Caitriona Oleary - Helping India’s Animals in need by riding the old nomadic trail from Udaipur to Pushkar ka Mela: the biggest camel fair in the world.
Caitriona Oleary has written to The Long Riders' Guild with the following information:
In winter of 2005 I was staying in a village near Udaipur in Rajasthan working at an animal hospital, I wasn't in the best place in my head so I spent a year out there trying to figure out what to do with my life. That winter I wanted to see the Pushkar ka Mela, an infamous camel fair also with a few thousand cattle and horses for sale. My only problem was that I had a horse, Rani, to take care of. Then I thought, "why not ride there?" It seemed a crazy idea but then the more I mentioned it to my Indian friends the more do-able it seemed. So Rani and I set off, ill prepared and not really that sure of what we were doing or where we were going. After a week we had covered over half the distance but Rani's shoes had completely worn down, I had no way of getting new shoes and I didn't have any contacts for the remaining 150 to 200kms that we had left. Rani and I got a lift in a truck the rest of the way and had a great time camping out on the fair grounds for a week. The memories of that journey gave me my first taste of something new. A horse became not a fancy possession to be locked in a stable and trotted in 20 metre circles, instead a horse is a travelling companion who can take me to the shop when I run out of sugar, run errands with me, share my sense of fun and adventure and most importantly make it possible to travel down one road and not turn around half way through the day.
Since that journey I stayed for six months at a good friend's horse ranch. He offered to let my train some of his young horses and I fell head over heels in love with Chandra, then two, who is a nephew of Rani's. He has the most gentle and sensitive temperament I've ever seen. Before leaving India I made Dinesh promise not to sell him and to keep him for me to buy after I graduate.
Just before relocating to London I contracted atypical pneumonia in Ireland. I spent a week in hospital delirious with pain and hallucinating from my fever. In the worst moment of the worst pain all I could think then was that I had to hang on because if I didn't who would ride Chandra? Since then I am obsessed with the idea of riding through Rajasthan with Chandra. I went out there this summer and finally bought him, the funny Marwari colt who (according to the farm workers) gets very excited when he hears my voice on speakerphone.
Returning to live in London, the heart of the developed, office-centred and consumerist Europe has been a huge wake up call for me. A pub charges £3.80 for a pint of beer while that amount would take some of my friends four days of work to earn. I see horses where I ride given the most insanely luxurious lifestyles and left to run round fields full of fresh grass but still they know every bridle path too well, it's only when they get into a horse box that they really wake up. After I graduate with my philosophy degree this year I am returning to Udaipur and Chandra and shall ride the full distance to Pushkar this time. I have some farriers mobile numbers and they can come meet me, I now speak fluent Hindi and my knowledge of feeding, veterinary care, training and my general resourcefulness have come on in leaps and bounds in the last two years. I'm going to raise money for the Tree of Life for Animals (http://tolfa.org.uk/) through this ride. Quite fittingly they had literally just opened two years ago when I visited the hospital in Pushkar. It may seem strange to help animals in a country with so many people living in poverty but what is hard to understand from the outside is that people are animals and in India they depend on each other so much.
India has the highest death rate from rabies in the world and this is spread by street dogs for the most part. The tree of life's dog sterilization program is well documented as being the most effective method of population control and dogs are vaccinated while in the hospital. I saw so many farms in the Pali district where farmers had no access to the most basic veterinary care and so a maggot infested wound is a death sentence for a water buffalo. It's a heavy loss for a poor farmer to lose one of his milk providing buffalo. In an animal shelter such as the tree of life these wounds are easily cleared up in a matter of weeks.
Caitriona wrote to The Guild with an update:
Just letting you know that I've updated my fundraising website and added some photos and a blog section. I bought my ticket so will be flying out to Delhi on September 24th, which gives Chandra and me a month to get fit and prepare! In the meantime I'm chipping away at my degree here in London.
developed an abscess on her leg and had to end her ride earlier than planned,
but her horse, Chandra, suffered no sores, windgalls or weight loss. Sorry
about the abscess, but well done for taking such good care of Chandra, Caitriona!
We are awaiting a summary of her ride.
Caitriona has sent The Guild this summary of her journey.
I first met Rachel when she was researching prior to setting up TOLFA in 2004, having seen how amazing this project has been, I was keen to do something to help our cause as well as the people of India. Her challenge? To ride across the desert state of Rajasthan on horseback and reach Pushkar in time for the Pushkar Camel Fair. (http://tolfa.org.uk/pushkar-camel-fair-2007) My hope was to raise enough money for TOLFA to create village education camps in the nearby area. In the dusty, dry heat, a small wound can all too quickly become a death sentence for farm animals.
After a year of preparation my flight had me land into Delhi on September 24th 2008. I had trained Chandra, a Marwari horse (Marwari Breed) as a two year old so we have a very strong bond already. My anticipation at being reunited was immense and I wasn't disappointed. Chandra has grown into a handsome white stallion since I last saw him a year ago and he seemed to recognize me. He certainly is not a novice ride but at least he has the decency to check for traffic before bucking or spooking!
The planned route for Chandra and I covered 500 kms across desert terrain, rocky roads and dusty tracks and back again. Chandra has a history of being head shy and India has a history of using barbaric, blood drawing bits and so it was very important for me to use the gentle bitless bridle (Donated by Zoe Brooks of Nurtural Horse (Nurtural Bridles). In Rajasthan, there is an attitude that women and horses cannot mix and a horse must be controlled by the equivalent of barbed wire in its mouth. Preaching at people never works and so I hoped that my quiet example would at least make people question their ways. What greater challenge is there than a young stallion and no bit? Revolutions have never been made by force, only by gentle example eliciting curiosity in a few.
In my small bag I packed many pills of Ivermectin (a broad spectrum wormer) which I distributed at many of the host farms at which I stayed. One farm that stays in my memory is where the man brought me to his mare to show me a tapeworm hanging like a plastic thread from her rectum. He asked me what it was and so I gave all this animals a dose of Ivermectin. The contents of the resulting manure are best left undescribed and while this is no substitute for a regular worming program I can say that this one dose made a large difference in the quality of a few animals lives. Especially in a region where it is common for horses to die from bot infestation.
My first night’s stop was with an old friend, Daloo, who I met in 2003. He is from the caste of those who take animal skins to the tannery and he never went to school. In spite of this he taught himself how to read in Hindi and a little English and is always reading something that is either philosophy or literature. Unfortunately the limited library of such books in Hindi has meant that he thought Stalin was a good guy and was ignorant of World War 2. Bizarrely though we found we had both read Maxim Gorky’s novel “Mother” in the last month, a book I bought on an order to print basis it is so unknown. Daloo’s wife just gave birth to their third daughter, and to his credit he is working the fields for all they are worth and letting himself go hungry so that his daughters can go to school and he insists that they shall never have an arranged marriage.
The next few days involved turning up at friends of friends of friend’s houses and hoping to receive food and board for the night. The hospitality of Indian villages puts us westerners to shame. A bizarre thing happened though one night. I was fast asleep and woke up, sat bolt upright at 3 am and ran downstairs to a courtyard to find Chandra’s rope had broken. Being the loyal horse that he is he blinked his eyes at me and nuzzled for more food. If that were Rani (his aunt) she’d have been half way back to Udaipur.
Once into the sandy planes we found that in Rajasthan one needs no plan, whenever we were tired due to the 36-degree heat we could stop in a village by a tree and, as if by magic, armfuls of green grass would appear along with 5 invitations to spend the night. We stayed in ashrams, with Muslims, Brahmans, Rajputs and had offers from Jains. In Raipur Chandra got a 600 year old royal stable with three sets of gates and his own security guard to himself.
Sadly in my fussing over my horse I neglected myself. I suffer from arthritis, as a result I am accustomed to ignoring chronic pain, it’s a part of daily life for me. As a result I did not notice the sore that grew on the inside of my right calf as the stirrup leather rubbed until one night in a shower I saw my leg swollen from ankle to knee and oozing puss. Being miles from a hospital I took amoxicillin but by the time we were 20kms from Raipur it became apparent that I was too ill to ride any more so the final 75kms was completed with the help of a truck. So after a 10 day epic ride for Tree of Life for Animals (http://pushkar2008.blogspot.com/) my adventure came to an end having covered 400kms.
Chandra had a happy stay at TOLFA on our arrival into Pushkar. For the first time in his adult life he was free to wander and graze like a natural horse and the change in him was amazing. Gone were the rears, spooks and bucks and he became a normal horse, albeit a breathtakingly handsome one at that! I had last seen the hospital three years ago when it had just opened and still under construction, now it is a model of an ideal hospital, organized, clean and efficient.
Luckily Chandra suffered no sores, windgalls or weight loss during the whole of the ride, in fact he gained weight!
I raised £550, which I donated to the Tree of Life for Animals, which will be put to good use when we set up our ‘Community Animal Healthcare Worker’ scheme, which is part of our future Rural Development (http://tolfa.org.uk/rural-development) plans.
To learn more about Marwari horses, please click here.
We wish you the best of luck, Caitriona!
Please click here to go to Caitriona's website.
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