pop goes the world: suffer the little ponies

POP GOES THE WORLD   By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  2 April 2012, Monday

Suffer the Little Ponies

The other weekend was for family. I spent it in Baguio City with my two daughters, their father, and his 7-year-old daughter, whose first time it was to visit the Summer Capital.

Having a newbie with us, we did the usual touristy things that one must at least once in a lifetime – boating on Burnham Park, picture-taking with the sunglasses-wearing St. Bernards at Mines View Park, and horseback-riding in Wright Park and Camp John Hay.

The horses in Baguio are small and sturdy native-bred ponies, not the Thoroughbreds used in racing, polo, dressage, and similar equestrian pursuits. (Not that horses are indigenous to the Philippines; they were imported from Java centuries ago.)

At Wright Park the ponies – many of them with manes dyed pink or purple, to attract children – go around a riding ring at a walk.

At Wright Park, which little kids enjoy. 24 March 2012

CJH also has an arena for 30-minute rides. The hour-long trail ride is for the adventurous. The children persuaded my ex and me to join them on the trail ride, which takes a well-worn path that winds up and down a mountain, with breathtaking views of pine trees and sky.

My former husband is a horseracing jockey who began his career in the late ‘80s, and is an expert horseman and racehorse trainer. We are used to seeing him on horses much larger and taller. His pony twitched and shook its head violently as we rode, and we stopped several times to adjust his saddle girth. I expected my ex to comment, but he was silent until we reached the halfway point, a wide flat clearing, and rested our mounts.

“This trail is dangerous,” he said.

The trail is packed earth hewn from the sides of the steep hill, around 16 to 20 inches wide, at some points narrower.  Below it is a road filled with zooming cars. My ex pointed out the lack of fences along the trail, the fact that the ponies’ hooves came within a couple of inches of the trail’s edge, that a slip of a hoof would cause pony and rider to tumble tens of feet down the hill straight into the road and its traffic.

The start of the trail ride at Camp John Hay. 25 March 2012

“What’s wrong with your pony?” I asked him. It still kept twitching.

“He’s half-crazy with pain,” he said. “They are not using a standard bit. It’s the wrong shape and an ill fit, so his mouth has become very sensitive.”

The pony “boy” – actually an elderly man – tried to calm my ex’s pony by adjusting rectangular pieces of stiff orange plastic beside its eyes.

“What are those?” I asked “Fred”, my pony boy.

“Blinkers,” he said, a bit embarrassed. “Home-made. We should have real blinkers, the kind like a mask that slips over the horse’s head. But we can’t afford them.”

Stopping to rest in a little clearing. 25 March 2012

Fred and the others who eke out a living from the rent-a-pony business lament their lack of finances that prevent them from acquiring standard tack (riding equipment). They forge their own bits from scrap metal. Horseshoes come from Pampanga and Batangas, made from heavy iron, a far cry from the light and comfortable aluminum racing plates used on the two racetracks in Cavite.

Funding problems aside, there is also the matter of having no suppliers in Baguio for tack, since the market is very small, unlike in Manila and Cavite where there are several suppliers of tack and veterinary supplies to the racing, polo, and equestrian sport worlds.

Apart from trail safety and equipment, there is also the matter of horse care. My ex spotted quite a few health problems among the ponies we saw.





(Left) Snaffle and D-ring, just a few of the many kinds of horse bits available. Image here. (right) A horse chews on his bit. Image here.

A substantial amount of Baguio’s income comes from tourism, and horseriding is an iconic pasttime for tourists, and has been for decades. In many cases, it is the only source of income for the pony boys and those in support activities.

Safety measures along the trail should be put into place, and regular health care for the ponies provided, not only to ensure the sustainability of this tradition, but also the pony boys’ livelihood and ponies’ well-being.

If help is needed, the horseracing industry can send vet missions to Baguio to perform hoof trimming, dental filing, vaccination, and other basic equine health procedures.

Next time we take to the trail, I hope it will be under better circumstances for all, so that rather than worry about tumbling down the hillside or whether the ponies are fine, riders will be free to enjoy the experience and lovely view. *** 

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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