Written By: Lauren Alderman, DVM, CVA, CVSMT
Each year, in association with the Equitarian Initiative, a group of veterinary professionals travels to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to provide veterinary care to the equines living there. Horses are an important part of the Oglala Lakota community, culture, and way of life. It is often very difficult for families on the reservation to arrange and pay for veterinary care for their horses.
When we travel to Pine Ridge, we vaccinate and deworm hundreds of equines. We also perform castrations, dental work, hoof trimming, and anything else that may require attention. Often, a handful of dogs and cats receive veterinary care as well. Our group also works to educate local tribal members in equine health care and first aid. Our veterinary students find this trip to be an incredibly valuable opportunity to gain hands-on skills and learn about a different culture and way of life. The entire team always leaves with a deep appreciation for the incredible horsemanship of the Oglala Lakota people.
We also collect fecal samples each year to monitor the parasite load in the herds on Pine Ridge Reservation, and guide our deworming efforts for the next year. This year we vaccinated 460 equines and dewormed 416. We performed 42 castrations and 58 dentals. Our farriers were able to work on 76 horses. We also had 28 cases involving wound care and lameness evaluation.
We could not do this work without the generous donations we receive each year. Boehringer Ingelheim donated 500 doses of four-way vaccine for the trip (Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, West Nile Virus, and Tetanus). We also received donations of dewormer, sedation, and long-acting injectable antibiotics from Zoetis. The remaining medical supplies were purchased using monetary donations made to the Pine Ridge project through the Equitarian Initiative.
2018 marked the ten-year anniversary of this veterinary trip to Pine Ridge, and we were incredibly honored to receive a thank you letter from the tribal president. We also took part in a very special and touching ceremony.
Wisconsin veterinarians this year included Dr. Judy Batker, Drs. Jim and Kimmy Casserly, Dr. Lauren Alderman, Dr. Rebecca Blackburn, and Dr. Kitt Schaller. We were joined by Dr. Ray Heinrichs of Illinois, Dr. Sarah Appleby of Colorado, and Dr. Valerie Pflughoeft of Washington. 12 veterinary students traveled to Pine Ridge from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Mississippi. We were also joined by two veterinary technicians, three farriers, and a handful of pre-veterinary school students, family members, and friends.
Each year, we bring donated tack and equipment to the reservation. The donations are given to a local leader, Percy Whiteplume, to distribute to native horsemen in need. These donations also help support Percy’s community riding program, The Horse Spirit Society. Percy trains trail horses and organizes community rides which celebrate sobriety, reconnect children with their culture and with horses, and provide support for those experiencing bullying and depression. We were delighted at the tremendous amount of tack and equipment donated this year.
In October 2018, a smaller group of veterinarians plans to return to Pine Ridge to offer tribal members a class on equine wellness. We plan to discuss the veterinary care we provide each summer (vaccinations, deworming, castrations, and dentistry) and why this work is important. We will also discuss nutrition and provide training on wound care and suturing.
A huge and heartfelt 'thank you' to every person who sent us to Pine Ridge with tack, equipment, or monetary donations. We would not be able to do this work without your unwavering support.