When you travel the world, you get to know a lot of different cultures. This includes the way horses are being held, used and treated. When you get to a new city, country, or even continent it can be difficult to tell what the culture is in that specific place. I lived in South America for a little over 1,5 years in total. I’ve learned how people keep horses in South America and how it’s different from country to country- so going to Indonesia, more specifically Bali, was quite the change! I’ve seen many forms of equine husbandry around the world now and everyone has different ideas about what is right and wrong. I usually don’t want to interfere with culture, but this experience left me shocked.
My first meeting with “horses” in Indonesia was in Jakarta on Java. My friend and I were walking around a park (literally around it, because it was closed due to covid) and here we spotted a horse attached to a carriage. Carriages many years ago were the only means of faster transportation- nowadays the idea of a carriage ride is often romanticised and sadly enough the welfare of the horses are not always a priority. However, you can do some amazing carriage rides in South Africa as Sanne wrote about in another blog post.
From far away we couldn’t get a good look at it but as we got closer, we wished we hadn’t gotten nearer. The “horse” was a small pony. It was skinny, with wrecked hooves and soaked in sweat. To be fair it was around 35 degrees in Jakarta and even hotter in the sun, but I can’t even imagine how the poor pony must have felt. The coat looked horrible. It was scraggly and dull. The carriage was made for what looked like 4 people but we saw some with 6-7 people excluding the coachman. The reins were tight and the horses ran with their heads high. Have you ever seen the movie Black Beauty? There is a scene where Lady Wexmire forces Beauty and Ginger to wear painful bearing reins. Until one day, Ginger has enough. Unfortunately, these horses did not seem to have the option to say stop any time soon unless they were to collapse. As we walked around more and more horses were to be seen. One horse ran past us with an open mouth from the tight reins and the tongue hanging out. The tongue was completely purple from the lack of blood. Oddly enough, all the carriages seemed to be full. A lot of what looked like local tourists were sitting in the carriages, enjoying the rides... The horses had bells attached to them so you could hear them run past on the road and they were decorated with traditional pieces of cloth.
We later experienced that horses are kind of a big thing here. After exploring more of Java and visiting more touristic sites we noticed there were always horses around. In the cities, the carriages would reoccur. We went on a tour to a national park where we watched the sunrise from a volcano and then hiked the Mount Bromo crater. As we descended from the sunrise point, we took a coffee break. There were hundreds of other jeeps in this park doing the exact same. My friend and I sat on the roof of our jeep and enjoyed the morning. As we looked around, we started spotting men with horses. They were riding around, offering rides to the tourists. Parents would get on the horse with their kids in front and the owner of the horse would walk them around. We left our resting spot and drove to the crater. Here we were overwhelmed by the quantity horses! At least 70 horses were walking around, being ridden, tied to poles and whatnot. We talked to our guides and they told us the people offer horse rides from the parking area to the stairs of the crater. This is about a 15-minute walk. As far as I remember, the ride was 50.000 IDR for one way. That is 3.40 USD. There were no weight limits, no level of experience, no rules. It was terrible to watch and we were more than happy walking on our own legs. Resisting our urge to set all the poor ponies free, we left the national park.
We left Java and arrived on Bali. A fresh breath of air! After making our own impression of the horses in Indonesia I was not surprised when the first google hit when searching for “Horseback riding Bali” was Salty Cowboy Horse Rescue.
Salty Cowboy Horse Rescue has been started by Simone. Simone has lived on Bali for 8 years and has had Salty Cowboy for 7 years now. The majority of Simone’s rescue horses are from Java. The horses are old working horses, as we saw on our trip, ex-race horses, dancing horses, and/or have been violently abused. I found out from Simone that most of the men rent the horses for the carriages and horseback riding. The owner of the horses rents them out for the day, week, or month. The men renting the horses want the most for their money so they work the horses hard to make as much money as possible, quickly. Horses are very expensive here. In Europe, you can get a good (and healthy) horse for the same price as a skinny (unhealthy/unhappy) horse here. The horses are calculated in size so the bigger the horse you want, the more money you have to bring to the table. This makes a lot of sense after seeing all the ponies on Java.
Simone has got 15 horses on her farm at the moment. I went to visit her rescue with my friend and we were both absolutely surprised by this place. Salty Cowboy is just up the coast from Seminyak and Canggu. It is near Kedungu Beach. The stables are western-inspired and it is very accomplished. We did not expect to find such a nice horse place on Bali. Right next to the roofed riding arena were palm and banana trees. Simone is usually the one being contacted when she rescues a horse. People contact her if they see or know someone with a horse in poor condition. Sometimes she has posts sent to her on Facebook. The “issue” when rescuing the horses is that nothing is for free. She has to buy the horses from the owners to save them from the poor living conditions. Afterwards, she has to transport them from Java to Bali. If you ever visit Salty Cowboy, make sure to ask about this! It is quite the story that I am not sure I can share with you here for legal reasons. Simone works together with her partner and they have 6 local people helping them out. The workers are all trained by Simone to make sure they can work together as a team and have the same mindset. The horses coming to the rescue all have special needs and it’s important that the workers have patience and an understanding of horses with trauma. Most of her workers have previous experience with horses. Her partner uses herbs to cure the horses when they are sick or wounded. All of her workers have opportunities to upgrade their work positions if they show interest and understanding for their work with horses. Unfortunately, Simone doesn’t work with volunteers. As a girl that has done a lot of volunteer work myself this place would be a dream. Although I do fully understand her. There is a lot of time spent on getting to know a new person and teaching them how she would like people to handle her horses. You never know what kind of horses you are working with and in some situations, it could be dangerous. Some of the horses have been going through a lot of traumas, so they are not always predictable. Hiring local workers is also a great way to support the community. The workers know about shoeing horses and they have basic vet skills. Being on an island, it’s not always the easiest to get help and the medicine and it can be quite expensive. Here it is very handy to know someone who knows about natural healing.
When a new horse arrives at the stables Simone and her partner do a vet check. They check the condition of the horse. Is it lame? Skin diseases? Wounds? After the check, the horse is in isolation in case it has got a so far undiscovered disease. The horses react very differently after being rescued. Simone told us about one of her rescues. She bought a horse and after bringing him to the stables he slept for 3 days straight. They were scared he was really sick and that he couldn’t be saved. To everyone’s surprise he “woke up” on the fourth day and was ready for action! Some of the horses coming in are absolutely exhausted. Both mentally and physically. Arriving at a quiet stable, where no one expects anything from you, must be like arriving at a safe haven.
If you want to know more about these amazing horses with such beautiful personalities, I really recommend you check out SaltyCowboy's webpage. They have some great stories and both miserable and happy photos. You can find Simone's instagram here.
So, what happens when the horse has been rescued and has recovered? Simone trains the horses to become dressage, jumping, or trail horses, depending on where the horses show the most enthusiasm. The horses are sold through Salty Cowboy. Simone describes it more as an adoption program. Even though the horses are sold, Salty Cowboy still stays the owner of the horse. Salty Cowboy doesn’t want to risk the new owners having trouble with the horses and then reselling it and for the horses to then end up where they came from.
I mentioned horseback riding in Bali like an hour ago now. And yes! There is horseback riding on Bali. This does not take a sad turn like my Galapagos blog. At Salty Cowboy they offer rides to the beach, rice fields, or a combination of both. They also have a river ride which is basically water-loving horses having the time of their life while you sit bareback and just hold on! For others, the Instagram ride might be more appealing. They offer a ride for everyone. They do rides with 4 to 5 people. Beginners to advanced. A beginner will be on a lead rope. Salty Cowboy offers tours in the morning and the evening. The horses rest between 12-3 pm when the sun is at its strongest. Please note! Not all places take these precautions and it is up to you to research this! I very much recommend you do your research before booking a horseback ride. Even just the photos from a google review say a lot about the place! Salty Cowboy does have a weight limit of 70kg. If you are in doubt, send them a message with your questions.
As a rescue centre, Salty Cowboy lives off of sponsors and donations. 15 horses are a lot of horses to feed and everyone has different needs. At Salty Cowboy they are lucky to have the opportunity to use herbs as medicine but they do still need to buy supplies when a special case comes in. You can’t buy tack on Bali so all of their equipment is flown in from outside. Right now, they are expecting a package from Holland but it is not sure whether it will arrive due to the strict rules of commercial goods.
And last but not least. The name. As I was interviewing Simone my final question was, “Why Salty Cowboy?”. When Simone was a kid, she had the nickname “Cowboy”. As she got to Bali, where it is around 35 degrees and humid, she quickly became “Salty” from sweating. Therefore Salty Cowboy.
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