Hua Hin beach, long and wide stretches soft sandy beach, located at the sunrise side of the city and running from a rocky headland which separates it from a tiny fishing pier and gently curves for three kilometers to the south. The sand quality is good and there is ample space to walk and play on the wide shore.
HORSING AROUND ON THE BEACH
Like it or not, horses on the beaches of Hua Hin and Cha-Am is a one of the defining scenes of our coastline
Although not unique to local beaches, we all expect to see a passing horse or two during our time on the sand. They’re very visible but not obtrusive.
Their handlers are very eager not to cause too much disturbance or inconvenience to beach-goers. Probably the only opportunity Thai kids will ever get to experience a horse ride is during the family holiday to the beach. It’s also a photo opportunity that many find hard to resist. The Thai Pony or Thai Country Bred is a native horse of Thailand. While they are thought to have come from Mongolian stock, their origins are a mystery.
These animals have been used as pack horses in mountainous areas for many years. Due to this isolation they have developed without the influence of outside breeds for the most part, although more recently an attempt to improve them has introduced the blood of some Australian, New Zealand and English pony stock.
We were invited behind the scenes to meet one of the horse owners, Khun Jung, a horse ride operator for the past ten years. Like the majority of the horse owners he operates a family business with just a small number of horses, four in his case.
All horse riders on the beach must hold a government issued permit. You’ll always see them wearing a vest with a number displayed. It’s a bit like a taxi license; restricted in numbers and able to be bought and sold. One of the conditions is that the horses are inspected every three months and must satisfy authorities that they are in good health, vaccinated and have suitable stable conditions. Another incentive to maintain the condition of the horses is their appeal to potential customers. No one wants to seen riding a horse that is unattractive because of lameness, poor nutrition or skin ailments. Khun Jung’s property is just inland of the railway line.
This is adjacent to Springfield beach where he and nine other families have the ‘rights’ to operate. He must make a judgment about when it is worthwhile to take a horse or two to the beach, typically on weekends and holiday periods. This involves crossing the main highway, perhaps a hazardous journey but one that is not daunting to either horse or rider. We met ‘Jackpot’, ‘Pepsi’, ‘Sri Mok’ (cloudy) and ‘Khan Mahk’.
Jackpot is the favourite partly because his cream coloured coat is appealing to customers, clearly good for business. All horses are male, some gelded, some not. Apparently keeping to one gender resolves any ‘relationship issues’ between horses on the beach! We understand that a female horse on an adjoining property is a major distraction enroute to the beach for Sri Mok! Pepsi (the colour was right) will soon be sold off to a breeding farm, perhaps lucky for him, but really because his behaviour on the job is causing Khun Jung some concerns. Kicking is the problem, an unacceptable trait. Horses have a potential working life of about 15 years. Training takes about two months and the younger horses may be two years old at this time.
Horse prices are in the vicinity of 60 -70,000 THB, no small investment for these families. Another cost to be added is the saddlery which can only be purchased in Bangkok. Horse rides generally cost around the 600 THB mark. Perhaps this sounds a little pricey at first glance, but considering the investment these families make and the operating costs, maybe a reasonable rate. Next time you are taking one of those mandatory beach photos with a horse featured in the shot, think about a decent tip to the horse operator, they’ve earned it.