Even if you don’t spend a lot of time around horses, you’re probably familiar with what happens to race horses that get injured: they get the double barrel treatment. While maybe today we have more humane methods to do away with sick horses, it’s a common trope that horses kick the bucket when they’re no longer able to serve. Even for horses that don’t race, like the working horse Boxer from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, for example, they got carted off and turned into glue.
So when one of our writers visited a riding club hidden away in a housing area in Seri Kembangan last weekend, he was a bit surprised to see what’s happening there. Some of their horses are obviously injured: one was limping about gingerly with a wrapped foreleg, while another was walking around with all four legs slightly swollen. And they’re all very much alive. Before you call the SPCA, no, they’re not being exploited to the point of abuse.
So what’s going on then? Well, after a conversation with one of the volunteers there, we learned that these horses are being ‘repaired’ at this place. Naturally, we got intrigued, so we spoke to the very, very laid-back owner of the place, Abang Man, to find out more. And as it turned out…
The Rimba Riding Club is an informal shelter for unwanted horses
You know how some animal lovers would take in stray cats or dogs just for the heck of it? Well, this is definitely the case with Abang Man, except his favorite animals are horses. Abang Man’s late father used to be a farrier (which means that he fitted horseshoes for a living), so he sort of picked up the interest very early on. Having dropped out of school in Form 3, he worked the stables of Selangor Polo Club once he turned 18.
At that time, it seems that you become a horse carer by apprenticeship. He told us that if you wanted to work in the stables, you have to show up and help out, at first by doing stuff like clearing the sawdust from the floor of the stables and cleaning the feeding troughs. After a few months, he was eventually tasked with the care of one or two horses, with a pay of RM150 a month. He also learned how to fit horseshoes from his father, and when his father grew too old for the job, he replaced him. Thus began a long career of dealing with horses.
Knowing that, it’s no surprise that he decided to open a riding club of his own, called the Rimba Riding Club. While some of the horses there were his own, he told us that most of them are retired horses that he either asked for or were given to him. These horses are mostly either former racing horses or polo ponies, and they got sent over because they either can’t race anymore because of their injuries or old age, or simply because the previous owners don’t want to keep them around anymore.
“Sometimes there are lame horses, thin horses… they send them over. The owners don’t have the heart to kill them, so they gave them to me. ‘Do you want this horse? I’ll give it to you.‘ So I took them in. Just like how people would give you a cat, ‘Do you want a Persian cat? I’ll send him over‘. But they didn’t send me a picture first. The next thing I know they’re here. Just like that. Whether I want it or not, I’ll take them in.” – Abang Man, in an interview with Cilisos.
But it’s not all because of neglect. Some of the horses, like a certain white horse, were there because the previous owner knew how Abang Man loves horses, so he decided to give it to him for free instead of selling it away. The only condition was that Abang Man cannot sell off the horse. The owner would still call from time to time to ask how his horse is doing, and Abang Man would send him a picture to show that the horse is doing well.
As for the sick and injured horses, well, apparently Abang Man picked up some unorthodox methods for horse care during his four decades of experience. Because one of the astonishing things we heard was that…
To cure stomach pain in horses, they were given… black coffee?
Apparently, stomach pain is a pretty serious problem in horses. They would be rolling about on the ground for a few hours, after which they die if not treated. It seems the professional term for this is colic, and this article about colic in horses is complicated enough to cause anxiety if you’re reading it while your horse is rolling about. Abang Man’s solution for this life threatening and complicated disease? A bottle of kopi O. This is also the treatment for when horses can’t pee as well.
“If you see a horse just lying about in the daytime, that’s a cause of worry. If it starts rolling, you have to quickly take it to the paddock. Buy some coffee, and mix it with water. Make like, one big mineral water bottle’s worth. Then force the horse to drink it, using a rubber hose. It’s pretty effective. I’ve done it to a lot of horses, and they’re all okay.” – Abang Man, to Cilisos.
We don’t know the exact logic behind this, but colic seems to be kind of like constipation, and coffee seems to have laxative effects, at least in people. That would also explain why it helps horses with peeing, but we’re not vets, so we can’t say for sure. But if Abang Man’s testimony is anything to go by, apparently it works, so that’s that. The affected horses will be given water with some salt in it afterwards, probably to rehydrate it. We were also told of another, more drastic treatment for this, and that is to jam a rubber hose up the horse’s butt and give it an enema.
That was when we switched the topic and asked about other common ailments he saw in horses. He mentioned that horses would often bleed or get scraped if not given enough bedding (or was trashing on the ground because of stomach pain), or even from their daily runs. These have to be treated immediately by cleaning them and smearing talcum powder or sulphur on them. If left for too long, there’s a tendency for maggots to get in, and the way to treat those is the same, with the addition of cockroach repellent for some reason. We did not question this.
Scabies (might be mange?) are treated by smearing baby oil or coconut oil on the affected areas, which makes sense if you rationalize it as suffocating the mites causing the disease in oil. But perhaps the most counter-intuitive treatment we’ve heard of is making sickly or injured horses walk. Apparently, horses need to keep walking to stay healthy. If you only rest a horse without taking it out for a long time, it will waste away and grow skinny, no matter how much you feed them.
“Racing horses always need to be trained. Once you stop training them, their bodies will drop and waste away. This isn’t so much the case with polo ponies. Racing horses are like bodybuilding athletes, they need to keep running. Even if you feed them a lot, if you don’t put them to work, they will grow bony. They need the work, like three or four times a week. If you don’t train them, their belies will stick out, and their backs will drop.” – Abang Man, to Cilisos.
Hold up. Put them to work? Well, it is a riding club after all, and most of the horses give out rides, depending on how strong they are as part of their rehab. But despite this place being a riding club in name…
It’s probably the chillest riding club you’ll ever find in Selangor
We haven’t been to a lot of riding clubs in the past (the writer is slurping Maggi for dinner as he’s writing this), but this place is so laid-back it’s almost bizarre. There seem to be no real operating hours or memberships, and even the prices seem to be guided by the owner’s whim and perception of what’s affordable. There seem to be no apparent structure, and in fact we had a hard time figuring out who’s the owner at first since no one wore uniforms, and the actual guy was out in the middle of the riding field shoveling sand.
Despite that, the place is a hit with people from all walks of life. There’s children from the neighborhood who came to get rides or just look at the horses, the autistic and blind who came for their horse-riding therapies, adults who wanted to learn how to ride, the elderly who just came to chill out and pass the time of the day, and even local celebrities who managed to find the place. During our interview, even members of the royalty was there, one of them an acquaintance of Abang Man from his riding club days who sometimes go there to help him train the horses.
“He actually has a membership at the club in Bukit Kiara, but he likes to come here. He says here is friendly, easy… clubs can sometimes be a hassle. Because of that, this place attracts some celebrities as well, as they can come and ride a horse anytime they want. If you’re in a club, you need to have a membership, you have to register, you have to set an appointment… there’s a lot to do. Here you can just show up and ride. It’s relaxed.” – Abang Man, to Cilisos.
Still, don’t take our word for it. If you feel like seeing the place for yourselves, they can be found on Google Maps under ‘Rimba Riding Club‘, and you can check out their FB and Instagram if you want to find out more on what to expect. Or you can always call up Abang Man himself at 012-2254391.