Mar 26, 2021
FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS, the people of the Indonesian island of Sumba have had a symbiotic relationship with the horse. The hardy local breed of pony serves not only as a core means of transportation and farm labor here. Horses are also a central source of entertainment, through competitive racing. They’re a form of currency, given as dowry during marriages. And unfortunately, along with other livestock, they are frequently offered in sacrifice at funerals adhering to the island’s traditional Marapu faith.
Having narrowly escaped the latter fate, one of the horses living at Nihi resort carries the fitting name of Kanyuru (meaning ‘lucky’ or ‘good fortune’). The pony in question, just a small foal at the time, was being transported to a funeral where it would’ve been slaughtered, when a Swiss guest from Nihi made a last-minute plea for clemency, purchased Kanyuru and handed her over to the resort’s resident ‘horse whisperer,’ Carol Sharpe.
An Australian ethologist with several decades’ experience working with horses, Carol is responsible for building up Nihi’s stable of ponies, now numbering nearly 20. Some were mistreated or neglected farm animals. Many were former racehorses that had reached the end of their working lives and would almost certainly have been put down by their original owners. Instead, they’ve been offered an idyllic retirement, spending their days on the beach at Nihi — twice named best hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure readers (cast your vote for World’s Best Awards 2021 here).
“The majority of the horses I acquired from either Sumba racing stables or local villages were rescued from a life of hardship,” Carol says. “Malnutrition is the major problem for horses on Sumba. The dry season is long and harsh and the local people can struggle to nourish themselves, let alone their livestock.” With donations from Nihi’s owners and guests, Carol and her team have been able to provide hundreds of local horses with food, vitamin supplements and parasite treatment, in addition to giving a number of ponies a new home at the resort.
“Carol is such an extraordinary talent,” says James McBride, Nihi’s CEO and partner in the business with American entrepreneur Chris Burch. “She truly is a horse whisperer — I didn’t really believe all of that stuff in the beginning, it seemed a little hokey to me, but she really does get in the mind of the animals. Through her training, her love and connection with the horses, they’ve become a herd, swimming together in the sea and galloping together back to the stable.”
Nihi was founded as a surfer’s paradise, and the sweet wave that breaks offshore, Occy’s Left, remains a major attraction. “But for guests, riding the horses has become a huge part of the Nihi experience,” McBride says — a happy surprise since the stable formed without a profit motive, but purely because they were endangered, a fact that has struck a chord with guests. “It has started to rival the popularity of surfing. You could say it’s bigger to some degree than surfing, because it’s got a broader mass appeal.”
Whether experienced equestrians or fresh to the saddle, guests find it hard to pass up trotting down a pristine, deserted beach. “It’s the most exhilarating experience,” McBride says. “People who are initially scared to ride a horse or even get on a horse, when they’re led down our 2.5 kilometer beach by Carol’s incredible team, they feel completely safe. And they accomplish a bucket-list thing, to not only do a beach ride at sunset in an exotic location, but then, to actually go into the sea and be on a pony’s back as it swims in the Indian Ocean! That’s a very special experience.”
The resort has introduced an ‘equine connection’ program of yoga, meditation and self-awareness in the presence of horses. Yet even without the benefit of these initiatives, McBride says, visitors’ encounters with the ponies of Nihi often prove profound. “We’ve had guests, both adults and children, who may have suffered pain or difficulties in life, and they’ve been able to bond with the horses emotionally,” he explains. “They form a connection which helps them heal.” And no matter what ails us, that’s one of our top vacation goals, for sure.
Nihi.com; from US$850 per night for double occupancy, inclusive of tax and service.
MORE CREATURE COMFORTS
Several of the world’s top hotels owe no small measure of their charm to their resident animal mascots. Here are a few of our favorites:
The VP of pet relations at the Paris Mandarin Oriental is a hirsute little chap by the name of Archie LeWoof. An urbane border terrier who grew up at the legendary Claridge’s in London, Archie greets the Mandarin’s fellow furry guests with a welcome note and a chew treat cooked up by the property’s pastry chef.
Capella Hotel Singapore is patrolled by peacocks. The flamboyant birds (and their plain-Jane female companions) often join guests at mealtimes or appear by the pool — subsequently, inevitably, popping up on many an Instagram feed.
Rose and Mary, a pair of super-sweet retrievers (one chocolate, the other gold), greet new arrivals at Rosewood Castiglion Del Bosco in Tuscany. The gorgeous pet-friendly resort is set within a 2,000-hectare, 800-year-old Italian estate, giving canine patrons plenty of room to roam.
New York’s historic Algonquin Hotel first welcomed a pair of stray cats through its door in the 1920s. In the years since, three females named Matilda, and eight males, all dubbed Hamlet, have held court at the storied Times Square establishment.
No prizes for guessing the type of animal you’ll encounter at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi. Guests are drawn to this 1930s lodge turned boutique hotel by the 10 leggy, long-necked lovelies that are prone to poking their heads in the windows at breakfast.
In 2018, The St. Regis Aspen, in Colorado, welcomed a puppy with the counterintuitive moniker of Kitty. Now three years of age, the big, bouncing Bernese Mountain Dog has garnered an impressive Instagram following in excess of 50K.