Where horse rescue gets hot by Sharon Cregier

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1993:

AMMAN, Jordan –– The sound of a stick on
hide summons Chris Larter to her second-story balcony.
“It’s the donkey-beaters,” Larter explains. Below, a
mare, foal at foot, plows a stony verge. Sheep and shep-
herd dodge four-lane traffic to graze the edges of con-
struction projects. And of course there are boys driving
donkeys. “Last time they were trying to cut a donkey’s
ears off,” Larter continues. She recalls braving a hail of
stones to take photos, locating the parents of the donkey-
boys, and pleading for the donkey’s welfare.
Today, courage requires police reinforcement.
Obtaining backup, Larter partially unloads a staggering
donkey, obliging the donkey-boys to make multiple trips
to finish moving their cargo.
Larter is field supervisor, publicity officer, and
photographer for the Jordanian Society for the Protection
of Animals, sponsored by the 70-year-old Society for the
Protection of Animals in North Africa. Based in England,
SPANA is among the last and most popular remnants of
the British occupation of Jordan, 1920-1946.

Larter has been working for animals since 1954,
when she took her first job, as a horse groom. Her most
memorable assignments have included transporting horses
for the British military and Olympic equestrian team;
sailing as an observer aboard a freighter taking 36,000
sheep to Libya, as the only woman among a crew of 44
men; and investigating illegal wild horse slaughterhouses
in the Australian outback. Discovered by the horse-
killers, Larter outdrove a hot pursuit to avoid “disappear-
ing” in a horse-sized meat grinder.
She arrived in Jordan in September 1987, to
oversee the construction of the Princess Alia Clinic for
tourist horses in Petra, a project of the London-based
Brooke Hospital for Animals. The Brooke serves the
southern third of Jordan, while SPANA serves the north-
ern two-thirds. Larter worked for both until March 1992,
when she left the Brooke due to policy differences with
new management. But she never thought of leaving
Jordan. “Working here is more rewarding than working in
England, Europe, or Australia,” Larter says. In her
view, “Jordan is probably the safest place in the world for
women,” because of the Bedouin code of chivalry. Larter
usually receives a warm welcome from village muktars
(leaders), who often invite her to attend weddings,
wakes, dances, and feasts.
Together with JSPA director Dr. Basel Arafat,
who is a veterinarian, and a number of British-trained
veterinary technicians, Larter covers thousands of jolting
miles annually in a convoy of two Land Rovers, dodging
washouts, rock slides, flash floods, and unguarded cliffs,
thousands of feet above sea level. Lacking a shelter and
permanent headquarters, the JSPA goes wherever the ani-
mals are. According to Arafat, the team treated 9,469
animals in 1992, among them 5,251 donkeys, 2,559
horses, 823 mules, 777 camels, and 59 dogs. Operations
included worming, hoof trimming, eye repair, skin and
wound care, setting broken bones, and sometimes
euthanasia. The service is free. And it includes help to
people in distress when necessary.
“We came across one poor man,” Larter remem-
bers, “wracked with coughs, stretched beneath a shelter
of branches. We fed his two remaining horses, wormed
them, and are trying to teach the children humane care.
Her Majesty’s Noor al Hussein Foundation is now helping
the widow. The JSPA technicians tided her over with
Because the entire nation of Jordan is in effect a
no-man’s-land between Israel and Iraq, Israel and Syria,
and Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Larter frequently finds herself
in militarily sensitive areas. Six weeks after the Persian
Gulf War concluded, she was “interrogated by two lots of
military officers, police, and security guards,” for inad-
vertently taking her camera into one such area while
arranging to euthanize a donkey with a badly broken foot.
Administering euthanasia can be problematic
anyway, because often the sick or injured animal has
been essential to the support of a desperately poor family.
“At times it is infuriating,” Larter admits, “not to be
allowed to destroy a badly injured animal. They say,
‘Allah will let it die when he wants,’ and it invariably
does, after days or weeks of unnecessary agony, even
though the dressers sometimes quote lines from the Koran
which say people must not be cruel to an animal. In odd
cases, we go ahead and do it anyway.”
However, Larter’s help is much more often wel-
comed than refused. “In Jordan there are very few
fences,” she explains, “which means that animals are usu-
ally tethered and are not running loose, so that we can
reach them more easily. The one thing that always
amazes me is how owners don’t seem to mind our walking
up to their animals and doing something to them such as
firing an antiseptic spray, untying a tight leg cord, even
removing rotten headgear. Anywhere else one would
quickly be told to disappear. Now the ‘regulars’ know we
are helping them, and some bring their animals to us
when they see our Land Rovers coming. Sometimes own-
ers expect miracles,” she notes. “We will be shown an
animal who has broken a leg weeks or months before––a
year in the case of one old mule who should have been
destroyed immediately. They think we can mend a bro-
ken leg in minutes.”
Larter places particular emphasis upon outreach
to children. “Just six or seven miles from the center of
Amman,” she notes, “children who live in goat-hair tents
ride their donkeys to school. We find them tied up out-
side, usually with their padding still on and ropes cutting
through. When we take it all off, we find raw backs.”
The JSPA has recently introduced humane education to
Jordanian schools, modeled upon a program developed
by SPANA chief executive Jeremy Hulme during his
years as a representative in Morocco. “We are always try-
ing to educate people and children not to throw rocks at
dogs, and sometimes horses, donkeys, and mules,”
Larter continues. “We have found quite a significant
number with an eye missing as a result, and one cat who
was flattened to the ground.”
The JSPA is getting help from several other
groups. World Farriery Association president Walt
Taylor and veterinarian Tina McGregor have conducted
three seminars on equine foot care in Jordan during the
past two years, co-sponsored by the International League
for the Protection of Horses. In addition, “The Amman
Rotary Club has provisionally promised two sun shelters
and two water troughs at the Dead Sea for the dehydrated
tourist horses, which mainly belong to very poor fami-
lies,” Larter says. “Imshallah!” (God is great!)
[The JSPA may be contacted at P.O. Box
140508, Amman, Jordan. SPANA may be reached at 15
Buckingham Gate, London SW1F 61B, England.]
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