant cracking and lashing sounds of horses getting whipped over and over again. How can we put a stop to that? I really have no idea. It takes a lot of time to change that sort of attitude. Will these horse-owners ever see their animals as sentient, loving beings? Or is this attitude too well-ingrained?

Horses and camels wait in the hot sun for hordes of tourists to descend. Photo by Jess Wilson.

It’s a very complex problem with no simple solution, but thank god there are charities and people on the ground working towards a change. I’m on the way to Animal Care Egypt in Luxor now to see what the situation is like for the poor horses there, and hopefully I’ll be able to play a small part in making things better for them. Then, I’ll be going back to Cairo to help out at Egypt Equine Aid for a few days. Stay tuned!

Support Jess: Instagram|Egypt Equine Aid|Animal Care Egypt|JustGiving

Going the Extra Mile: Jess Wilson Brings Four-Star Care to Egypt’s Horses

Eventing grooms are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, some of the hardest-working people out there. For every six minute dressage test, or moment of glory over the final fence, there have been countless hours of conscientious care behind the scenes to ensure that the sport’s equine heroes are feeling and looking their absolute best. When the season wraps up and the horses’ shoes are pulled for a well-earned break, their #supergrooms finally get a chance to enjoy a much-needed rest (and an alarm that sounds later than 5 a.m. — what a concept!). But one top groom has chosen to spend her time off in a slightly different way this year. 

Meet 24-year-old Jess Wilson, head girl and travelling groom for the legendary Sir Mark Todd. It’s no small task looking after Mark’s formidable string of top-level talent, and she’s on the road almost constantly throughout the season fulfilling her duties as the lynchpin of the team. But her love for horses extends well beyond the four-star competitors she tends to. She’s on a mission to improve the lives of working equids in some of the most underserved communities in the world — and this winter, she’s bringing us with her.

We’re so excited to welcome Jess on board the EN soapbox, where she’ll be sharing with us her experiences in Egypt and giving us a first-hand look at what Animal Care Egypt and Egypt Equine Aid are doing to help working horses, ponies and donkeys abroad. Fancy getting involved? Take a look at her JustGiving page, where she’s busy raising vital funds for both charities, and follow her on Instagram, too, for live updates from the field. Take it away, Jess!

As a young child I wanted to be a vet, and I used to cover all my toys in red nail varnish, stolen from my mum’s dresser, to mimic bleeding wounds. Then, I would bandage them up and take them to the makeshift hospital hidden under my bed. When I got older I naively gave up the academic route in pursuit of a career as a rider, but now have a very happy life doing neither — instead, I work as travelling head girl for Sir Mark Todd, looking after the nicest bunch of horses in the world (though I’m not in any way biased!) and travelling to the best and biggest eventing competitions. While it’s hard work, and not always as glamorous as our Instagram posts might lead you to believe, it’s an amazing life offering an unparalleled insight into elite sport, whilst allowing me to maintain that love of horses that I just can’t seem to grow out of!

Jess and NZB Campino, known at home as Kinky, settle in to a sunny Burghley. Photo courtesy of Jess Wilson.

Travel is something that I’ve always been curious about, perhaps because, having always had horses at home to look after, I barely left my home county of Yorkshire until I was 16. In fact, my first time ever leaving the United Kingdom was when I went to Fontainebleau in France as a groom! But I’ve always had the idea that I might be able to use my passion for horses to do some good in the world. Now, a few years down the line and many countries later, it’s great to be in a position where I’m able to fulfil this long-held ambition of helping horses in need, combined with travelling to new places.
I’ve always liked the idea of doing charity work, but it wasn’t until a short holiday to Morocco last year, that I got my first taste — and smell! — of what life is actually like for the majority of people in the outside world that we’re so sheltered from. I found myself walking down sewage-filled streets in 45ºC heat, wrestling my way through the intimidating throng of beggars and traders forced, by their desperation, into aggressive attempts to get money. Seeing a sad picture in the media and having to physically peel crying, starving children off you as they cling onto your clothes, begging for food as you’re walking down the road, are two very different experiences, after all. And, of course, when people are stricken by poverty, their animals undoubtedly suffer, too.

Jess and some of her charges at Animal Aid’s India outpost in 2017. Photos courtesy of Jess Wilson.

So last winter, with Mark’s horses on their holidays and spurred on by my time in Morocco, I put on my brave pants, had a #thisgirlcan moment and spent some time volunteering at Animal Aid, a charity hospital for street animals in India. I had an amazing time learning a lot about myself and life, but came home feeling utterly helpless — my efforts felt wholly insignificant. After travelling well over 1,000 miles on the road sightseeing, and for mile after mile seeing cows and donkeys knee-deep in rubbish rummaging for food, seeing child after child not in school but barefoot in threadbare clothes working in the fields, and passing horse after horse limping along, straining under heavy loads of timber, sand, and marble, I just couldn’t fathom how anyone would — or could — go about making things better on such a large scale for so many needy people and animals. I returned home riddled with guilt and questioning my own conscience that most days, walking to or from my tuk-tuk pick up point, I had been able to step over starving bodies in the street without stopping to help — admittedly partly from a safety point of view — yet was on my way to nurse hopeless cases of run-over stray dogs and cattle through their final hours.

Jess in India. Photo courtesy of Jess Wilson.

With three horses entered for Badminton in the spring, I was soon back into the whirlwind of the event season and, because it was a World Championship year, I was 100% focused on getting the horses prepared for their competitions. But still, the thought of the hundreds of impoverished animals and children struggling on, day after day, niggled away in the back of my mind.
I think the thing that stops a lot of people from trying to help is knowing where to start. There are so many issues facing the working equid population, and so many causes worthy of our time and money — from the brick kilns in Pakistan, the rubbish dumps in Mexican slums, live export through Europe, to the UK’s own abandoned horses crisis — that it’s tough to choose how to help. But things aren’t going to get better if we are overwhelmed into doing nothing. I truly believe, and have seen for myself, that the acts of one person can spiral into so much good, and I can’t justify treating ‘my own’ horses like the loving, intelligent, sentient friends that they are, yet turn a blind eye to the abuse and agony that their foreign counterparts are being subjected to. 

Jess and McLaren, Mark’s WEG mount. Photo courtesy of Jess Wilson.

So I’ve decided to go back out into the big, wide, scary world, outside of my comfort zone, and will be spending my time volunteering at two charity equine hospitals in Egypt. Dorothy Brooke first brought the world’s attention to the plight of horses in this part of the world, and after reading The Lost Warhorses of Cairo at a young age, I’ve always wanted to try and improve things for the working horses there. With the population currently suffering greatly in an economic drought from lack of tourism — due, largely, to political unrest in the Arab world — many families are now living on the brink, and their reliance on working animals is huge. Unfortunately, that reliance is paired with a real lack of knowledge, resources, and, occasionally, compassion with regards to animal welfare in the country. Currently, there are no animal welfare laws, though I believe one is being drafted – but being without this necessary legislation causes unimaginable and unnecessary hardship to the horses there.

A working donkey in Marrakech, where Jess was first inspired to take up charity work. “Whilst there’s no justification for neglect or cruelty, when you see their owners in rags with no shoes perhaps it’s easier to understand why their animals might not be shod or looked after to the standard we find acceptable,” she notes. Photo courtesy of Jess Wilson.

The first leg of my trip will be to Luxor, where I’ll be working with Animal Care Egypt, before heading to the outskirts of Cairo, the base of Egypt Equine Aid. There, they offer temporary relief and medical expertise for the poor horses, with all of the aid provided by the charity’s free equine hospitals. They also provide basic veterinary education and management advice for their owners. Egypt is a difficult climate for horses at the best of times, with heat, sand, and ticks to contend with. That, combined with limited access to veterinary professionals and, in the poorest areas, high rates of illiteracy and a reliance on tradition, means that these hospitals are stretched to their limits every day. They do everything they can for horses who are often walking the fine line between survival and death.
I’m excited to be able to share my experience with you, and I hope I can make some small positive impact on the lives of working horses in Egypt. For anyone in a position to donate, I’ve set up a crowdfunding page, the funds from which will be split between the two charities. In the meantime, I’m in the process of organising the hefty travel insurance I’ll need, a series of vaccinations, and, of course, finding suitable clothes to pack, but I know that the most important things to take with me are an open heart and an open mind!