With their rustic charm, golden sand beaches and glistening turquoise waters, the Gili Islands in Indonesia come close to paradise. During my 2 days in Gili Trawangan the archipelago certainly captured a piece of my heart! However, the islands also have a dark secret: the suffering of the Cidomo Horses which are synonymous with life on the Gili’s…
**Post Updated June 2020
What are Cidomo Horses? –
All standing under 14.2 hands (technically making them ponies) the Cidomo Horses are mainly all imported from Lombok. Once wild, their ancestors were captured and tamed by local Sasak people (who you can read more about in my Lombok day trip itinerary).
Today, part of the Gili’s charm is the fact that no motor vehicles are allowed on the Islands. However, this means that all the burden of transporting people and goods has fallen onto the horses… They’ve been trained to pull large vibrant carts, known locally as Cidomo’s: hence the general name given to them!
My Experience on Gili Trawangan –
When I arrived at Gili Trawangan’s port, the first thing I saw was rows of the small horses attached to Cidomo’s. As a horse lover/owner I immediately went over to say hello. It was at this point that an owner offered me an overpriced ride to my hotel…
Not understanding how close my hotel was to the port, I accepted and climbed aboard. It was a decision I immediately regretted as the driver whipped the horse into a fast paced trot, despite the stifling mid day heat. I felt like telling him to let the poor horse walk, but chickened out, something I’ve felt guilty about ever since!
HINT: if you visit Gili T don’t be as naive as me! The island is pretty small, most hotels and guesthouses are less than 1km from the port – WALK!
This was only the first time I felt as though the Cidomo Horses were suffering! During the remainder of my time on the Gili Islands, I witnessed several of the horses buckling under the weight of literally bulging carts. Further, many were underweight and emaciated. They appeared to have little social interaction with other horses, and were constantly uncomfortable due to ill fitting harnesses.
However, what was worse were the hours I noticed some of the horses working… I recognised one horse I’d seen in the morning still working at 11pm (probably without a break).
The suffering of these beautiful horses was quite clear to see! By the end of my stay, it made me angry to see tourists loading their heavy cases onto the back of the carts, couldn’t they tell the horses were exhausted – perhaps it’s harder for non horse owners to recognise? This said, I couldn’t help but feel a hypocrite, after all I myself took a Cidomo ride when I arrived on the island.
Because of this, I feel it’s important to help educate visitors before they arrive at the Gili’s, so other animal lovers don’t make the same mistakes as I initially did! Especially since most articles I’ve read seem to praise the Cidomos, stating that they add to the Gilis ‘tranquil vibes’.
In addition, I wanted to make sure that this post was backed up by accurate information. So following my trip, I did some research on the true extent of the suffering of the Gili horses, and below you’ll see what I found.
The extent of the Cidomo Horse’s suffering –
What I witnessed on the island is only the tip of the iceberg. According to several charities websites, the Cidomo Horses receive no veterinary care, are given only salt water to drink and insufficient food. On top of this, many have no shelter. Those that do are tied so tightly that they can’t even lie down.
If this isn’t bad enough, some activists state that the owners ensure tourists mainly see the healthier animals. This means the horses in the worse condition are kept out of tourists eyes and instead work pulling massively overloaded carts full of building material and supplies to the islands hotels and guesthouses.
Whipped and beaten, to keep them moving, the Cidomo Horses on the Gili islands are literally worked till death. It’s estimated that they live a mere 1-3 years – in comparison you’d expect a healthy horse to live to at least 20.
Although this is terrible, I want to clarify that by no means every horse on the island is suffering. Of course they’ll be owners who care for their horses with the utmost love. I for one witnessed a man (who obviously cared for his horse) washing his pony down in the ocean after a days work.
Whats Being Done about the Cidomo Horses Suffering –
I struggle to believe that the owners of the Cidomo Horses are cruel. Every single person I met on the islands, was kind and honest. In many cases, it’s simply a matter of lack of education. It may seem absurd to us that owners don’t understand that their animals need fresh (not salt) water, but this is often the case!
Thankfully over recent years, several organisations, such as the Gili Carriage Horse Support Network have been working tirelessly to educate horse owners on the islands, offering free clinics twice a month, and stressing the importance of fresh water.
Further measures have been brought in to improve the situation such as weight restrictions (although they are not yet properly enforced) and ensuring horses harness’s are fitted correctly.
However, the situation is still no-where near good. Some even say its getting worse as more and more tourists flock to the island, meaning even more work for the horses. For me, the best answer would be to get rid of the Cidomos. Although its not likely cars would be introduced, increasing the number of bicycles and introducing pedicarts (like the ones you see in India) could help ease the strain.
This said, I’m not an expert and the above idea is unlikely to be plausible in the real world. The situation is heartbreaking and complicated, but not unlike that of 1000’s of working horses, mules and donkeys around the globe.
For now, the best we can do as visitors to the Gili Islands is to help decrease the demand for Cidomos by walking or cycling until the situation improves. Other than this, it’s best to leave it to the experts! Here are the links to the main organisations working together to make a difference:
1) Gili Carriage Horse Support Network
DISCLAIMER: There are some activists that propose a boycott of the Gili Islands. However this was not my purpose for writing this post. As I said at the beginning, I overall think the Gilis are a fantastic place. My time on the island brought many happy memories! I simply wanted to share the plight of the horses, so travellers will think twice before stepping into a Cidomo.
For me, it’s my mission to explore ‘Earth’s Magical Places’, and while I always try and be positive on this blog, I believe it’s important to tell the full story, not just the nice parts about golden beaches and tropical getaways!
As always, thanks for reading! If you were affected by this post, support and donate to the linked charities to help 🙂
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I feel your anguish over these beautiful creatures. I used to work as a volunteer at a Donkey Sanctuary (a UK charity) and they work tirelessly across the globe to raise awareness, support and educate donkey owners. One project they are working on is Santorini and working together with the cruise liners to reduce the plight of the Donkey’s welfare there. It is heart breaking to see animals being worked to death and mistreated and we can only hope that our blogs will go some way to relieving the situation just an inch.
I’d love to be involved in a project like that! Its so heartbreaking that animals are abused all over the world, but at-least there’s just as many fantastic organisation trying to make things better!
Agreed – if my posts makes one person think twice, its a win in my book 🙂
Thanks for reading and your lovely comment x
It’s so sad the way the horses are treated, but I wonder how much of it has to do with economic pressures (both to force the horses to work as fast/hard as possible in order to maximize what people get out of them, and because horse care is expensive). It makes me wonder what would happen if every visitor to the Gilis were charged a “cidamo tax” on arrival that went to help address those pressures.
Cidomo Tax is such a good idea! I totally agree that it must be to do with economic pressures. For a-lot of people on the island the horses are their only source of income
This is hardly unique to the Gilis. In Spain I saw horses working long hours with little water, no social interaction and they could barely see due to these screens near their eyes. I went on a walking tour and the guide told us the horses are crazy. Of course they’re crazy under these conditions! Sadly the kind of tourism that requires horse transportation doesn’t seem to be declining, but some are better than others. At least in Charleston the horses can drink water. I’m glad you wrote this post, I’ve been meaning to write something about the horses in Spain for ages.
I’m shocked that they’re treated like that in a first world country like Spain! At least on the Gili’s you can put it down to poor economics and lack of education – Not that there’s any excuse
This is so sad! Unfortunately, many of us fall into similar traps throughout our life and similar stuff happens all around the world, but, as you did, it’s important to learn from it and try to educate others as well as much as we can 🙂
yes totally agree! I Wouldn’t normally take a carriage but I suppose I was just taken a-back when offered a ride and didn’t know how to refuse
Ugh. This is truly heartbreaking. It’s why I won’t even photograph the horse drawn carriages all over NY. Thanks for giving insight into this 🙁
Aww, those poor sweet horses. I try to be cognizant of how animals are exploited for tourism but sometimes it is hard to see when the locals normalize it. It is great that you are educating people about this travesty.
Thank-you! Couldn’t agree more, makes me so upset! Its such a big problem all around the world, but a complicated one to resolve….
I think what’s very important to note here is: The horses were not brought to Gili for the tourists. They have been used to pull carts and carry loads long before the idea of tourists existed. Also, they are an asset to their owners. So, as you said, there is no willful neglect but simply a lack of knowledge and access to, for example, fresh water. Mind you, the shorter the animal lives, the sooner the owner will have to get a new one…
That being said, I like the idea of supporting charities that educate and provide fresh water, veterinary services, etc.
And one thing every tourist/traveler can do is to have a close look at the animal before getting on board – if you see sores or the animal being boney, etc. say something like “No, your horse is not healthy!” In the long run that should raise awareness among the owners if they want to continue to earn tourist dollars…
Personally, regardless of where I am, I prefer walking over being carted around anyways 🙂
Happy continued travels!
Yes that’s totally true, these are working horses! By nature they’re tough and sturdy. However, their work-load has increased 10 fold since the introduction of tourism, which is where the problems lie.
Again couldn’t agree more that they’re an asset to their owners. For many driving Cidomo’s is the only in-come they can find.
But yes, as travellers we should all do out part to improve the situation!
Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂
Thankfully, you are not the first person to address the suffwring of these poor animals. A great cause and so glad you are spreading the word. I hate seeing animals suffer for human benefit.
I really appreciate your article and the fact that you draw attention to the problem! When I was on Gili T I noticed the exact same thing and refused to take a carriage anywhere. I was shocked at how malnourished the horses were and it was obvious that quite a few that I saw were ill. I really hope that the island will improve their conditions soon!
Thanks for your comment! I’m surprised more people don’t notice – but yes hopefully things will improve
I remember the first time I witnessed an animal rights issue abroad.. I was in Mexico. These exhausted horses were giving rides on the beach and they were being whipped and led to drink ocean water.. thank you so much for bringing attention to this.
Poor ponies! That sounds awful – unfortunately its something the happens all around the globe – Thanks for reading
I am a huge animal lover and lived on Gili Air for 15 months. I never once caught a cidomo instead I carried my 33kg backpack and day bag to the north of the island when I first arrived, and continued to carry my own luggage whenever I moved accommodation. It just never felt right and the more people use them, the more they lush the price up and the more they are worked, however they had to be a balance after all, this is people’s livelihood after all, so more education and more government assistance would be good. Throughout my time in Gili Air, every single horse that I saw I made sure I looked at them properly which is a lot of horses! Thankfully the instances of hardship were few and far between, some cidomo owners had a couple of horses which they would rotate, most stopped working after dark (6pm) and most had a sheltered “home” to spend the night. I say “most” because I obviously can’t speak for all the horses as I didn’t walk around every inch of the island inland.
There are 2 different types of horses, the tourist horses that drive the cidomo and worker horses that carry tanks/veg/shop supplies around the island. All are working horses to be honest and they are all naturally a smaller breed than the western world is used to seeing. The situation is worse in Gili T than Gili Air due to the number of tourists but an introduction of bike carts would be good actually as it would still give people jobs. The charities that are there are amazing and the Horses of Gili also need a mention.
It’s a difficult situation and tourists need to be more aware before they just jump on a cidomo. If it doesn’t feel right, if the driver is whipping or going to fast, we all have to speak up because the horse can’t have it’s say.
100% agree with everything you’ve said, its good that you got to walk around and see where the horses are living, only spending a few days on the island I wasn’t able to do that! The charities are indeed excellent and bringing bike carts would go a long way to resolving the problems, seems so simple really
This is heartbreaking…. I am currently visiting Gili T and yes, as soon as I disembarked from the speedboat I was aggressively solicited to travel to my hotel by cidomo. My senses said no and I actually told the drivers that it’s too sad for the horses! We are staying the farthest point from the harbor and we rented rickety bikes and the guys helped strap our suitcase to the back. Off we rode! My bum is so sore but I feel much better about it than the guilty conscience of making the horse carry my crap. Thanks for the post! It validated what we intuitively felt was wrong.
Well done for cycling! Definitely worth it, Hopefully they’ll start looking after the poor horses soon
Oh my gosh, wow such a stunning place & you photograph it so well. wow, so many interesting facts here. Thanks for the creative post!