An equine escape

02Dec06

as published in the starweekend & star online travel & lifestyle, 2 december 2006

copy of article also found online at the dept of veterinary services of perak website and clove two, 2 december 2006

BY MAJIDAH HASHIM

If you drive by the camping spots in Ulu Yam, Selangor, on the winding road towards Batang Kali, don’t be surprised if you encounter horses trotting by. They come from Kem Kembara Hulu Yam Baru, a favourite meeting place of equine joyriders.

I have to admit, I have never ridden a horse, but it looked easy enough. I reckoned if someone told me where the brakes and pedals were, I would be able to pull it off. But I assure you now, it isn’t as easy as it seems.

I was introduced to my horse, Jason – a beautiful, brown beast with a bit of a mischievous streak – by lecturer and keen rider Kamaruddin Tawi, 51, who also introduced me to this camp. It was good to know that my horse had a sense of humour.

They said he was average-sized, but in my eyes, he was a hundred pounds of pure muscle.

First, I was required to introduce myself to Jason by petting him. As I have yet to be trained in the art of mounting a horse, a little step ladder was brought out to help me get on Jason.

My greatest fear is climbing onto a horse only to fall off at the other side, which I understood was not uncommon with beginners. So you could imagine my pride at having found a comfortable centre on Jason. The trick is not to look down because you really are very high up.

To get the horse to go, one is required to kick its sides hard. I kicked, but Jason didn’t move, just batted his eyelids. I kicked again, this time he moved his head up and down a few times, but still refused to budge.

“Kick harder!” the ranch assistant yelled.

Feeling sorrier for myself than the horse, I kicked poor Jason, who slowly lifted one hoof and then the other. At last, I got the horse to walk.

According to Kamaruddin, the trick is to always make sure that the horse is aware of who is in charge. Letting a horse have his way would only inflate his ego. I learnt that even horses have personalities and some of them can be quite the diva.

Jason was patient enough to let me walk him around the paddock slowly but I started to feel that he was getting bored, especially when Kamaruddin’s horse began to canter.

I sensed that Jason was coaxing me to be a little braver; a little more adventurous and to trust him. I held onto the reins tighter, and Jason picked up the pace. Not quite a gallop, but a trot. The ranch assistant yelled not to pull on the reins too firmly and to “bounce” with the rhythm of the horse.

Stopping a horse is done by pulling hard on the reins. At this point, Jason was enjoying his exercise to pay any attention. I pulled on the reins to slow him down, but Jason kept on going. More out of panic, I pulled harder, and the horse came to a standstill, slightly irritated.

Half-an-hour later, the riders harnessed their horses for a ride in the countryside. I decided to sit this one out and followed on motorcycle.

This is one of the few places where you can take the horses out on trails as it’s inaccessible to vehicles. The Ulu Yam cross-country trail takes riders along jungle fringes and vegetable farms, and over gentle hills – all this with the Titiwangsa range as backdrop.

The riders cantered through hilly grassland, over streams and creeks. The scene was nothing short of perfection – man and animal in harmony with nature.

Ali Imran Mohd Nordin, 24, a shipping company executive, said that although he’s been to the Ulu Yam waterfalls, this is his first visit to the ranch.

“It’s rewarding to learn to ride a horse,’’ said Imran. “Horses are important creatures in history. They’ve been used in times of peace and war during the different civilisations in the world. Learning to ride a horse is a must for men,” he declared proudly.

It comes as a surprise, then, that the ranch owner is a woman named Rohaya Ahmad.

The healing and comforting effect horses had on her paraplegic husband Mohd Noor Shariff, made her resign from a prominent office job in Kuala Lumpur to establish this place a couple of years ago.

It began as a hobby, but quickly developed into a commercial endeavour with 20 horses and ponies to speak of.

Today, the ranch has its regulars, a small, but close-knit, community. One is Nurliana, 23, Kamaruddin’s daughter. She has been riding for four years but discovered this ranch only early this year.

According to Nurliana, the rider and horse develop a bond that comes from confidence, trust and understanding.

“Horses have the most soulful eyes. They are beautiful and powerful. Horse-riding is fun and a good workout,’’ she said.

While most of the riders are there for the joy of cross country riding, a few come for the therapeutic effects of riding.

According to Rohaya, people with paralysis and even depression have sought strength from horses. It is all part of what makes this place special. W

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