Where I live, on Indonesia’s Gili islands, working horses are a vital part of our lives. Hundreds of ignorant tourists and visitors comment badly about our working horses on how they are treated. These are people who live in lalaland only seeing healthy big breeds of riding or police horses in their very developed countries of residence. They want to believe that they are animal activists by insulting the locals and are unaware that without the working horses, they won’t even get drinking water on the island during their holidays. They are the stereotype of the tourist who wants to experience a tropical holiday on a semi-remote paradise island without thinking the supply chain on how everything is brought to their feet so they can enjoy their holidays. The horses are how the bungalows were built where they are staying. There’s horse sweat in everything you touch on holiday destinations like these. Therefore the negative, misinformed blog posts about the horses with a negative and judgemental mindset are harmful.
photo credit: Ellie Quinn
This said, I want to mention that there is a problem with people who compare their holiday destination with their homeland, when convenient. When convenient is when people want to criticise something like the quality of service they get at a cafe or the horse cruelty. However, when convenient, they are the biggest abusers themselves. The same tourist who makes ignorant comments on our working horses or lack of milk in their coffee is often seen abusing a local waiter, behaving with manners they would never adapt in their country, presuming it is acceptable because they are guests and Indonesian people are very hospitable. Just a reminder that it is not ok to behave as bloody colonialists because of historical memory. Our historical memory is like a background program in the unconscious. If you want to spend your holidays at an exotic destination, you are expected to be nice and kind just the way you behave in your precious western society.
So cowboys, getting back to the working horses, a working horse is typically defined as a horse used for labor as distinguished from riding. Working horses are used for centuries for a multitude of purposes including farming, logging and towing carts that carry materials or goods. In destinations like the Gili islands (not to mention that the Indonesian archipelago consists of over 17.000 islands) working horses are everything.
A wonderful not for profit organization Horses of Gili say this on their website: ‘’The three Gili islands have a local law that prohibits any motorized transport. This is enforced by the island government and the local people. It is a nice thing and good for the environment as well by cutting down on both sound and exhaust pollution. We do have a few electric bikes that are allowed to be used by the elders of the villages and one electirc cart similar to a golf cart that is for rubbish collection. Most of us like it this way and respect the local law and try our best to support their customs.’’
Tori is the person who initiated Horses of Gili and she is an absolute horse and animal Angel. She literally is the definition of the best prectice of a foreigner who is loving, giving, efficient, culturally-observing and working with what she has.
Tori has been living on Gili islands for a long time. She explains that all transportation is done by foot, by bicycle or by horse cart and every single item on each island, be it a refirgerator or groceries; comes over by boat first, and then usually by horse and cart to it’s ultimate destination. What this means is that there’s a large number of horses (most are actually ponies by defintion since they are under 13,2 hands in height) which live and work on the islands. The working horses either pull carts designed to carry goods such as beer and other items, or they pull a Cidomo which is a traditonal passenger cart to take tourists and residents to various spots on the islands.
‘’We are striving to help provide the best living conditions and standards of care for these horses as possible while still understanding that the locals rely on the horses for income and that they are a tradition handed down through generations. We provide free veterinary clinics several times a year since there are no veterinarians on any of the islands. We also provide donated bits and bridles, padding for harnesses, and boots to help protect the horses from accidental injury.
One of our primary goals is education regarding basic diet and care and keeping the horses feet trimmed and properly shod. This is a long term project with many obstacles in the way such as lack of funds, cultural barriers, language barriers and a remote, difficult to get to location.
The majority of the horses and ponies that live here work and are nearly all stallions. This is a cultural thing since the locals believe that the males are better for work and the females have babies. The horses are mostly bred in Bali and Lombok, although some come from farther away islands such as Bima. The horses stay in stables which are made of wood, bamboo and/or occasionally concrete. There isn’t any pasture or real paddocks available on the islands. Many of the horses are simply tied to trees or poles due to the lack of proper housing being available. They are fed a mixed quality fresh grass hay imported form Lombok and imported rice bran mixed with water. Most are now offered fresh wate which is quite expensive to purchase, and this is why a few still drink salty or brackish water, and that in the past nearly all drank this (many horses used to be lost to kidney disease). These are not really the best diets for horses long term and can lead to vitamin and calcium deficiencies. To combat this we import limited quantities of a pelleted horse feed and vitamin and mineral supplements which we sell at a low cost to the owners. We also give vitamin injections to every horse we are able to see at the clincis.’’ she explains.
photo credit: Birkan Tanis
Under the circumstances of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, Tori and the residents of the beautiful Gili islands struggle to collect the necessary funds to keep our horses alive and healthy. In times of lost jobs and severly reduced household income, what will be the destiny of our animals?
This Eid-ul Adha instead of buying a sheep to kill, to feed those that don’t have access to expensive food items such as meat (which is the traditional and religious reason behind this holy event), I chose to donate to Horses of Gili. I invite you to do the same, donating to your choice of a trusted animal welfare society that treat, equip, recsue and educate such as Animal Aid Abroad or Horses of Gili. It is your opportunity to Show that it’s not only vegans or vegetarians who care for animals, but the rest of the World too (and in most difficult times for us all).
Stay animal friendly and culturally-smart. Observe and respect how the society is run in different cultures during your visits and do what you can in a constructive way. Donating in times of hardship is a very rewarding act of kindness, perhaps not ordering the latest smart-phone or those running shoes and instead sending to those in desperate need will leave you feeling like a feather at times.
May all living beings be healthy and happy.
Donate to Horses of Gili HERE (absolutely no commission is taken through affiliate links)
Donate to Animal Aid Abroad HERE (absolutely no commission is taken through affiliate links)