JAKARTA: It has been more than two months since horse-drawn carriage coachman Agus last provided a proper meal for his horse. Instead, it has to graze on roadside grass or feed on leftover vegetables.
“I can no longer afford it,” the 52-year-old bemoaned, adding that he usually spent 30,000 rupiah (US$2) to 50,000 rupiah a day on horse feed, which consists of more nutritious rice and grains.
Then there is also the cost of purchasing vitamins and anti-worm medications for his horse. “I can barely feed myself,” said Agus, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Agus and his fellow coachmen lost their livelihood on Mar 14 when the Jakarta government closed all city parks and tourist areas - the only places where horse-drawn carriages are allowed to operate for recreational purposes - to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Two months without proper feed is starting to take a toll on Agus’ ageing stallion, with its rib cage getting increasingly visible.
"My horse used to be healthy and strong but now it is getting thinner. It could be from the food it has been eating, or perhaps it is stressed because it is not active and moving around as much as before," the coachman told CNA.
Agus’ stallion is not the only horse on the verge of malnourishment. A dozen horses, which take shelter underneath a toll road in Sungai Bambu, North Jakarta, are in a similar dire state.
Several horses also appear to be suffering from skin lesions of varying degrees of severity, a telltale sign that they might be harbouring parasites.
At the other end of the underpass, two-wheeled carriages lay idle with their colorful paper decorations still attached.
Meanwhile, the horses’ bridles, straps, blinders and pads are mounted on the underpass’ columns and girders or placed on hitching posts, unused and collecting dust.
There are 14 coachmen living in rented houses in North Jakarta’s Sungai Bambu area, where they have access to an open space and grass growing on the banks of a nearby lake.
Before the pandemic, the coachmen would drive their carriages for an hour to the National Monument Park in Central Jakarta or the seaside tourist area Ancol in North Jakarta.
After work, the horses were left in the makeshift stable underneath the elevated highway.
Agus told CNA he could earn 500,000 rupiah on weekends and up to 300,000 rupiah on weekdays.
Sometimes, people would hire him for traditional-themed weddings, photo shoots, parades and even corporate events.
But because of COVID-19 and the social restriction order which bars gatherings and events, his income has been reduced to zero.
“Luckily, my daughter supports me and help pay for food and rent,” he said.
But Agus said he is reluctant to ask for more money to take care of his horse from his daughter, who works as a low-wage clerk at an optical store.
“I’m supposed to be the one providing for my family,” he said.
Suwadi, another coachman, also felt the same way about asking for money from his three children.
“They have their own family to take care of,” the 50-year-old told CNA.
Suwadi, who also goes by one name, said while he still have some savings in the bank, the money is depleting fast.
“I only have enough money to pay my house rent for two more months,” he said.
Several of his coachmen friends have become homeless and were forced to construct makeshift houses out of bamboos and used plywood boards, near where the horses are.
To stretch his savings further, Suwadi said he has been going to relief kitchens hoping to land some food and donations.
HELP IS ON THE WAY
Femke den Haas, co-founder of the Jakarta Animal Rights Network said there are 65 horse-drawn carriages operating in Jakarta and most are in a similar condition to the ones in Sungai Bambu.
“Because of the coronavirus, the horses are fed grass. A horse’s main staple food is grass, but unfortunately grasses in Jakarta only grow on the side of polluted roads or near polluted rivers,” she told CNA.
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The lack of nutritious food made them more susceptible to diseases and parasites which like to dwell in damp and unsanitary places like the makeshift stable of Sungai Bambu.
The animal rights group said they will soon provide anti-worm medications to the horses with the help of their counterpart, Animals Australia.
The group also promised to give rice to help improve the horses’ nutritional intake.
The effort is welcomed by Suwadi, who is particularly anxious about the well-being of his black stallion.
Suwadi lost his previous horse to parasitic worm before buying his current one five months ago. At 15 million rupiah, his current horse cost him an arm and a leg considering his monthly income of just over 4 million rupiah.
“I just bought this horse and I was hoping that it will be with me for a long time. I cannot afford to lose this one,” he said.