ADONIS Fernandez, 55, is a kalesa driver in downtown Cebu City and works six hours a day with a rented horse he named Eskuro, which means black.
Fernandez rents the horse, which he also takes care of, for P200 since he can’t afford to buy one.
A father of three, Fernandez has been working as a kalesa driver for 43 years to send his children to school, one of whom is already a doctor.
His other two children are now in high school.
“My wife is a seamstress and I don’t have any other job except this one. I’m very proud of my daughter who’s now a licensed doctor,” Fernandez said in Cebuano.
Fernandez is among the estimated 300 kalesa drivers in the downtown area whose livelihood depends solely on the capability and well-being of their horses.
A few years ago, reports surfaced that a kalesa horse collapsed and was still forced to work by the kalesa driver even if his hoof was bleeding.
The incident prompted Dr. Alice Ultang, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Fisheries (DVMF), to come up with a program for the horses.
DVMF held a “Kabayo Check-Up Day” earlier this week, a program where the horses’ well-being were assessed. The horses were also dewormed, provided with vitamin supplements for free, and had their hooves cleaned.
“In short, we need to help them. If the horses get sick or tired, the drivers’ livelihood will be at stake. This is also to preserve these horses since they are one of the first means of transportation,” Utlang said.
During the check-up, Dr. John Salvador, veterinarian and professor at the Southwestern University, said that the average height of the kalesa horses is nowhere close to international standards.
The height of the kalesa horses is only 35 to 49 inches, which means that they are still ponies. The international standard height is 52 inches.
Salvador explained that this may be due to genetics since the kalesa horses are graded or aren’t of pure origin.
He, however, added that this may also because of malnutrition, a common problem they found among the kalesa horses.
“They’re slightly emaciated. Some are very skinny. Some have little wounds and hoof problems but these are nothing serious. All these problems can be addressed,” Salvador said.
He lamented that some of the horses’ owners are not receptive on their interventions for the animals.
“They fear that the horse would get tired and wont be able to run anymore. What we’re doing here is spreading information (on how to take care of them) and the drivers know that that’s the best for these horses,” he said. (Cherizar Maxine Magat, USJ-R Intern)