Brooke USA Ambassador Nic Roldan Observes the Conditions of Guatemala’s Working Equines Firsthand

Written by: Sarah Harper
Client: Brooke USA
Release Date: 2016-10-04

Brooke USA Ambassador and professional polo player Nic Roldan accompanied Brooke USA Executive Director Emily Dulin to Guatemala in September to experience firsthand Brooke’s work focused on improving the lives of that country’s horses, donkeys, and mules.

Roldan and Dulin were moved by the plight of working equines in Guatemala and the life changing work that Brooke is doing on their behalf.

Led by Brooke Guatemala/ESAP’s Executive Director Mario Sapón Pellecer, Roldan and the Brooke USA team traveled more than 2,000 miles in seven days to visit communities in the Zacapa and Quiche regions. Guatemala’s arduous terrain made the trip challenging, since the distances between communities is vast.

“I was blown away by the number of people, particularly women, who rely on the donkeys they use to carry their essentials such as wood, water and other goods,” Roldan said. “It was an emotional moment to see how these people live, how proud they are and how enthused they are to learn. It was truly inspirational. It was amazing to see where the funds that Brooke USA raises were being used.”

Guatemala’s 250,000 equines make it the most densely populated country for working equines in Central America. Most of the working equine population is used for transporting agricultural products (produce, firewood, etc). Reaching working horses, donkeys and mules and their owners and users in much of Guatemala is problematic due to the mountainous terrain and remote communities, which make it difficult for animals to receive the healthcare that they need to continue their important jobs providing a livelihood for their impoverished owners.

While Brooke has been working around the world for more than 80 years, Brooke Guatemala/ESAP has been operating only since 2006 with a goal of developing, promoting and strengthening sustainable practices through educational programs to benefit the country’s working equine population. Brooke Guatemala/ESAP understands the important role that working horses, donkeys and mules play in the economic and emotional stability of families in rural communities. The organization pursues solutions in a a sustainable manner, such that good practices remain after withdrawal, and they benefit this and the next generations of working equines.

Roldan observed that through educational programs, Brooke develops, promotes and strengthens sustainable practices for the care of working equines. Brooke Guatemala/ESAP operates from a perspective of community-based involvement, working to engage civic leaders and local institutions in learning and sharing best practices for equine welfare. Sapón Pellecer of Brooke Guatemala/ESAP, advocates on a national and local level to promote the incorporation of equine welfare into laws, policies and programs.

Roldan’s first visit was to the mountainous region of Zacapa, a seven-hour drive from the capital of Guatemala City. The team visited two project communities, Sinaneca and Cimarron, where a team from Brooke was giving an educational program to local residents on parasites as well as hands-on practical lessons in equine welfare.

The highland areas of Zacapa are prone to droughts and Roldan saw one of the ongoing efforts put in place by Brooke to combat this issue within the community. In this area of the country, working animals suffer malnutrition due to lack of food and water, violent handling practices, overwork, and overload. Additionally, they are affected by high tick infestation, wounds,  poor hoof condition, and lameness. Brooke provided bags of drought-tolerant grass seed in order for owners to provide forage for their working equines even when conditions would not normally allow for grass to grow due to drought. This is just one example of the ways in which Brooke adapts its programs to fit the needs of a specific community.

During a visit to a small mountain community, Roldan got a personal taste for how difficult the lives of Guatemala’s working equines can be. This community had no local water supply. Donkeys are used to walk down to the river to get water and haul it back. Roldan and the Brooke USA team did the hike themselves in order to see what the donkeys experience.

Roldan and the Brooke USA team next traveled to The Quiche region. This area, roughly five hours Northwest of the capital, had a lush alpine landscape and a high-level of poverty. In this area, working animals suffer due to poor hoof condition, lameness,  high tick infestation, and wounds.

“We went to visit a man who had three mules he used to fetch wood,” Roldan explained.  “He was having trouble with one of them so the Brooke team was helping by teaching him how to handle his mule correctly so that it could be a more useful asset for him. It’s great to see how they take the time to explain how to handle these working equines correctly.”

Roldan and the Brooke USA team also spent time in a community where Brooke has had a long-term presence. They met a local man, Don Roberto, who was taught to shoe the working equines of the local community by Brooke, which is not an easy endeavor.

“You have to realize that he has to remodel a normal pair of pincers into hoof clippers for instance in order to do his work,” Roldan explained. “It was great to see the work he did and again how amazing all The Brooke’s field staff are – caring, welcoming, professional – I’m very proud to be a part of this organization.”

Brooke places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of education and how it can positively impact the welfare of the animals and the livelihoods of the owners in an entire community. The work that Brooke does has an intense ripple effect, helping not only working equines but the families who depend on them and the community as a whole.

Nic Roldan will be hosting the second Sunset Polo & White Party to benefit Brooke USA on Friday March, 24 at The Wanderers Club in Wellington, FL. The 2016 event raised more than $140,000 to benefit working equines around the world. Roldan is excited to continue to raise both awareness and funds for Brooke USA with the 2017 Nic Roldan’s Sunset Polo & White Party.

To learn more about Brooke’s work in Guatemala visit

All photographs courtesy of Enrique Urdaneta

 About Brooke USA

Brooke USA is a 501(c)(3) charity located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which exists solely to support the overseas work of Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare charity.  For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of horses, donkeys and mules who work in some of the poorest communities on earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous welfare challenges improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America.  Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world. To learn more, visit

Follow Brooke USA’s Facebook page. To support Brooke USA in its effort to fund equine welfare projects around the world, go to


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