Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Life throws you all kinds of curveballs.

One of the things I never thought I'd be doing was running to stop someone, hanging a horse from a tree. Sometimes you just never know what the day has in store for you.

It started with a trip bumping, and grinding away in the back seat of a cheap japanese rental, along a series of potholes connected with gravel, and winding up a mountain side, which is what the Fijians called a road. It was taking us into a remote part of the country called the Nassouri Highlands, to treat some village horses. an hour long journey, and only halfway there, were we told that the last foreigners to come this way had rolled there van down the mountainside, killing everyone. We felt lucky to only have a flat tire, although I had doubts the two spare tires we were carrying would be enough to get us home again.

But this is why I do these trips, the adventure and being able to help in some of the most remote locations, are what I live for.

Eventually our cars arrived at the end of the earth, a little village a top a mountain, surrounded by jungle and rocky cliff faces. A school on one side of the road and a handful of colorful, ramshackle houses, and a little church on the other.

Usually when we arrive at these villages we were whisked away to have a sit down and the obligatory cup of Kava with the chief, something we were dreading, as a shared bowl of mud tasting water, that leaves your mouth numb, is never a pleasant way to start a days hard work.

But today was different, i was unsure if we were just not as welcome, if they understood out kava reluctance, or had more pressing matters to attend. Our local guide was fast talking, pointing and having a conversation that involved lots of waving hand gestures, and head shaking before he beckoned us to "come, come " and set off on foot up the road with a few locals in tow.

What we found was what we refer call "dead horse walking", a no hope case, that has limited time left in terra firma no matter what we did. This one was a young foal, that had fallen off a cliff, injuries and scrapes everywhere, and it's body wasting away from the infection, leaving it a skeleton with oversized head, oozzing sores and a matted coat, yet somehow still alive. It's mother stood watching from the school sports field and would meander between grazing and checking on its baby, who was to weak to move from where it was standing.

What do you do, here we were trying to help the animals, and the first horse we see we can't do a thing for, instead we find ourselves explaining that this horse needed to be killed, and quickly to ease its suffering. Never a good way to start the day, or try and gain trust amongst the people your there to help.

The adventures of the day could fill about five blog posts, but il give you the quick, shortcutted version as best I can. We talked to the chief and the horses owner and convinced them to give us permission to have the horses euthanized.Half the team went back down the mountain this time in the rain and mist, and carrying the punctured tire, to get the drugs we needed. The rest of us stayed behind to treat  the horses in the village, as well as teach the locals some basic hoof care skills. We kept an eye on the little foal and through the day checked on her, what we saw only made us more eager to end her suffering.

By the time we finished it was the end of the day, the car with drugs still wasn't back and we were beginning to wonder if they to had fallen off a mountain side. We were sitting on a porch exhausted all wondering what to do next, and if it was time to start worrying.

The next thing we know there was the sounds of a horse in distress, a weak gasping horse. We leap up and go running, our farrier leading the way, to find one of the locals starting to hang the sick foal from a tree, winching her off the ground by a rope around her neck. In case somebody doesn't understand what I'm saying, they were going to euthanize this horse, island style, like we used to do criminals.

We were there in the nick of time, got the foal back on the ground and stopped the noose from choking her to death. Now dead is dead, whether by needle or noose, but watching a horse strung from a tree choking to death, is not something we wanted to see, or could sit by and watch happen.

Fate is a tricky thing though, as all of this was happening, the car drove up with our team mates and drugs, and we were able to put the foal out of her misery humanly and quickly. Timing could not have been better or more urgent, as the little horse was swaying on her feet by this stage.

So we saved a horse from hanging, and did what we could to ease her suffering. Not a situation i thought I'd ever find myself in, but it's amazing what you learn to cope with, when you have to. I don't really blame the villagers either, no one has guns, there is not a single vet in the whole country that deals with horses, ways to kill an animal humanely are pretty limited, they were just using one of the only things left to them, it was either that or slit its throat which was equally undesirable.

So there you go, horse hanging a curve ball I never expected to have to catch or witness.

Here the pic of me, and the foal, you can still see the noose around its neck going up over the tree. Sorry if this upsets anyone, but such is life.