Little Joanna has come from Muscat to spend her vacation, and her favourite destination is the Marina beach. Besides the sea and shells, what fascinates her are the horse rides that take you trotting on the shores.
And she is clear about her choice. “I want ‘Lucky' of the Barbie Horse Adventure,” she screams, pointing at a white horse. These horses bring joy to a lot of beach-goers, but unheard of are the stories of those who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Living in scattered settlements, these men look after horses, most of them retired race horses, and offer rides on the beach in early mornings and evenings. Many of them were initiated into the business when they were as young as five years. “It has always been a dream to own a horse, but that can never happen,” says 64-year-old Shankar.
Almost Rs. 200 is spent per day on fodder, says R.Shamil (23). The owner takes almost 70 per cent of what they earn and also bear the expenses on the horse. Two days of the week are rest days when the men take care of the horses for which they are paid Rs.100, while on other days, they earn around Rs.120 a day.
Horses are strange animals, they say. “It is confusing to guess if a horse is sleeping or relaxing, and it is equally difficult to predict its mood,” says K.Rahul (27). However, the affection is unmistakeable. “After eating, the horse brushes its head against my shoulders and make soft sounds, like my children,” says K. Kabali (26). “We give them food, clean their waste and wipe off their sweat, we also smell like them. Why wouldn't they trust us?” he asks.
The horses feed on kolthu - paddy steamed in big pots, fresh grass and lots of water. More than eating, they love to be bathed and brushed, they say. “On Sundays, when we bathe them with ‘tailam', they slip to into this resting mode and get agitated when taken out for work,” says Shamil. The saddest moment for Kabali is to separate a foal from its mother. “We try to not use baby horses for riding because it impairs their growth, but rising prices have left us with little choice.”
While race horses with their polished black or brown skin look regal, they start panting after a distance. “The Kathiawaari breed is suited to this hot weather,” says, S. Selvam. Rainy seasons with the decrease in visitors are difficult while the wedding season bring in huge hopes, especially if it is a wedding in a north Indian family.
“Two years ago, some people took away our horses, saying we were doing injustice to animals, but the way they pulled the animals made me wonder if they can take any better care of them,” says Selvam. The profession, though in tough times, is rewarding in a way, say these men. “When I walk on the road with the horse, people keep pointing at us, makes me feel like a king,” says Kabali.
Keywords: Marina beach