There may not seem to be many interesting things to do in Salatiga, an impressive city in the middle of the province of Central Java, Indonesia. It’s not a major tourist destination, and when you see numerous international visitors there, most of them are not really tourists. They are either international students or professors studying and teaching at the local university (Satya Wacana Christian University).
However, you will be surprised to find that some of them are actually not teaching or attending classes in the university, but instead, they go to a horse riding school named ‘Havana Horses’! A horse riding school in Salatiga? Yes! There is one in the city’s outskirt where you can spend some time learning everything about horses, and even ride a horse around the surrounding villages. This is a big 'WOW’ factor for those of you who are traveling to Central Java!
Get up close with horses in their natural environment
Welcome to the world of horses! Seeing a horse might be a rather usual thing for most of you, as you can easily see them on TV. Also, many of you may have previously done horseback riding too. However, how many of you have witnessed horses roaming together in an outdoor environment? Maybe not so many!
These are not wild horses. They are domesticated and trained for horseback riding. However, the way Havana handles the horses are very natural. Unlike most other horse farms, where they keep these animals in small stables, the horses here live in a herd in a confined outdoor environment for 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week!
I understand why horses normally have to stay in their stables. This is to make it easier for people to put bridles and saddles onto the horses. However, this is against their nature, as horses naturally prefer to live freely in a herd, hence you will be able to see their natural behavior, just like those in the wild. You will see some running and chasing one another, standing with their rear legs while neighing and kicking with their front legs, or roll on the sand, where you can’t see such things when each horse is kept individually in a stable for most of the day. The horses here are really cared for with respect and love.
What and how you learn
What can you learn in a horse riding school? Is it just about riding a horse? No, it’s much more than that. First, you learn how to put a bridle and saddle onto a horse,and walk a horse with a leading rope. However, it’s not easy, and it takes time to do that, especially when putting the bridle on its mouth and head area, as you need to be able to read the horse’s body language, and you and the horse need to get to know each other.
Body language, you ask? For instance, when the horse runs away each time you want to put the bridle on, it can mean the horse is nervous, perhaps because you are new to the horse. What should you do in this instance? Don’t run or make sudden movements, as it will make the horse even more nervous. Stay calm and always try to approach the horse, and pat them when you get the chance to touch it, before you put the bridle on. After the bridle is on the head, you then learn how to control a horse from the ground, and learn to walk the animal. One thing to note, is to never follow the horse from behind to avoid the strong kick by their rear legs.
Find the right balance
Once you gain control over your horse, you can start to ride it. If you are a beginner, or if this is your very first time horseback riding, the trainer will teach you the correct way to ride a horse. Basically, it’s about finding the right balance while on top of the horse. The focus is not on the stronghold of the strap, but on how you will be able to sit straight and firmly when the horse begins to run.
After you master balancing the body, he will then teach you how to use the strap to ‘drive’ the horse (e.g. to pull right for the right turn or to pull both sides for a halt).This is an important skill to learn, as you want to be sitting on the horse without falling during a ride.
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Witness rural Java from horseback
After you learn the basics, it’s time to apply what you have learned, and have a ride outside the school’s compound. During the ride, you will be accompanied by your instructor. He will show you the route, and provide assistance when needed. The ride takes about an hour, and you will ride through a forest full of banana and papaya trees, paddy fields, and villages (this is where your balancing lessons apply!).
It’s surprising that despite the fact of Java being one of the world’s busiest and populated islands, you can still easily find serenity! You will meet farmers working in the fields, and during school holidays (December-January and July-August) or on the weekends you will also find children flying kites there. These people are so friendly and welcoming!
Bring your horse to graze and drink
Near the end of the journey, you will stop at a shallow river to let the horse graze and drink. These horses are definitely well-fed in their compound, but after the nearly 1-hour journey, they can’t resist drinking the fresh spring water, and grazing on the nutritious vegetations growing by the river bank. You need to take the saddle off its back and walk the horse to the water (you’ve also learned this lesson from the school). Wear tall boots if you don’t want to get wet. Again, during school holidays, or on the weekends, you will see some local kids playing around the area.
The best horse riding experience in Indonesia
It takes time to learn horseback riding, and if you feel 1 day isn’t enough to learn about horses, you can always add on another day. The class starts from 9am and ends at 4pm (open on public holidays and weekends, but closed every Monday) and it costs 1,300,000 IDR (96 USD) for the 1-day class. You can also ask them to arrange your accommodation, airport pickup, and daily transport from and to your hotel.
Although there are some horse riding activities in Western Java and Bali, the way one learns to handle horses, and how horses are treated in here, are a few of the things you won’t find elsewhere in the country.
From Jakarta, take the plane to Adi Sucipto international airport in Yogyakarta before having a 2 to 3 hour drive to Salatiga. The town is conveniently located among other major cities in Central Java, such as Semarang, Solo, and Magelang (the famous Borobudur temple is located here). So what are you waiting for? Wherever you are in the country, this is an activity you shouldn’t miss.
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