For two of my weeks on the island of Langkawi, I took time out from volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter and headed over to Island Horses to volunteer there. I had originally planned to volunteer there longer, but due to an unforseen event, was only able to do two weeks.
I’ve been a rider for most of my life but hadn’t been near any horses for over a year at this point, so needless to say I was so thrilled to finally be back in their presence. Perhaps only horse people will be able to relate to that the smell in the air when approaching a horse facility. It is perhaps my favorite in the world as it smells like coming home to me!
Island Horses is a working stable with three main functions. First, they train endurance horses and have a team that competes worldwide (in fact during my time there the owner and his son were in Argentina for a competition!). Second, it’s a breeding facility for Malay Arabian horses and finally, they offer jungle and beach riding tours for tourists. They are very safety conscientious when it comes to taking riding tours out, which of course is very important!
As a volunteer at Island Horses a bed and bathroom were provided (shared with staff) but meals were not. However the GeoPark (where the cable car was located) and the seven falls waterfall national park, were only a 5 to 10 minute walk away. There, a variety of foods could be found all reasonably priced.
As a volunteer I was assigned 5 horses to care for and an aisle of horses to water 3 times a day. Our days started at 7am until 7pm with a lunch break from 12-2:30pm. All that was expected of me was to groom each horse twice a day as the stalls and feeding were done by the staff. While I did spend my first day simply grooming my five horses (essentially with a fine-toothed comb so I could get to know every inch of them to get a baseline for any changes during my time there), three days didn’t even pass before I’d incorporated other little tasks to my daily duties.
I will admit that the first several days there were tough for me. And not for any other reason except perhaps a bit of cultural differences and the natural environment. The way I’d been raised to care for horses was not the standard I’d found there. I’m not saying the horses were not cared for, because they were all fed quite well and watered appropriately and such, but other things in my opinion, were not up to snuff. However, what made it extra tough was the natural terrain and weather of the environment, which made caring for horses in general that much harder. Wounds don’t heal as fast as they would in dry environments and keeping stalls dry is equally difficult during the wet season.
As someone who was simply coming and going in only two weeks, my business there wasn’t to complain and point out all the things I thought weren’t right, but rather to simply lend my hand and do my job (so to speak). So it was by the third day I’d made up my mind to take care of my five horses as if they were personally mine. On top of daily grooming I also began to take care of cleaning their stalls, treating their boo-boos and cleaning equipment used for them.
In the short time I was there, I rode twice on the beach and through the jungle. It was such an amazing feeling to be back on a horse!! Words simply can’t express the exhilaration I felt! It was also funny to me because while I’d been used to riding draft horses and having to physically put in a lot of work just to make them and KEEP them moving forward, I’d almost forgotten how easy it is to get Arabians to move forward, lol!! And while I would have loved to have ridden more, since I was young it’s been instilled in me that as horse people our primary concern is for the care of the horse. Riding is a privilege and comes only after all the needs of the animal are met.
The facility itself is undeniably in one of the most beautiful locations on the island. Surrounded by lush jungle, nestled at the base of one of the mountain ranges and only minutes from the beach, I certainly got spoiled living in such a beautiful environment. The wildlife in the area was also fantastic. Aside from the horses, cats and dogs at the stables we would also be frequently visited by deer, two types of monkeys, water monitors, bats, snakes, wild boar and stray dogs! It practically was its own zoo!
While I was only there two weeks, leaving was just as hard as if I’d been there years. Leaving the animals of course was the hardest part for me but also leaving Amirah (my staff roommate) and Shanto (a 12 year volunteer) was very tough. Even in that short time I felt like part of the family and welcomed in ways I hadn’t imagined. I think of them daily, as I do my family at the Bon Ton shelter, and look forward to being able to return there again.