Improving the welfare of the working horses on the Gili Islands and Lombok

As a non-profit organization, we run a sanctuary and veterinary clinic on the Gili Islands, dedicated to providing essential care for horses in need. We are proud to offer free veterinary services for all horses across the three Gili Islands. Support Gili’s Rescued Horses: Your Donations Make a Difference. We entirely rely on donations to continue our mission.

healthy horses running

Why horses and carts are used on The Gili Islands ?

The Gili Islands, unique in Indonesia and among only five islands globally, have distinct regulations permitting only horse-drawn carts for transportation, excluding motorized vehicles. This uncommon practice is upheld by both local and national laws. Jakarta legislation prohibits motorized vehicles, while a local ordinance, revised in January 2023, bans petrol vehicles. This legislation predates the existence of electric vehicles, creating a brief period of ambiguity. However, in January 2023, both laws were amended to prohibit all motorized vehicles without a permit. Permits are exclusively granted for medical and infrastructure purposes, such as waste management and electricity. Local residents who owned scooters before the ban may retain them until they become inoperable, but they are not permitted to rent them to visitors or acquire new ones.

Despite the inconvenience, these regulations ensure the preservation of the islands’ unique charm and environmental sustainability. While unconventional, our reliance on horses and carts for transportation aligns with the islands’ commitment to eco-friendly practices.

Our sanctuary plays a vital role in caring for the horses that serve as the primary mode of transportation on the Gili Islands. Through our rescue, rehabilitation, and veterinary services, we strive to uphold the welfare of these animals and promote responsible stewardship of our island ecosystem.

Milestone Achieved

When I moved here, there were clearly some problems with the horses. Both the humane treatment of the horses and the condition of the animals were not great. There were a lot of very thin horses here, and there were a lot of horses living short lifespans, between two to five years. Then, what would happen is they would get traded to Lombok, and they would get a new horse. There were a few reasons behind that. A lot of it was a lack of education and lack of supplies, and also a lack of fresh water.

On the Gili Islands — Gili Air has fresh water, but Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan both rely on desalination plants, and we didn’t get these desalination plants until 2012 and 2013. So, they’re a relatively new thing, and the water from them is incredibly expensive. Horses were drinking brackish and salty water for an extended period of time, which was causing kidney problems. Now, we provide water for free. There are five different water stations on the island where they can get water for free for their. 90% of the horses on Gili Trawangan now drink fresh water. 100% of horses on Gili Air drink fresh water because that’s the only water available, and about 80% on Gili Meno drink fresh water.

Gili Trawangan has the largest number of horses, between 225 and 260. Gili Air has about 70 or 80, and Gili Meno has about 50 or 60. All Together we’re looking between 400 and 450 horses across three islands that we try to provide care for.

When we first moved here, we discovered that the body condition score of the horses was poor. We humans use BMI  (body mass index) which is related to how tall you are and then how much fat coverage you have. For horses a body condition score is used by veterinary professionals to determine how healthy or unhealthy an animal is, and it’s on a scale of one to five. So, a one on a body condition score or less than one is going to be emaciated or next to death, and a five is going to be obese.  In western countrys 90% of the horses are going to be a five to a six. Currently the biggest medical problem facing horses and dogs and cats in western countries is obesity, and it causes diabetes and Cushing’s disease and metabolic syndrome and all sorts of problems. It’s also a big problem facing people too, as we all know from our education, but people tend to want to feed their animals. This creates two things. One, it creates health problems in their animals, but two, it creates an illusion that that’s what a healthy animal should look like. So, when you go somewhere and you see a fit working animal, which is actually a three, you think it’s thin because that’s your perception. That’s what your brain has been trained to see.

When we moved here in 2014,  the average body condition score was 1.5, which means they were all extremely thin and they were in poor condition. In January 2024, we just evaluated 396 horses out of 420 with an independent veterinary professionals, and the average body condition score is now 3.7 (4 is ideal, and a 3 is considered fit).

The average age used to be between two and six years of age now the average age is between 8 and 12 with the large majority probably 15% or more in their late teens to 20s. We’re seeing not only healthier horses but we’re seeing horses that live longer lives and we’re seeing better treatment of the horses.

cimondo horse head

Hoofing It. Working Hours and Load Restrictions

The other things that we’ve worked to accomplish are working hours and load limits for the horses. There are two types of horse carts on the island. The first type is what’s called the Cidomo and it has a roof on it and that’s what the tourists are riding in and you’ll see them up at the harbor. The second type, you’ll see further down the road at a loading area and they’re called dongles. They don’t have a roof on them and they’re used to carry goods and materials. All the goods and materials on the entire island are carried by horses. The beds, the beer, the wood, the bricks, everything that’s here was carried by horses from the harbor. The Cidomos now have fairly strict rules in place which are very strictly monitored. They are only allowed to work four hours per day and they must own a minimum of two horses so that each horse can work a four-hour shift so the owner can work an eight-hour shift. Now, a lot of the owners will actually own three horses so he can work for three shifts because then he can make more income during that day. They are only supposed to carry three adults plus one driver. Anything more than that it’s overloaded. The carts need to be loaded a certain way for the longevity of the horses. The Cidomos are monitored very strictly. The Dongo carts are our current problem They are supposed to have a load limit of 500 kilograms and someone has determined how many cases of beer that is, how many pieces of bamboo, and how many bricks, and they work five hours a day with one day off but they are not as strictly monitored. So, the Cidomos have to clock in and out. They have to tell them which horse they’re switching to but the Donga carts are not as strictly monitored. That’s still something that we’re working on is getting the load limits on the Donga Carts more strictly enforced and more strictly monitored because those horses are the ones working harder. For instance, right now, our government has decided that we need these great new roads. We do need new roads but they’ve also given them a time limit in which to do them which means the horses are working twice as much in a shorter time to accomplish what they’ve been told to accomplish, but they didn’t take into account the fact that the bricks they want to carry were being carried by horses not trucks and that we can’t carry them any faster than we can.

Horses of Gili
Based on 18 reviews
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Gabor SzunyoghGabor Szunyogh
05:18 10 Apr 24
We where very lucky to find this animal rescue next to our accommodation. My kids went to wash and feed the horses.Turns out watermelon skin is one of the favourite treats for horses so we saved ours. Luckily we went for a swim with the horses aswell. Great experience highly recommended Tory and her team does an amazing job to help the local community to make sure that the workhorses are fed with nutrients, watered with fresh water, the wounds are treated with antiseptics, the working hours and the mandatory day off rules are followed.... on the top of that she is trying to save as many abused/overworked horses as she can.
Luke SmithLuke Smith
08:13 09 Mar 24
Great way to spend an hour of our day. The horses were very loved by the owners and very well looked after. Definitely recommended.
Morgan JonesMorgan Jones
06:31 29 Jun 23
I had a great experience riding on the beach here! The horses were really well looked after and in great condition. I had Ryan take me out for a gallop along the beach and it’s one of my favourite things I’ve done while travelling! Would highly recommend riding with this company
Andre KollAndre Koll
14:17 25 Apr 23
We have been supporting a pony for a long time and have now convinced ourselves of the organization on site. Tori and her volunteers do a great job helping horses in need
L StL St
03:08 07 Dec 22
Horses of Gili is doing an amazing job to make our planet a little better.The horses are treated with so much love and they take care of them really good. Also the stables are very clean and the horses look great.Everyone there is so friendly and supportive.If you want to explore the island by horse car, go with Horses or Gili!Highly recommend👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼
S. TanS. Tan
12:33 21 Jun 22
Come here and meet the horses stabled and looked after here.Horses of gili does good things for the local horses and raises sorely neeeded awareness.Fantastic to have a place like this on the island!

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