Volunteer Care for Working Equids a ‘Re-Energizing’ Endeavor

Two women veterinarians and young girl pose with white horse


In October, the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) presented Judith Batker DVM’95 of Country View Equine Clinic in Oregon, Wisconsin, with their 2018 WVMA Veterinarian of the Year award. In addition to Batker’s leadership in clinical practice and her mentorship of youth, veterinary medical students, and fellow equine veterinarians, the WVMA also lauded her volunteerism with the Equitarian Initiative.

This nonprofit corporation provides volunteer veterinary care for working horses, donkeys, and mules in areas of need in the United States and internationally, and empowers local owners and handlers to provide better health care for these animals. Batker has worked with Equitarian Initiative in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for eight years and in Haiti for five years, and is a past board member.

We asked Batker to reflect on why she finds her service for working equids, their care providers, and communities to be so important and rewarding. Here is what she shared.

Veterinary medicine is a unique profession in many ways. One of the things I love about it is the ability to connect with people everywhere, from any culture and any socioeconomic class. Whether their animals are companions, food resources, or their only transportation, they need care.

I became involved in volunteer veterinary care and teaching nine years ago. Equitarian Initiative was at the time a very new nonprofit that provides treatment for working equids (horses, donkeys, and mules) and teaching to their caretakers.

Equitarian Initiative team in Costa Rica
Batker, second from left in the trailer, among an Equitarian Initiative team in Costa Rica. The nonprofit corporation provides volunteer veterinary care for working horses, donkeys, and mules.

I travel yearly to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, to Haiti, and to Costa Rica to teach a workshop. We treat horses that receive no veterinary care and more importantly we teach local owners and local veterinary students. We teach a variety of skills including injections, basic anatomy, deworming, medication dosing, nutrition, proper harnessing, wound care, suturing, and farriery. We are often fortunate to have farriers travel with us as well. Our goal is to teach ourselves out of a job as much as possible.

The horses are used very differently in these communities, but are so vital to their cultures and the ability to break the cycle of poverty.

It is so inspiring to teach people who have very little chance to learn, but so much desire. The relationships we develop are extremely important. We work together as a team and watching their skills and confidence grow is very rewarding. Each trip, we return to the same communities and have a long-term commitment to their education.

Veterinary students accompany us on all these trips. We also try to include in-country students whenever possible. Teaching and mentoring enthusiastic students is critical to making volunteer work sustainable. Several of the students who have traveled with me have now joined ongoing projects as veterinarians or started their own projects too.

Volunteer veterinary work has re-energized my career and reminds me of why I wanted to be a vet. All of my colleagues who do this work with me agree, we get more than we give.

Judith Batker DVM’95

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