Monday, 16 November 2009


Syria has always seemed a little strange – in some ways one of the toughest police states in the world – whilst in others, welcoming and hospitable and open to all kinds of innovative suggestions. Far more get ahead in fact than their neighbours and rivals in Jordan – at least as far as SPANA’s education work is concerned.
For instance we made some really nice models of horses’ legs showing their evolution from the five-toed ancestor running around in the primeval forests through to the modern single toed ‘hoof’ of the modern horse.

“Can’t possibly show those”, said the Jordanians, “that’s evolution”.

“But, you’ve got it in your school text-books – we’ve seen it!”

“Ah, yes – but we’re now re-writing them!”

There’s progress.

No such problems in Syria – “That’s a good idea”, they said “can we have some more ideas like that please?”

So, we’re scrabbling around trying to put together the finance for a mobile education centre (a converted ex-Military coach in fact – the only left-hand drive vehicles available).

The Syrians will love it – as it travels around the country from village to village – giving children (and no doubt lots of adults) an exciting new look at the natural world about them – and drilling into them a bit of empathy for animals and respect for the environment around them.

A nice little challenge for us too – thinking up and constructing, interesting interactive displays and models to fill the bus, as well as the Arabic text panels.
Should keep us out of mischief for a bit this winter – but we’ve still got to find just a teeny-weeny bit more funding before we can get really cracking.

I suppose it goes without saying that anyone working for SPANA would have a deep love of horses – my first was a little wooden cart-horse model called Nancy that I hauled around everywhere with me before I even went to school.

But I must also confess to deep reservations about their design.

I mean, look at those stupid, spindly things they’re supposed to run around on. All those nerves and veins and arteries and tendons etc stuffed into a silly little tube, called a ‘leg’ that’s completely unprotected and meant to support all that weight above it charging around and leaping over fences and walls and other nightmare hazards. Just plain daft. Any first year architectural student putting forward a design like that would be thrown off their course.

And then look at the digestion of the silly things. What a disaster! If you give ‘em decent food they get laminitis or colic, if you don’t they lose weight and energy, and still get colic.

Colic ! What a wondrous way to confound a poor owner and generally complicate life.
And in Syria they can get it in spades from all sorts of reasons – dry food (chopped straw or ‘tibben’ is the usual winter feed) bunging up the system is perhaps the most common. Worms and parasites can do it too – and eating the plastic bags that litter the countryside is a growing problem. They can get a twisted gut – sometimes from just rolling over – and that’s normally fatal – and I bet I’ve missed out lots of other reasons.

But the colics we’ve seen this week in the villages of northern Syria – seem about the cruellest. After months of summer drought and starvation rations, along comes a bit of rain, and bingo! - the grass starts growing. Not surprisingly, thin, hungry horses think that Christmas has come early and stuff down as much of the lush new growth as they can.

Big mistake. We had three that had blown up and died last week (I think it puts too much pressure on organs like the heart and kidneys and things), and another poor old mare that I think we just about saved. But as I’m sure you know, the pain from colic makes them thrash around on the ground, ripping the skin off their knees, hips, skull and any other protruding body part. Which of course gets filthy and goes septic – turning into abscesses like this poor old girl (I’ve spared you the close-up photos) – so she’s had to endure the pain of all that on top of the colic.
It’s a tough world for a horse in Syria – in fact it is in most of our countries.

So, I say again, what a dopey design for an animal anyway.


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