Olympic Bronze medalist Allison Brock isn't turning a blind eye to the plight of working equines in third world countries. As a passionate ambassador for Brooke USA, an equine welfare charity which helped over 1.8 million working equines just last year, Brock is making the most of her platform as a decorated dressage rider. In addition to spreading the word about Brooke USA's work whenever possible, Brock is facing her most emotionally challenging responsibility yet.
"They (Brooke USA) keep wanting me to go on an onsite trip somewhere. I might actually do that this year because I have time, and it's going to be really hard. At the same time I think you can't just look away from these kinds of things. As an ambassador to see it firsthand would make me even more committed."
The reality of what one sees on these trips is unsettling to say the least, and to a horse lover -devastatingly heartbreaking, but it's the opportunity to make an impact that keeps Brock focused.
"If there is anything I can do for Brooke USA, I will. Especially (when considered) here I am sitting in Wellington and it's an amazing equestrian community that's super wealthy, and we are so blessed to live like this, but we also have a responsibility to help the rest of the world that isn't."
"For me, Brooke USA is an absolute win for the animals, and a win for the people. On top of being an animal lover, I also am a humanitarian. So to me it's the best way for a horseperson to give back. Anytime these animals and these people in super underdeveloped countries have access to a little bit more education and their suffering is alleviated, I think it helps elevate the entire population."
Brock speaks frankly about the lives of these animals, and doesn't shy away from the parts that are uncomfortable. Nor does she place blame for the equines' poor conditions, instead recognizing an entire community in constant desperation.
"We live in such an elevated state, where things are so neat and tidy, and packaged, but these people are living so day-to-day on the edge. They don't think about the comfort or longevity of their animals because they're just trying to make it. It's a completely different mindset."
As a result, the equines "in some of these really hot countries have no shelters, no water troughs, if the animals die they just roll them off the side of the road."
When Brock recounts these devastating stories it's easy to want to turn away from them, to just click to another channel, but these are the moments that are so crucial for us to acknowledge.
Brock goes on to state that it's a total revolution for equine owners to have people from Brooke USA "come in from the outside and say, here, let's give them some shelter, let's give them some vet care, let's teach you how to trim their feet, teach you how to make harnesses that fit appropriately that don't leave open, raw sores on their backs."
But the revolution doesn't start and end with the animals, the lessons that Brooke USA imparts impact the whole community.
"There also appears to be a direct correlation between domestic violence and how people treat their animals. So when you go in and educate them on how to treat their animals it seems to alleviate some domestic issues as well. It causes people to stop and think. It's definitely all tied in together."
Brock insists that the predicament of working equines isn't one that we can ignore. She believes that if the dressage community is educated on the issue they will rightfully step up to the plate.
"I firmly believe that if horse people are aware then they are going to want to donate. I personally donate myself . Your money is very well spent. I've sat down and had Brooke USA show me break downs of what they've spent and where. You can really earmark the money for where you want it to go."
In the dressage community it's easy to be isolated from the reality of horses' welfare around the world. Rarely do we see a true "working equine", but instead the pampered lives of our own horses that are so fortunate to have been born into these countries, and to have found themselves in this sport. But Brock reminds us all to look outside the compass of dressage and remember our common thread.
"I think all of us are basically just horse people that got funneled into a specific sport. I love horses first - and donkeys get lumped into that. When you break it down to the start, and what drew you to horses in the first place, I think most people will just say they love horses - and I'm certainly one of those people."
To donate or for more information visit www.brookeusa.org