Brooke USA provides worldwide aid to working horses, mules and donkeys
Shortly after marrying a British cavalry officer, Dorothy Brooke stepped into her new life in Cairo, Egypt and was stunned by what she saw. It was October 1930. Abandoned or sold after their service in WWI, thousands of horses and mules had crowded into the city, working under horrible conditions.
When she saw first one up close, she wrote, “I shall never forget the shock he gave me. I stood staring at him.”
Skinny, lame and covered with sores, that horse had once known the green fields of England. He’d done duty on the battlefield. Appalled, Dorothy made it her mission to rescue those old war horses and mules. By the time she was done, she’d saved over 5,000 of them.
Decades later, the charity named in her honor, Brooke USA, has become “the world’s largest international equine welfare charity,” according to its website, with the vision of “a world in which working horses, donkeys and mules are free from suffering and better able to support the people who depend on them.”
Dorothy’s grand-daughter, Ann Searight, has continued the legacy in her position as honorary vice president. The president is the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, wife of Prince Charles. The Duchess has also travelled to Egypt, India and Pakistan, personally witnessing the suffering and observing Brooke’s programs there. Most of the equines, she said, “are burdened by terrible workloads and handling.”
Throughout those countries, impoverished families are barely able to make a living and have just one animal to do the plowing and hauling. Those animals are often pushed far beyond their limits. Many suffer from exhaustion, lameness, heat stress, harness wounds, poor diet, disease and beatings.
At Brooke USA, the American fundraising arm of the international Brooke organization, a large amount of money has been raised to help these horses, said Cindy Rullman, the special events and outreach director.
Opened just three and a half years ago, the American branch is headquartered in the National Horse Center at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Rullman was employed at KHP for eight years before switching to Brooke.
Rullman recalled once seeing a picture of a donkey dangling in its harness in the air because the cart had been too heavily loaded down. She said it was clear the shot was taken in a third world country.
“It’s funny at first until you realize what is really going on. It is so common for these animals to be overloaded, not just from what they’re pulling but what is piled and strapped onto their backs,” she said.
Thick poles, bricks and barrels of water are just a few examples of what gets transported.
“Problems vary from one country to the next – there is a wide variety,” she said. “Some places have more treacherous working conditions than others. Long hours are spent in deep mud, terrible heat or bitter cold. It’s very difficult for both animals and people.”
Overworked equines often collapse and are unable to get back up.
“This would be preventable if the owners just had the knowledge to properly care for their stock. We teach people how to improve their animal husbandry skills, thereby improving the welfare of their animals,” she said.
Rullman’s position at Brooke USA includes working on fundraising events and promoting the charity through marketing and public relations to promote the overseas work of the Brooke.
“The Brooke has a higher profile outside of the U.S. because it has existed for 82 years,” she said. Now that things are up and running at the Kentucky branch, however, more and more interest and donations are flowing through.
One of the current projects centers around the need for water troughs. In places like Ethiopia, where rainfall is barely adequate and evaporates quickly, water availability for working animals is especially important.
The Brooke provides community troughs with fresh, clean water for the horses, mules and donkeys.
Not only does this keep them from dehydrating during the day, but it also gives them relief before starting the journey home.
Cindy has already been to Guatemala to view the progress of a few of the Brooke’s programs, but “would especially love to see our programs in Pakistan, India and Kenya — although we have very dynamic programs operating in 12 countries right now.”
What makes this charity extra special?
“Our programs bring lasting change,” she said. “With education, veterinary care and simple changes, great improvements are made to the welfare of the animals and the livelihoods of the people who rely on them. All deserve to be well cared for.” ❖