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Like to ride a horse?

[ Horsy quotes ]

He knows when you’re happy

He knows when you’re comfortable

He knows when you’re confident

And he always knows when you have carrots


The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and fire.

- Sharon Ralls Lemen


At a grass meal. Pictures by Saman Sri Wedage

Horse trainer Aruna Priyankara owns 24 horses. He raises them at Rajagiriya in an open compound which is rented to him.

He maintains four categories of horses – pony, half-breed, three-quarter breed and thorough bred. The differentiation is according to height. The thoroughbred is the tallest while the pony, at the other end of the pedigree spectrum is the shortest. If a thoroughbred stallion is crossed with a female pony, the offspring would be a half-breed animal. As Aruna points out, a four year old pony is equal in height to a three month old thoroughbred horse.

In addition, Aruna has Marwari and Kathiawari horses brought in from Rajasthan. Their ears are turned inward and they could display dappled colours.

Aruna trains children and adults in horse riding. A 15 hour course in brushing, dressing, guiding and riding horses is available at Rs.25, 000.

Ready to canter

Dappled Marwari from Rajasthan

Aruna Priyankara

The lessons are given early morning or late afternoon as he explains, “Horses are easy to ride when sun and rain is at a minimum.” The lessons take place within the compound or out on the road.

Aruna owns two decorative carriages which are used for weddings, birthdays, Christmas and children’s parties and publicity stints. The carts are also available for hire on parliamentary grounds on Saturdays, providing a diversion for children.

Aruna bears the expenses of raising his horses single handed. “When I saw a friend raising horses, I was attracted to doing it myself,” he said. “I have to spend quite a lot to feed them.” A thoroughbred or a half breed animal needs cattle feed costing Rs.150 a day besides three sheaves of grass per meal. Aruna also gets beer dust from a beer company and employs his two three wheelers to go in search of grass and bring it to the compound.

Bridled and saddled

In the premises, only one male horse is kept with the females. “Stallions get excited very easily,” said Aruna. “If you keep two together, it becomes a problem.”

“We have trained these horses in a way that they appeal to children,” says Aruna. “To get an animal to feel close to a human is a very difficult thing to do. A strong bond needs to be developed between the human and the horse. From the first ride, some people fall in love with the horses.”

Training begins when the horse is about two-and-half-years old. Until then, the animal is allowed to grow in stature.

At two-and-half-years of age, the horses are saddled. “If you saddle them before that, they don’t grow to their natural height,” said Aruna. “At that age, their bones are strong. Past that age, it is difficult to train them.” A male horse needs to be trained before his attention is caught up in other things.

Half the animals in the compound are race horses, said Aruna. He is careful with the animals since one broke both legs and died while racing. “I must protect what is mine so I am very attentive to the animal while racing,” is how he looks at the issue.

From left: Thoroughbred, ¾ breed, ½ breed, Marwari and pony

“We must teach our children horse riding,” he insists. “This is a sport found everywhere. Even if you go abroad, you encounter horse riding.”

“I have no insurance or earnings. What I earn is pumped back to my horse business,” he explains that it is only when he sells a foal that he gets an additional income. A half-breed female costs Rs.1.5 lakhs while a Marwari costs eight lakhs.

“It is from the mother horse that we gauge the capabilities of a foal,” says Aruna. “We study up to three generations of horses and know what the speed of a foal would be.”

In selecting carriage pulling horses, what is required is calmness. “When we saddle a horse, we understand its temperament,” he said. “We realise what excites him and what doesn’t. We pick horses that are not scared of crackers or vehicles and understand about stopping at colour lights.”

“No horse works willingly,” says Aruna. “They like to be doing nothing. But once we train them, they understand their job. When children ride them, they know it is their job and stay calm.”

Being with the horses, throughout the day and throughout their lives, he is an authority on the likes and dislikes of horses and bringing them to heel while on the job.

Doting horse

Many passing this open compound where horses dally about in seemly leisure, would have felt the desire to drop in and get close to them.

We harkened to this bidding and found ourselves in a place where horses are bred and trained for riding and racing close to nature. No stables or shelter. They endure sun and rain with equanimity. Those who love the sun bask in sunlight and those who enjoy rain take a dip in rain shower.

“Many people are scared to rear horses as it requires many things. But I bring up horses in the manner that is possible to me,” contented horse owner Aruna Priyankara candidly concedes. A swarthy young man, he has three male hands to help with the horses.

While we were speaking to him, two horses came and nuzzled against our ribs and we fidgeted.

“Not to worry,” pacified Aruna. “They like us. That is why they brush against us. If you stroke their neck, there is nothing they like better.”

Every time a horse gets a shade too excited, Aruna would rap crisply in a strange dialect. “Have you a special language for them?” we asked.

“No,” said the resourceful horse owner. “I speak in Hindi. When we raise our voice, they know we are scolding and calm down.”

When a helper brought in grass for the horses, two of them started wrangling. “The ideal thing to do would be to tether them before feeding as they try to eat each other’s portion,” said Aruna. But except the two that let go of the wrangle at Aruna’s brisk voice, the others gulped down their meal peacefully.

“The horse is so close to the humans,” said Aruna. “The real story of the horse is quite different to what you see from outside. They fall ill very easily. Common colic is the biggest danger.” The horse is not a ruminating animal as cattle. Therefore, he overfeeds himself and finds that what he swallowed cannot be digested.

“Within 24 hours of getting colic, we must spot the symptom and give medicine. Health is a paramount factor in raising horses and you must pay constant attention. Another danger is abdominal stones. If not detected in time and operated on to remove them, a horse can die.”

Nabila who made a commotion and was pulled up, Beebuzy who raced to clinch the second place at Tissamaharamaya while pregnant and Burger the calm carriage puller were some of the equines we encountered in the compound.


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