Just the mention of the Gili Islands evokes images of aqua water, pristine beaches, golden sunsets and magnificent scenery. It is a paradise like no other where the days can easily slip into weeks. If you are lucky, you will be able to snorkel with turtles just a few meters from the beach. It is an Eden, but it is no utopia if you are a horse!
There are no motorized vehicles on the Gili Islands only horse drawn carriages also known as Cidomos. This means that every single brick, beer and bag is more than likely been transported by a horse.
I saw horses carrying loads of 300 kgs and more. I also noticed that horses weren’t given anything to drink during working hours, and that they worked for at least 5 hours at a time. Horses are left to stand in the baking sun in between jobs, often with 2 or more drivers chilling in the carriage while they try and catch their breath. The “material horses” that carry building supplies, garbage and other goods seem to be in worse condition then those that carry tourist to their hotels or on jaunts around the island. I saw horses being whipped but I never saw a horse being loved.
There were so many moments on those islands where I felt emotional and found myself crying and so I decided to go out and take photos.
What I realized after a couple of days is that I would need a year of shooting to really be able to get to grips with a story like this. I ride horses and the horse that I ride is a pet and he is loved and cared for like a prince. The horses on Gili are not pets, they are workhorses, and the families that own them, survive off them. Cimodo horses are seen as commodities and are a means of survival, it’s that simple. The families who work with horses live very simple subsistence lives and also work very long hours. The horse owners were the only ones that seemed to have a bit of extra cash and often employed drivers to work for them. Some of the young men who worked the horses that were used to transport building materials worked from sunrise until after sundown, and they too were constantly packing and unpacking extremely heavy goods in and out of carriages. When I asked the horse people about their horses they were all very proud of the fact that they fed and watered their horses three times a day, and that they washed their horses twice a day. To them this seemed enough, but when I asked how long the horses lived for, the answer was usually 8-10 years. The average horse if well cared for, lives for 25 years. I am not sure what the ecologically sound alternative to horses would be on the Gilis and I have no right to make any judgement on a place I have only spent a short amount of time in. Right now I am on Nusa Lembongan island off Bali where there are no cars, other than a very few used to transport goods and tourists, and I feel a lot happier not hearing those tinkling bells that the horses of Gilis are adorned with.
After doing some research on the net I have found that there are a number of NGO’s who are working with the people of the Gilis to ensure that horses are better cared for most notably, The Gili Eco trust. It seems they have made a great difference but after witnessing what I did, I personally feel there is a long way to go and that education and funding is key. But I come from a very different reality and I am therefore no expert.
If you are a tourist visiting the Gilis don’t be an aas and overload a carriage with all of your weight and all of your baggage, also speak out against overloading, whipping and mistreatment. Tourism is the main industry on the Gilis and I am pretty sure they want to keep the tourists happy. You can also make a donation to the Gili Eco Trust here who run horse clinics or work as a volunteer on one of their projects.