A saddle designed especially for donkeys to carry pregnant women to hospital has been trialled in Afghanistan. Back in 2012, The Donkey Sanctuary was approached by Peter Muckle of SaddleAid, a non-governmental organisation that develops specialist equine saddlery and equipment, for advice on the design of a maternity saddle. Peter had been working with HealthProm, a UK-based charity that improves the lives of women and children in developing countries, to design a donkey saddle that would be suitable for transporting women in labour in the mountainous areas of northern Afghanistan.
HealthProm’s objective was to address the UN’s Millennium Development Goals – eight targets set to help improve the lives of the most disadvantaged communities in the world. One in 11 women in Afghanistan dies from pregnancy-related causes and HealthProm’s aim was to target two of these goals – reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. In rural communities, women are required to travel up to three hours down steep trails to reach clinics in order to give birth. The saddle was designed to make the journey safer and more comfortable, reduce the chances of injury to the mother and baby on the return journey, and reduce the chance of injuring the donkey.
With the help of The Donkey Sanctuary, HealthProm is being proactive in safeguarding the welfare of the donkeys used in these journeys by utilising our welfare assessment tool, which assesses behaviour, body condition, wounds, lameness and other signs of injury and disease. In the past, regular saddles have been used in Afghanistan in conjunction with sacks stuffed with straw to give some support to the rider. Not only are these uncomfortable for the donkey, they are inadequate for the rider. The new model is built on a pack saddle that The Donkey Sanctuary uses in Ethiopia. Peter consulted with the Sanctuary’s harness expert Chris Garrett on the new design and has produced a prototype that keeps pressure off the donkey’s spine, prevents rubbing, and has inflatable attachments to give the rider support at the back, front and even sides. When not required, these attachments can be removed and it can be used as an ordinary riding saddle. Peter is now looking into adding a poncho to keep rain off mother and baby during bad weather and HealthProm is actively investigating how the donkeys can be looked after at the health centres while the women are giving birth.
The next stage is to extend the trial to fully test the saddle’s suitability and ensure the donkeys’ welfare is protected. HealthProm will then explore how to train local harness makers in making the saddles themselves and how the project can be used to further raise awareness for donkey welfare.
With the help of advice and funding by The Donkey Sanctuary, along with other charities, this project will improve the lives of Afghan women in mountain communities – as well as their hard-working donkeys.
HealthProm and Peter Muckle have kindly given The Donkey Sanctuary permission to use these protographs. © HealthProm. © Peter Muckle. All rights reserved.