Sumba, Indonesia – Named after the scented bushes that after coated the island, the Sandalwood pony of Sumba is the one breed of horse in Indonesia that’s nonetheless intrinsic to the native economic system, tradition and faith.
A spirited and nimble animal with good stamina and a pleasant disposition, the Sandalwood pony can be the one breed of horse in Indonesia that’s exported abroad: as youngsters’s ponies in Australia and racehorses in Singapore, Malaysia and different elements of Southeast Asia. They’re additionally wanted by abattoirs within the Indonesian province of Sulawesi the place horse meat is a delicacy.
However the proliferation of motorbikes coupled with perennial drought in Sumba, some 800km (497 miles) east of Bali, is forcing extra individuals emigrate from rural to city areas and a few fear the horse is being left behind.
“Motorbikes are actually extra helpful than horses on this island,” says Claude Graves, an American hotelier and philanthropist who has lived on and off in Sumba for 40 years.
“The tradition is dying. Solely the Pasola has been maintaining it going,” he added, referring to the annual pageant held in the beginning of the rice-planting season at which mounted riders pelt spears at each other to ostensibly fertilise the soil with human blood. The spears are actually blunted however fatalities of riders and spectators nonetheless happen.
Petrus Ledibani, assistant steady supervisor at Nihi Sumba, a luxurious resort that provides a wide range of horse-based actions, says when his father was younger, each Sumbanese baby might experience.
“However now many youngsters have by no means even sat on a horse – solely these whose households personal horses or are concerned with horse racing know how you can experience,” he mentioned.
Horse buying and selling
One in every of eight official horse breeds gazetted in Indonesia, Sandalwood ponies have small ears, a brief muscular neck and an unusually lengthy again. Their lineage dates again to the eighth century when merchants from China first visited Indonesia.
“They’re known as Sandalwood ponies as a result of the Chinese language swapped Mongolian ponies for sandalwood with the locals,” Carol Sharpe, an knowledgeable in pure horsemanship from Australia who based the stables at Nihi Sumba informed Al Jazeera. “Later they have been bred with Arabian horses introduced by merchants from the Center East. The Arabian is of course a really flighty horse whereas the Mongolian can be quick however stockier with extra stamina, so it’s an excellent combine. However they’re not good for labour due to their small stature, in all probability due to centuries of malnourishment. There’s a number of grass on the island however most of it isn’t nutritious.”
However the Sumbanese, who practise Catholicism or Islam peppered with animism, discovered loads of different makes use of for the ponies: transport, standing symbols, dowry funds, sacrifices for funerals and as autos to retailer wealth.
Within the Thirties, Dutch colonists launched circuit-style horse racing to the island.
A racehorse breeding business that crosses Sandalwood ponies with Australian Thoroughbreds additionally emerged and is now dominated by Indonesians of Chinese language heritage. However many breeders in Sumba have little concern for the welfare of their animals, in line with Sharpe.
“The crossbreeds develop loads of again issues because of being began racing too early. I’ve seen foals as younger as 12 or 18 months on the monitor. Additionally they intrude with them, inject steroids and feed them vitality drinks or espresso earlier than races,” she mentioned.
“Extra additionally let their horses run wild within the lean instances to save cash on feed. They don’t are inclined to final lengthy. In 2019 we had a horrible drought. Horses have been dropping like flies.”
Regardless of their normal poor well being, Sharpe recognises the larger-built Thoroughbred-Sandalwood crossbreeds are higher fitted to actions on the resort than Sandalwood ponies, and went about constructing a herd.
“They’d been educated to run through the use of worry techniques so at first they have been uncontrollable. Anybody who tried to experience them would find yourself on the bottom,” she mentioned. “That’s the place my work in pure horsemanship helped sluggish them down for sundown rides alongside the seashore – abilities I handed onto the steady boys.”
Sharpe realized new abilities from her steady boys, too, particularly, how you can wash the animals by taking them into the surf, typically with riders on their again. Over time the showering ritual advanced right into a devoted exercise on the resort.
When friends took photographs and shared them on-line, the swimming horses went viral on Instagram.
“Sumba was at all times recognized in Indonesia because the land of horses,” mentioned Jonathan Hani, a horse breeder in Sumba’s sleepy capital Waingapu. “However when friends at Nihi began swimming with horses and folks noticed the photographs abroad, the publicity was excellent for us. It put Sumba on the map. We received much more worldwide vacationers.”
Resort supervisor Madlen Ernest additionally credit the horses with maintaining the property afloat throughout the coronavirus pandemic and placing meals on the tables of greater than 300 workers.
“Earlier than the pandemic, practically all of our friends have been foreigners so when the worldwide journey ban was launched in April, we needed to shut,” she mentioned.
“4 months later we reopened focusing on the Indonesian market. At first we weren’t positive if it might work, however issues picked a lot quicker than anticipated as a result of among the Indonesian influencers who stayed right here reposted photographs of horses swimming on Instagram.”
A experience to heaven
The Sumba Basis, a charity that gives potable water, healthcare, diet and training to about 35,000 individuals on the island, has additionally capitalised on vacationers’ appreciation for horses on Sumba.
“We get youngsters from the villages to return right down to the seashore with their horses for races. Vacationers purchase tickets to put bets on their favourites and all of the profitable go in direction of particular initiatives,” mentioned normal supervisor Patrick Compau. “At our final race, we raised $4,400 for slightly woman with a uncommon genetic defect in her intestines who wants surgical procedure in Bali to save lots of her life.”
Provides Claude Grave, the charity’s founder: “We’re seeing youngsters as younger as eight turning as much as compete, all proud. It’s nice that we will elevate cash however for me, the children’ races are all about preserving the tradition.”
Regardless of the latest adjustments in Sumba life, horse breeder Hani believes the Sandalwood pony will at all times be a part of the island’s tradition.
“They’re now not utilized by most individuals for transport as a result of motorbikes are extra handy however they’re nonetheless utilized in each a part of our tradition,” he mentioned. “When a boy needs to marry a lady, they’ve to provide her mother and father horses. When somebody dies, the household should sacrifice a horse as a result of we consider it would take their soul to heaven.
“Horses are our greatest associates in Sumba, part of the household,” he says. “Proudly owning one is an emblem of satisfaction. If an individual has a horse, it means they’re of excellent character.”