Saving Gili’s Horses


Asian Geographic - - On Assignment - Text Carolyn Oei Pho­tos Marc Nair


is al­most high noon when we step off the fast boat from Bali into the pris­tine wa­ters of Gili Trawan­gan, or Gili T for short. It is the largest of the three Gili is­lands off Lom­bok; the other two be­ing Gili Meno and Gili Air. By my reck­on­ing, the Gilis are to Lom­bok what Lom­bok is to Bali; a more rus­tic al­ter­na­tive.

And so the tourists “flee” – from Bali to Lom­bok to the Gili is­lands – in search of qui­eter beaches, un­paved roads and more au­then­tic “lo­cal­ness”. For Gili T, that lo­cal touch is em­bod­ied in the cidomo or horse­cart taxi. Dur­ing the high sea­son, Gili T, which is ap­prox­i­mately three kilo­me­tres long and two kilo­me­tres wide, wel­comes up to 5,000 tourists ev­ery day. No less stag­ger­ing is the 2,000 tourists that flock to the is­land daily in the low sea­son. That trans­lates into far too many peo­ple rid­ing on the fi­nite num­ber of cidomo on any given day.

No mo­torised ve­hi­cles, please; cidomo or bi­cy­cle only

The is­land pro­hibits the use of mo­torised ve­hi­cles. All cargo – peo­ple, con­struc­tion ma­te­rial and rub­bish – are trans­ported around the is­land by horse-cart. While the cidomo are a vis­i­ble at­trac­tion of the is­land, the horse-carts used for other pur­poses do not al­ways reg­is­ter on the tourists’ radars.

Some­times re­ferred to as don­gol horses, the cidomo horses are usu­ally stand­ing still when busi­ness is slow, while the “rub­bish horses” – for want of a more re­fined term – are con­stantly on the move. There are no rest days for any of the horses, but the rub­bish horses seem to have pulled the short straw; they are worked for at least 12 hours a day haul­ing over­loaded carts to the land­fill. De­spite reg­u­la­tions that taxis should take no more than three peo­ple, in­clud­ing the driver, cidomo horses reg­u­larly strain un­der the heft of five fully-grown adults and lug­gage.

Dur­ing the high sea­son, Gili T, which is ap­prox­i­mately three kilo­me­tres long and two kilo­me­tres wide, wel­comes up to 5,000 tourists ev­ery day

And with new re­sorts and vil­las be­ing fer­vently con­structed ev­ery hun­dred me­tres or so, the rub­bish horses run al­most on tip-toe as bags of ce­ment and wooden beams weigh their carts down into the dirt roads.

Gili T’s horses are of a breed in­dige­nous to In­done­sia. While not ex­actly ponies, they are smaller and shorter than the av­er­age Western horse. There are about 250 horses on the is­land and we were in the sta­bles where about 10 of the rub­bish horses live. Their coats were dull, ribs too prom­i­nent and their eyes sad.

Del­phine Robbe, project man­ager and co-or­di­na­tor of Gili Eco Trust, reck­ons that 20 tonnes of garbage are moved by th­ese horses ev­ery day. “Th­ese horses are not in great con­di­tion and many peo­ple who catch sight of them are hor­ri­fied,” she said. “What they don’t re­alise is most of them aren’t even given fresh wa­ter to drink. In­stead, they drink well wa­ter, which is salty and dirty. The horses are also not fed enough.”

Faulty and in­cor­rect equip­ment that look like home im­pro­vi­sa­tions cause a fair bit of dam­age, too. Typ­i­cal ail­ments in­clude cysts and ab­scesses around the girth, sores on the neck and withers, in­fected eyes, cuts around the mouth that have been left to fes­ter and poorly-shod hooves.

Saving Gili T’s horses… and cats

It was in 2008 that Robbe ini­ti­ated a free clinic for the is­land’s horses. She said, “There was re­sis­tance at first be­cause the is­lan­ders have their tra­di­tional way of do­ing things.

There are about 250 horses on the is­land and some are made to work at least 12 hours a day, haul­ing peo­ple, con­struc­tion ma­te­rial and rub­bish

They thought that giv­ing their horses in­jec­tions would make them sick or that feed­ing the an­i­mals dry hay would give them colic, and many still think that."

How­ever, things have im­proved markedly since 2008. Robbe quipped, “At least now they drink de­sali­nated wa­ter. It’s bet­ter than noth­ing.”

Rid­ing trail guide and far­rier, Serun, whose home­town is Lom­bok has worked on Gili T for about 12 years now. Pulling out the nails of a poor­ly­fit­ted shoe, he said, “You see? Too small.” I crouched next to him as he worked on a horse’s hoof.

“But the sit­u­a­tion is bet­ter now. Be­fore, the horses had sores every­where,” he added.

The twice-yearly clin­ics are sup­ported en­tirely by do­na­tions in cash and in kind in­clud­ing tack – equip­ment such as bri­dles, bits, har­ness pads and brush­ing boots – medicines and med­i­cal equip­ment. The av­er­age ex­pense for one clinic is 45 mil­lion ru­piah (about US$3,200).

Vol­un­teers are also cru­cial to the suc­cess of th­ese clin­ics, which are held in the morn­ings in the mar­ket­place, when it be­comes a horse clinic by day and food mar­ket by night. The most im­por­tant vol­un­teer re­source, how­ever, is the vet­eri­nar­i­ans. Two of them were Rini from Jakarta who was fo­cused on the cat clinic just down the road from the horses, and Kirsten Jackson, a den­tal spe­cial­ist from Perth, Aus­tralia.

Jackson said, “I was here last year and de­cided to help out again be­cause many of th­ese horses need more care. The taxi horses are in rel­a­tively bet­ter con­di­tion – they have to be or the tourists won’t ride in the taxis but the rub­bish horses aren’t so well off. Many of them are still too skinny.”

An­other vol­un­teer is Ash­leigh San­der­son, the founder of a rid­ing school called Kuda Guru. She said, “The typ­i­cal diet for the is­land’s horses is a mix­ture of hay, rice bran and wa­ter. It’s really just like soup. That’s all the wa­ter and the nu­tri­tion that the horses are go­ing to get and it just isn’t enough.”

Both Jackson and San­der­son have plans to not only vol­un­teer but to drive more spon­sor­ship and do­na­tion cam­paigns. Gili T’s horse clin­ics are held in April and Novem­ber each year, while the cat clin­ics hap­pen about four times a year.

Dur­ing the one-week clinic be­tween 23 and 27 Novem­ber 2015, a to­tal of 198 horses out of the es­ti­mated 250

were treated. “Many own­ers and driv­ers refuse to bring their horses in or al­low us to treat them for many rea­sons. Some are too em­bar­rassed at the bad state of their an­i­mals,” Robbe ex­plained.

It can be said that is­lan­ders and the world-at-large are gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of th­ese an­i­mal wel­fare ef­forts. The horses have be­come such a fea­ture of the is­land that things would seem odd with­out them, but ques­tions do re­main about their sus­tain­abil­ity and ef­fi­cacy.

Te­naiya Brook­field, Vice Pres­i­dent of Sales and Mar­ket­ing at Archipelag­o

Over 20 tonnes of garbage are moved by th­ese horses ev­ery day, and many of them are fed un­clean wa­ter from the well

In­ter­na­tional that runs As­ton Ho­tel on Gili T, said, “Are the horses even na­tive to Gili T? I’ve tried to im­ple­ment the use of bi­cy­cle pick-ups for our guests, but ‘the horse-cart mafia’ wouldn’t let me. Even sug­ges­tions for the use of elec­tric or so­lar-pow­ered tuk-tuks have been re­jected.”

“I don’t like the way some driv­ers mistreat their horses, but I like it even less when driv­ers play the vic­tim card. They charge ridicu­lous fares for rides and can earn more than a sec­re­tary in Jakarta,” Brook­field added. More­over, it is com­mon that sick, dy­ing or dead horses are sold to slaugh­ter­houses on Lom­bok and new ones pur­chased at rea­son­able prices.

Is­land pol­i­tics

It was quite ap­par­ent that pol­i­tics and power wran­gling are as much a part of Gili T as its gelato, al fresco movie screen­ings and Sama-sama club nights. Many ques­tions and points of con­tention re­main and may never be re­solved. And while taxi own­ers, ho­tel op­er­a­tors and an­i­mal activists ar­gue over bot­tom lines and morals, the horses of Gili T con­tinue to labour in the heat of the noon day sun. All their hard work is of­fered in ex­change for lit­tle more than a sip of de­sali­nated wa­ter and an­ti­sep­tic on their cuts ev­ery six months. ag

Sin­ga­pore-based writ­ers CAROLYN OEI and MARC NAIR tell sto­ries of deeper per­spec­tives and ex­pe­ri­ences from around the world. They are the founders and prin­ci­pal writ­ers of cul­ture mag­a­zine, Mack­erel. www.mack­

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