For many children who grow up in rural Costa Rica, horses are so ubiquitous that they often go unnoticed. But SPANA-funded welfare classes encourage children to embrace a love of working animals and a better understanding of how to care for them.
Mateo’s favourite part of the day is when he comes home from school to spend time with his family’s two horses. Mateo, who lives with his parents and eight siblings outside of San Gerado de Rivas Chirripo National Park, Costa Rica, has always known a life with horses. As a little boy, he would watch his father, an employee of the Pack Horse Association, load up the horses with food and other supplies to bring to remote communities living on Costa Rica’s highest mountain. Without the help of pack horses here, these villages would be completely inaccessible.
As Mateo hopes to one day inherit his father’s work, he knows that a good understanding of horse husbandry is critically important. Thanks to SPANA’s work in the region, Mateo and his siblings now look forward to the regular humane education classes held at their school. These weekly classes use fun and engaging mediums like movies, storybooks and interactive games to give children a better understanding of animal welfare. The children learn how to understand horses’ body language and how these animals communicate with their ears, tail and posture. Mateo did not realise that horses were so expressive and communicative.Now that he knows how to better read their behaviour, he can anticipate their needs in future.
In particular, he enjoys learning about things like how to tell a horse’s body condition score (BCS), which determines the nutrition and health of a working animal. He has also learned that, like people, animals respond well to kind treatment and now understands that the happier the animal, the better the quality of their work.
Importantly, Mateo and his classmates also learn how to identify where working animal welfare is lacking in their community, compared to the standards of care taught in these classes. The children have already begun to point out small welfare improvements that their parents can make to better care for their horses and donkeys. With this newly acquired knowledge, both present and future animal owners can begin to identify and address issues such as overloading and underfeeding.
While Mateo admits that he used to think ‘horses were just there; I did not think they needed any special care,’ he now checks the wellbeing of his family horses every day.
Expressing his appreciation for his animals, Mateo explained: ‘Horses are part of the family and we should not hurt them.’