Gili Island Carriage Ponies

Cooling off in the ocean before sunset on Gili Trawangan

It became a habit to mentally check over the ponies as they went by, listen for soundness, and glance towards the bit and to the girth area. This pony had a cute little loose ring snaffle and a round tummy. My stare was broken as the driver noticed me too and called out ‘Hello doctor’ with a smile.
Now I’m no doctor, but I’ll take being called it at any opportunity! The Gilis are an archipelago of three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia. I am here for second time, volunteering at a bi-annual free clinic put on by The Gili Eco Trust.

Just like the human population there is a large divide in the living conditions between equines living in the developing world and what we are used to seeing in Australia.

Automobiles and motorised traffic is prohibited on the islands by local ordinance, so the preferred method of transportation is by foot and bicycle or the horse-drawn carriage called a cidomo. There is approximately 300 equines on the island, providing transport for the tourists, movement of incoming goods, transportation of building materials and the removal of all rubbish.

Ponies waiting at the dock to cart building materials and hospitality goods areoung the island

The Gili Eco Trust initiated the work with the ponies on the islands. Their website take a very well rounded approach to the issue.

“Pulling carts around the island wouldn’t be a problem for their health if they could drink fresh water and rest regularly, and be treated when they need to. That’s why the Gili Eco Trust opens its clinic for free to the horses twice a month with local skilled personnel, and also twice a year in association with “Jakarta Animal Aid Network” and with veterinarians coming to help as volunteers”.

November 2016 Gili Trawangan clinic crew.

Due in no small part to the work of a French woman Delphine and the Gili Eco Trust, life has certainly improved for these working ponies over the last few years. One of the biggest markers of this is that the vast majority now have access to fresh water. Previously they were surviving (not for long) on salt water. During the clinic generally if a pony comes in with a poor body condition it is a fairly good sign they are still drinking the well water, which is saline on such a small island. Delphine has spent time to gain respect from the local people and form a good working relationship with the chief of the island, which makes the clinics possible. There was possibly double as many visitors to the clinic as last year when I attended. The amount of drivers and owners bringing their ponies down was heartening and by the last day had moved many in the group to tears.

A range of bit and mouth pictures from Gili Trawangan

We start each day at around 8:30 and often there would already be 10 or more ponies waiting in the art market for us to arrive. A friend, Ashleigh Sanderson from Kuda Guru, and I would try and get to the ponies as they came in with a vitamin injection and the handler would often point out some wounds or rubs that needed care and maybe ask for a pair of boots or a new bit. All the ponies were wormed but this would be left to last if they were seeing the dentist. There was a farrier working in the shade to the left and against the far fence the amazing Dental Vet, Kirsten Jackson, with a team of 3rd and 4th year vet students were rasping teeth like soldiers. A number of other people including Delphine, Sarah and Tori from the dive centres and Lynn from Singapore were also busy with injections, wormers, and scrubbing wounds or applying creams.

Some of the rubbish ponies that haul over 20 tonne per day between 8 of them.

After a 1-2 hour lunch break we would go to the rubbish dump. These ponies have a big workload and are moving over 20 tonnes of rubbish per day between the 8 of them. They were pitifully thin and had some quite bad wounds due to gear that had been repaired with nails on the insides of the girth strap. On the first day we managed to swap out all the damaged gear and even replace some harnesses entirely with donated sets. These ponies already had been swapped to new bits on the visit last year and Dental Vet Kirsten was happy to see only scar tissue in some mouths. Pelletised food was bought down from one of the islands riding stables and the lovely vet students took them out for a walk to pick some grass one afternoon.

There are of course some ponies in good body condition, with nicely fitted gear. This picture shows two ponies who are dyed for aesthetic purposes and a bay in a previously donated bit and a pre-loved wetsuit made into an anti-pinch girth cover.

       Written by Valentine Equine founder, Melita Harmer.