According to Chinese astrology, the Year of the Horse is a time for fast victories, unexpected adventure and surprising romance. It is an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten track the better.
On Lombok, not only do you have the deserted beaches of Seger, Serenting and Tanjung Aan, but you can also venture into the forest and acquaint yourself with the local Sasak villages.
I found myself entering a cool, dark forest trail. I was in Sasak country, South Lombok, and soon the forest cleared and I was riding alongside a rice field with the rice stalks brushing the bottom of my chaps. This was a first for me, discovering that rice not only grows on terraced hillsides but also can be cultivated and grown deep in the forest.
I continued on the trail and then came to a grove of tall coconut trees. The canopy provided an umbrella of shady relief and then, by some prescriptive magic, I was crossing a picture-perfect cool mountain stream. My fine four-legged friend provided a welcome spray of hoof-shower droplets, which lightly sprinkled me as I rode.
Riding in South Lombok is a refreshing experience in nature. My previous riding experience had only extended to horse arenas in cities, which is a great grounding in learning the skills required to handle a horse and grasping the technique of that somewhat awkward grace of trotting. But experiencing a trail ride takes horse riding to another level. The opportunity to be riding through nature, observing the stillness of the trees, falling into the mesmerising, gentle rhythm of the horse and being at one with a magnificent 17-hand beauty is a truly profound experience.
Soon we came upon a Sasak village. There was a pretty exciting vibe in this small traditional village as wedding preparations were taking place. The women were busy making offerings, and the young girls were dressed in their best lace and finery. I asked one of the elders when the wedding was going to start. “Oh, we do not know, really. Sometime in the afternoon, or maybe later this evening. Sometimes a bride and her groom can take a very long time to get ready. We don’t mind waiting.” She said this with a huge warm smile that spread across her time-honoured, weathered face.
The next part of our three-hour horse trek led us out of the forest and onto the beach. The beaches of South Lombok are protected from development and are totally pristine. Tanjung Aan beach sweeps around the southern peninsula of Lombok to reveal a picture-perfect blue lagoon. The chalky white sand and the crystal-clear waters cradle the horseshoe-shaped bay, juxtaposed with two vivid green grassy hills at either end. These two verdant apple-green hills looked to me like perfect golf greens. As I approached the grassy knoll for a better view of this spectacular beach, I was delighted to find a natural stone staircase leading to the top.
My love of horses increased ten-fold on the next part of my unique riding adventure. The horses were led into the azure waters and de-saddled. I had been told beforehand to bring my swimmers, but I did not know I was going to bathe and swim with these beautiful steeds. My gorgeous jet-black horse, named Blackie, allowed me to slip onto her back and swim with her at chest height in the water. The feel of her silky fine coat and water-soaked skin was heavenly. I felt at one with this mighty animal as I hung on to her mane for balance and, for the first time in my life, rode bareback. What a feeling! I was so excited, as were my other riding companions, and there was plenty of hoopla and outbursts of laughter and delight as together we experienced this most unusual sensation, heightened by the fact that we were so close and able to be so tactile with our own horse. Our guide, Eka, encouraged us to jump off their back and slip on again and play games in the water. The horses loved it, and I was told by Eka that when children have this horse-bathing experience it is something quite special to watch – the way the horses and the children relate. In fact, one feels instantly childlike when playing in the water with a horse. We were not rushed at any point to go back to the beach and head on home. Everything was so relaxed and so easy – I could have stayed for hours.
Added to the fun and frolicking, the coolness of the water was a welcome relief. We had ridden for three hours in 30 ̊C heat. The soothing relief and benefit of the welcome water therapy was just the remedy for my aching sore muscles. You rarely use your leg muscles in the way you do when horse riding, so no matter how fit you are it is hard to prepare for it fitness-wise.
A beautiful tea service was waiting for us back at Eudaimon Villas (www.villa-lombok.com), served in fine bone-china teacups, and the rest of the afternoon was spent admiring the dramatic ocean views from the teak terrace. A hilltop hideaway haven, Eudaimon offers an extensive wine selection and a menu of fine French food, Indonesian fare or a fresh seafood catch of the day, all prepared at your own schedule in liaison with your villa cook. Pierre, the French owner, has thought of every luxurious item right down to genuine Cuban cigars, fine tea selections including Palais des Thés and Mariage Frères Paris, and imported liqueurs.
As I sat sipping my delicately delicious tea and dusk settled around this perfect evening, I contemplated my next Year of the Horse. Lombok is a secret spot tucked away in Sasak country, and on horseback is certainly one of the most enchanting ways to discover its beauty.
5 Senses – Sight
One very common sight in Lombok is horse racing. In the town of Praya, young boys (under ten) ride bareback and draw big crowds at the weekly meets. Most young jockeys start training at around four years old and they hit their peak at seven years old. Once a jockey hits ten he retires. It is said their legs are naturally bow shaped and perfect for gripping the horse, which is necessary as they race at high speeds and have no saddle.
5 Senses – Touch
Dress The Part
What to wear when riding? It is best to wear tight trousers or leggings. Do not wear jeans as the inside seam will rub and chafe. No shorts. Chaps help to give a bit more protection for your legs (Eudaimon provide them). Wear a T-shirt or tight top. You will be passing by branches and low trees at times so you want to avoid loose items that might catch. Trainers or running shoes are fine, or if you have boots already, small boots with a small heel work well.
5 Senses – Sound
If you are lucky, you may catch a major festival in Lombok and witness a traditional Sasak drumming performance. Men wear colourful dress and carry the Gendang Beleg (big drums) across their bodies. These drums produce a distinctive sound and fill the air with a mesmerising beat. The drummers train for years and are extremely skilled and graceful in their performance.
5 Senses – Taste
For the ultimate romantic dinner, spoil yourself and your partner with a private dinner on the beach under the stars. Enjoy the natural beauty of a secluded beach with freshly caught seafood served by your own personal chef who prepares gourmet temptations in the most romantic candlelit setting. As the stars appear above you, your toes connect with the sand below you and the breeze whispers around you, this unique setting will provide the most memorable evening of enchantment.
Story by Stephanie Brookes
Photos by David Metcalf