Petra Ingram: "People are often ridiculed if they have a donkey"

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We chat to Petra Ingram, CEO of Brooke, Action for Working Horses and Donkeys.

Brooke is an international charity that protects and improves the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules that give people in the developing world the opportunity to work their way out of poverty.  

Here, Petra tells us about the achievements of the charity, what's in store for them this summer as well finding time for her own horses at home. 

What are the greatest successes of Brooke?

There’s so many things I’m proud of. I think that reaching two million animals last year was a very proud moment for me and the team.

We’ve also done a lot of work in setting up standards for working equids and these standards work in 180 countries.

We’ve had a great impact for an animal that’s largely regarded as the lowest of the low around the world.

There are so many expressions about donkeys and people are often ridiculed if they have one.

And yet, what we’re seeing is people that have a passion for these animals develop compassion for these animals in the developing countries.

People that wouldn’t have hesitated to hit a donkey with a whip are actually going out and telling people not to do it now.

They’re real champions of these animals and this is changing the whole of their society's approach to these animals.

If you think 100 years ago how we used to treat our horses in this country and look at how we’re largely a nation of horse lovers now. I really believe that we can make this kind of systemic change.

We’re just seeing that in pockets at the moment, but we can really build momentum for making large scale changes and positive impacts.

I’d like to think that in years to come that the issues that we see due to lack of knowledge or lack of education problems could be prevented and assigned to history.

We’ve done it here in this country so it must be possible!

We’re beginning to see that in other countries – a real positive attitude towards these animals. When people are positive about these animals, they care.

When they care, they look after them and when they look after them, the animals don’t suffer problems that can be prevented.

What are the biggest challenges that Brooke faces?

When you first begin to work in a country, you start from a very low base. The vets you work with in each country often don’t know anything about horses and donkeys when you start working with them.

The people are often very vulnerable and marginalised so you may go into a community where maybe 10% of people own a donkey, but they’re often the lowest part of that community.

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People will cross the street and not want to talk to them or when the government comes in with schemes, and we’ve seen this in India, to try and help people back into work, the donkey owners are often excluded. They’re very marginalised.

We’re able to break through some of those barriers and make a difference to the people through their animals and sometimes your conversation might start with “Well what problem do you have?” and then somebody will say “Well actually last year my horse died. And then I wasn’t able to do work or I had to hire a horse from somewhere else.”

Then you start exploring why the animal died. You ask what happened and you find out that, for example, it had colic.

As a horse lover, you know that if you understand the symptoms of colic, you can make sure you have good husbandry to prevent it and if you see symptoms of it, you can give the horse medication.

We can educate those people and we can help them understand the symptoms and do something about it if they see a problem.

We can also educate them how to prevent the problem in the first place with better feeding, watering, care and stable management.

Sometimes it’s actually really simple things that make the difference.

It can be tough starting those conversations but once people understand the benefits then it begins to build the opportunity.

Why support equines abroad?  

Everyone has a choice about which charity they support. I’m an animal lover. I’ve got horses at home. I’ve got a cat at home. I love my animals and my animals are very lucky because they live in our family and we look after them.

When I talk to people I like to make that comparison.

I want to do something to help animals that are less fortunate and help those horses and donkeys that don’t get the life my animals have. It’s about putting something back into the world that’s good.

We know through our work that if you help the animals, you help the people too.

You need to help the people so that you can change their behaviour towards the animals. The two are intrinsically linked.

The wonderful thing about working in the countries that we work in is that your pound goes a very long way.

The positive impact you have on the animals and the people is so much greater. I think supporting Brooke, where all our work is overseas is great value for money.

I would say to any supporter, think about the good care your animals get and be motivated to help others and do it in a way that maximises the impact that you can have with your donation.

I think once people learn about what Brooke does, they’ll become advocates for our work and we can start to build a wonderful network.

What has Brooke got coming up this year?

We’ve got Bolesworth in June, which is really exciting. We are the charity of Bolesworth, which has international dressage and international show jumping over five days.

That’s the next thing on the radar.

Shortly after that, we’ve got an event at Cowdray House with polo player, Nic Roldan.

It’s a great opportunity for people to come and have a picnic and watch the polo. You can join for afternoon tea, and there’s also a black-tie dinner. 

Tell us about your horses 

I’ve got four Haflingers. They’re the most beautiful creatures in the world.

I’ve got two geldings who are in their teenage years so they’re riding horses and I’ve got two fillies who are young and not ridden yet.

Of course I’ve also got Mini Fat Pony. She’s a little miniature Shetland.

She looks after the fillies so she enables me to separate the fillies and do things with them so she’s a bit like their nanny. I call her the Mary Poppins of the horse world!

My husband and I look after them at home. We share the chores.

I’m up at 5.30 every morning to feed them and clear the fields before I come into work and then my husband does the evenings so it’s teamwork.

I couldn’t do it without him. He’s my rock. He says “I’m your support team!”.

Visit Brooke's website at www.thebrooke.org