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Ponies in Paradise – The Life of a Carriage Horse on the Gili Islands

the ponies which are pulling the horse carriage on the Gili Islands are only about 12 hh high

Author: Louise Dando (UK)

They all seem to have their ribs showing, their hooves long and uncared for and many have open wounds. I suddenly feel very ill at ease. Several local men approach me trying to sell me a ride. I struggle through the crowds with my backpack to get away as the tourists begin loading their heavy bags into the carts.

A couple of colorful horse carriages on the Gili Islands. A hard life for the ponies in paradise
A common sighting in the Gili Islands are the horse drawn carts known locally as “Cidomo.” Photo Credit: Louise Dando

The Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are a paradise for travellers with beautiful beaches and the clear blue ocean in the shadows of the awesome Mount Rinjani. The 3 small islands consist of Gili Meno, Gili Air and Gili Trawangan. The Gili Islands pride themselves on being “vehicle-free” and the only way to get around, other than by foot, is by a horse carriage known locally as a ‘Cidomo’.

Unfortunately, many tourists unwittingly support the ill-treatment of horses while abroad on holidays. Many of them forgetting to pay attention to details which they would never over-look or forgive back home in their own country. After all, they are on “holiday,” and certainly no foul play could ever occur in a paradise such as this.

Responsible Tourism and Animal Welfare

Responsible tourism is an important topic. It provides us all with an opportunity and responsibility to contribute to improving animal welfare no matter the place, circumstance or culture. During my stay I chose to carry my own bags. I did not want to participate in any activity that could be harmful to these ponies. It was shocking how popular they were. Most tourists really didn’t seem to bother what these ponies were expected to pull. This included a large cart, their owner and up to 6 tourists. On top of that backpacks and piles of stuff the tourists just “had” to bring on their vacation.

“It seems that the combination of the influx of tourists visiting these countries and an unregulated animal welfare industry are the two main factors.”

While the islands are a paradise for people, they are not for the ponies that live and work there. There has been a growing, widespread concern about the welfare of the ponies that pull these carts. A reporter from The Telegraph has vowed “never to return to the Gili islands after witnessing thin, dehydrated ponies pulling building supplies, rubbish and tourists from dawn until dusk”. The Dodo has also reported that the ponies are “over-worked”. They have to pull weights that are far too heavy for them. All this in the full sun all day, without sufficient breaks.

Tourism is an Important Source of Income

After witnessing some of this firsthand I wanted to try to understand why this is happening. It has been widely reported that there is terribly low standards of animal welfare in Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. It seems that the combination of the influx of tourists visiting these countries and an unregulated animal welfare industry are the two main factors. However, I saw on the Gili Islands that people are not being cruel intentionally. They simply lacked the knowledge to care for their horses properly.

Tourism is their only source of income. If they use an animal to make an income the money is often shared between the owner of the pony, the driver and their family. Only if there is any money left, it is used for the upkeep of the pony. Artefact Magazine claims most of the ponies are owned by a few “affluent people”. They encourage the drivers to make the most profit from their Cimodos. For them it is all about profit with little concern about the ponies welfare.

the ponies which are pulling the horse carriage on the Gili Islands are only about 12 hh high
Photo Credit: Louise Dando

Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) reported due to the owner’s lack of knowledge some ponies on the Gili Islands only get salt water to drink from local wells. This would cause terrible dehydration and kidney failure. Their harnesses are often repaired with nails, that cause horrible injuries to the ponies that are never given veterinary treatment. The ponies are never untacked either. When they finally get a break (sometimes they work non stop for 18 hours a day) their harnesses are never taken off.

Education is Key

It seems there are many out there who are uneducated about caring for their horses. This is not just in Gili Islands but all over the world. The reason is largely because of the lack of opportunity or access to education. The lack of funds or lacking access to a convenient tack shop prevent the purchase of harnesses which fit correctly. An attitude of “use what you have” is very much the way of the island.

“Talk and educate owners that are not in the position to get education on how to look after their pony.”

World Horse Welfare suggests some simple things we can do to help:

  1. Use an ethical company when you travel and do this by doing your research before you go. For example if you choose to visit Bali. BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association) has a list of animal encounters that meet their welfare standards.
  2. Use your judgement. I was shocked at what I witnessed on the Gili Islands. Without having any prior knowledge of the treatment of these ponies I knew immediately that their treatment was not good enough for me to use their business. I chose not to follow the pack and jump in the horse carriages with the other tourists. Instead I trusted my intuition.
  3. Speak to the owners of badly treated animals to find out why they are treating their animals in a certain way. Then make the decision to not be part of unacceptable practice by letting other tourists, local travel representatives and the owner know why. Often times simply pointing out that something they are doing with their pony can potentially hurt their business (and cash flow!) is reason enough for them to make a change.
  4. Spread the word about responsible tourism. Animal Welfare Charity Brooke have published “Brooke’s Happy Horses Holiday Code” to help people do just that. Share this with non – horsey family and friends to help raise awareness to people genuinely unfamiliar with ethical equine treatment and services.
the ponies in paradise on the Gili Islands have a busy schedule
Photo Credit: Louise Dando

Local Charities Try to Improve the Conditions for the Carriage Horse on the Gili Islands

Much to my relief there are charities out there helping the ponies on the Gili Islands. The “Gili Carriage Horse Support Network” organizes volunteers to help the working ponies on the Gili Islands. They provide basic things such as medical care, clean water and shelter. This organisation is working to educate tourists on the island about the terrible conditions these ponies are living in.

Charities are also working with hotels on the islands too. A few of the hotels on the island now offer free bikes for their guests. This is an alternative way to get around the island than using the Cimodos. However, this will be a difficult road, as Asian Geographic have reported. Many locals are too frightened to do this as there is a well known “Horse Mafia”, which controls the industry. Locals that are seen to be boycotting them have been victims of violence.

A beach on the Gili Islands
Maybe one day this place will be paradise for the Gili ponies too… Photo Credits: Louise Dando

You Can Make a Difference

The road to a better quality of life has been paved for these ponies. But it is going to be difficult. Other ways you can help include offering your expertise, alter a badly fitting bridle or adjust the position of a saddle if you can. Buying the horses a bucket and provide water if you can afford to or any other supplies they lack. Perhaps contact the local charitable organizations prior to your trip. Ask if there are any medical supplies or tack you can bring from your home country to donate.

You can also talk and educate owners that are not in the position to get education on how to look after their pony. It’s surprising how much an afternoon of your time can go a long way! Offer your expertise in a friendly way and help them realize the importance of the tack fitting correctly or the pony’s thirstiness in the hot sun.

If you want to help the ponies on the Gili Islands please encourage people not to take these carriage rides. If enough people stop using them then they will be forced to replace them with another means of transport. Please spread the word, leave negative reviews on travel websites that recommend them and share the plight of these poor ponies with others.


Our guest author Louise successfully runs “a horse girl’s lifestyle blog.” Check it out!

Helping and Volunteering to Improve the Life of a Carriage Horse on the Gili Islands

For more information, how to donate and volunteering opportunities please visit The Gili Carriage Horse Support Network facebook page or Gili Paradise Eco Trust.

More recently Equestrian Adventuresses interviewed Estair. At the age of 16, she went to volunteer for a week at “Horses of Gili“. She tells us more about her experience helping horses on Gili T and what she learned from it.

Published by Krys Kolumbus Travel

Krystal Kelly is a California girl on a Quest to see every country. She is a professional equestrian adventuress and has worked internationally with horses since 2010. Since then she has worked at professional competition and riding stables in Egypt, Italy, Romania, India and Bhutan! "I love travelling and I love horses and I am very blessed to be able to do both of my passions for a living!" She now has her own company, Krys Kolumbus Travel where she strives to empower women to travel and provides resources, tips and online courses to encourage women to travel SOLO to unique destinations. www.kryskolumbustravel.com www.krystal-kelly.com

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