When, in early January, I heard about a low-cost gelding clinic coming to Sonoma County, where I live in California, I thought of Mr. Steve, our miniature Sicilian donkey, who for a variety of reasons had made it to the ripe old age of 6 with all of his original equipment intact. Since he is small, and a donkey, managing him with his factory specs wasn?t a huge challenge. But, every time I started getting prices for having him gelded (he was potentially a cryptorchid), I would ultimately decide he wasn?t THAT hard to manage. Then the opportunity came for it to be done at an extremely affordable price, and we decided that his time had come, this week.
These clinics are organized by the National Equine Resource Network (NERN), which was founded and is based here in California, and these clinics are part of a pilot program for the service. They started with just a few clinics in 2011, and now they've expanded their reach now to include clinics all over California. According to their website, they're planning their first out-of-state program, in Washington, later this year.
The idea behind the clinics is to offer affordable castration for local equine communities, in order to help reduce the number of unwanted horses each year. In polling their members, castration was mentioned time and again as a service they?d like to have available. They estimate they've castrated approximately 500 equines since the program began. They usually partner with local facilities, organizations and veterinarians.
At first I wasn?t sure that the organizers would accept a non-horse, but once we determined that they would, I filled out the paperwork and sent it in. We received word he?d been accepted, and the countdown to ?brain surgery? began.
Surprisingly enough, Mr. Steve wasn?t the smallest guy there. That title belonged to a tiny white stud muffin who was definitely excited by his big day out. Being a miniature Sicilian donkey on a farm full of sport horses, Mr. Steve is used to being the littlest guy in the room. Perhaps he liked being the second smallest?and the only donkey.
People brought a wide range of equines, from mature stallions, to anxious weanlings, and everything in between. There were members of the local Hispanic community there with some of their gaming horses, and a local breeder taking advantage of the savings to get several of his stock done at once. I got the impression that most of the cryptorchid slots filled quickly, and I saw several ?average? horse owners there having their cryptorchids done because the cost was otherwise just too prohibitive.
For the clinic I attended, the owner of a local boarding, training and show stable (the Santa Rosa Equestrian Center) donated the location, while a team headed by a veterinarian f. Eric Davis and comprised of his students from the Rural Veterinary Experience Teaching Service performed the procedures. CHANGE (Coins to Help Abused and Neglected Equines) facilitated and promoted the event locally.
The CHANGE program is a local equine rescue and welfare group founded by the Horse Journal?s own Dr. Grant Miller. The clinic took 24 equines (nine of them cryptorchids) and provided gelding services for the rock-bottom price of $75 for regular castration and $150 for cryptorchids. The group is currently in the middle of a two-week-long tour of California, and they estimate they will have gelded approximately 150 horses at eight facilities when they're finished with this tour.
The whole thing ran like a well-oiled machine. Drop-off for Mr. Steve was 7:30 a.m., and when I pulled in I was immediately met by a bevy of volunteers helping with check-in. Mr. Steve was assigned a number and given a halter tag (he was number 8), and I filled out a standard surgical consent form, unloaded him and put him in a stall. (But first he had to pose for pictures, of course, including an amusing one in which just the tips of his longs ears were visible above the top of the trailer ramp. Mr. Steve is, I must admit, pretty stinkin? cute, and adoring fans poured out of the woodwork to admire him).
After I received a call saying that all had gone well, I returned to pick him up. He was home and in his paddock by just after 1:00 p.m.
Compared to the sometimes-overpowering demands of the unwanted-horse crisis in this country, 500 horses castrated may not seem like much to brag about. But it's only through these sorts of little, but immensely practical, steps that things will really start to change.
I have little patience for policy, for all the screaming about philosophy and legalities involving horse slaughter, for all of the noise that rarely involves anyone ever actually DOING anything for the horses. What I'm interested in is boots-on-the-ground efforts that help actual horses right now.? And that's what I saw going on at this low-cost gelding clinic.
These clinics also provide a great opportunity for the volunteers and vets to educate some less-educated owners on things like feeding, hoof care and vaccinations. Every one of those equines has a better shot at a long and happy life because of what happened there. (I'm embarrassed to admit that I did receive an admonition about Mr. Steve?s overweight condition, and I know he is fat. But He's a tiny donkey living in a horse-sized world?it's hard to keep him from eating too much. But I'll work on it, I promise).
I would encourage everyone to look in to similar programs that may be available in your area. It was really impressive to see, and I hope to see more programs and events like it in the future. So, if such a thing doesn't exist where you live, perhaps you could think about trying to get something started'
Want to watch a video from a previous gelding clinic and learn more about the program' Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch'v=AOn6f9AVl6g&feature=youtu.be
NERN can be found at www.nationalequine.org. In addition to the gelding clinics, they facilitate grants for euthanasia, hay banks, emergency medical aid, and disaster relief.