Volunteering to Help the Horses on Gili T

Estair was only 16 years old when she headed off, without adult supervision, to volunteer with a horse rescue organisation on the Gili islands in Indonesia. Her parents, although initially concerned, decided to trust her and the organisation with this project. Estair tells us about this life changing experience helping horses on Gili T (short for: Gili Trawangan, the biggest of the three Gili islands). She allso shares why more teenagers should get involved in such projects.

Author: Charlotte Kingsman

Question: Tell us a little about yourself?

My name’s Estair Robbins. I’m 18 years old. I grew up in Singapore my whole life, but I’m Indian. I’m currently studying Product Design at Central Saint Martins.

A group of volunteers helping horses on Gili T (short for Gili Trawangan)
Our group. Photo Credits: Estair Robbins

Q: How did this volunteering project come about?

This was two years ago so I was 16 at the time. It feels weird to think about it now!

I went to a Singapore school that does the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, as part of which we have a project week. The concept is to dedicate a week to a service or an NGO.

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I love animals in general and horses in particular so I knew I wanted to volunteer with a horse organisation. Ultimately my goal was to work with animals, either in their conservation, or helping them if they were injured.

At the beginning, I looked at a few horse hospitals/aid houses in Malaysia, but I didn’t feel that I would make any real impact there.

Through my friend Hani, whom I met during a selection process for our school’s project week, I found out about “Horses of Gili“. After reading up about the organisation I knew it would be the perfect place to go as I realised that the work they do really affects the lives of horses on the island, and the people too. This is because horses are basically the only form of transportation there.

I felt an immediate connection with the organisation and its purpose so it just felt right. I loved the idea of exploring the island, as well as working closely with the horses and living near them.

Q: How did your parents and other adults around you react to your plan?

Honestly, I’m a supremely stubborn person, and when I feel that there’s something I need to do, I’ll do it. I listened to what people had to say about safety concerns, but I knew that no matter what, I would go. My father was definitely really worried about me going. His family has a history with horses, and all he could think of was me getting kicked by a horse and suffering from severe injuries. My mother was the same but a little less intense! Interestingly, other adults were really supportive of the idea! And overall, everyone found the idea of going to Gili very exciting.

Q: How did you prepare you for the trip?

We mainly worked through the school to get all the paperwork done, other than the visas, which I did on arrival. We did travel there by ourselves, and stayed on the site of the organization. I hadn’t travelled alone before, so it definitely was an experience travelling to Gili with my friends. The only adult we had real contact with was Tori, who was the leader of “Horses of Gili.” We spent most of our week alongside her.

preparing feed for the horses in a horse rescue on Gili T
Preparing food. Photo Credits: Estair Robbins

The school made sure that at least two people in each group knew basic first aid training. It was a 9-hour day of learning how to do CPR, bandage wounds, recognize signs of illness or allergies, etc.

In terms of preparing myself, I made sure that I was physically fit. I went to the gym to make myself stronger and more prepared for the days of work ahead of me. I read up about horses and how to behave around them when they are acting out or start feeling skittish.

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Q: How was the experience like on the ground?

I can say with 100% confidence that it was one of the happiest weeks of my life. Our time was filled with horses. The leader, Tori, spent the week showing us the inner workings of the organisation. On one of the days, we built a fenced paddock for the horses, on another day we watched how horses were treated for illnesses and injuries. We were really able to understand how the organisation helped locals on Gili T to learn how to take care of horses properly.

Horse riding in Gili Trawangan in a new paddock in a horse rescue
Testing out the new paddock we had built the day before. Photo Credits: Estair Robbins

We also got to see the quality of other stables around the island. It was a real eye-opener of an experience. It’s not that people were treating the animals harshly but they never had the funding to fully construct proper stables, nor do they have the proper education to know how to care for a horse.

Overall, the experience was great. Everyone was lovely and warm, and our days were always full of new and exciting things to learn about.

Q: What was your best memory with the horses on Gili T?

On one of the days, we let the horses out of their stables to let them run around the open area at the back. After that, we had to run after them to bring them back to their stables. We were all laughing so hard trying to catch the horses. It felt really freeing.

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Another experience was when we took the horses into the open water. Being able to hold the horse and move and play around with them in the water was a really wonderful experience that I’ll never forget. I did get stepped on a few times, but to be able to chill out with a horse in the sea is a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

leading the horse back from its weekly swim
Walking the horses back to the stables after their weekly swim. Photo Credits: Estair Robbins

Q: What are some of the biggest lessons you learned?

Always be prepared for any sort of situation. We were amazed to discover the amount of planning and preparation that Tori has to do for the organisation. For example, she needs to keep all the medicines – and other vital things – in stock for horses and other animals. This is genuinely vital for the island and its horses. These horses are the main source of livelihood for a lot of people so it can be a disaster if something happens to a horse and it is not treated in time.

I also learned the importance of donations. For instance, we brought with us some horse tack to give to locals so that their horses could have proper equipment to prevent further injuries. It would mean a lot if more people could donate to “Horses of Gili.”

Q: Would you recommend equestrian volunteering to others? What advice would you give to teenagers who’d like to go on a similar adventure? And what advice would you give to their parents?

Yes yes yes yes! I would definitely recommend it. If I could give people advice, it would be to have an open mind and be ready to run and sweat a lot! But it will be such a fun and enriching experience. I still think about it to this day, it was that impactful.

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To parents: trust your kids to make good choices. It might sometimes seem that we are dumb teenagers who are looking for adrenaline rushes (sometimes!!) but being able to work with “Horses of Gili” taught me a lot about independence, and having to learn how to do things quickly. It’s all about adapting. If your kid is really intent on doing something, have a conversation with them about it, give cautions and warnings but don’t only tell them horror stories of what could go wrong. Make sure your kid knows that there will be excitement and fun and a whole new feeling of freedom that will come with these kinds of experiences.

Q: What’s next for you?

My plan is first to graduate from university. In terms of animal work and horses, I’m not really sure! I’d really love to do work with animal aid organisations, and maybe even design products that could help in animal aid, but as for now I’m really open to anything.


You can watch Estair helping horses on Gili T in the video she made during the project week.

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You can find out more about the conditions of the horses on Gili T and the Gili islands overall in the article “Ponies in Paradise” on Equestrian Adventuresses.

Charlotte is a regular contributor for Equestrian Adventuresses. Check out Charlotte’s other amazing articles.

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