The horses are brutally beaten, neglected and whipped as they cart unwieldy loads of tourists and supplies around the islands, advocates say, given only salt water to drink and, at best, a few hours rest at night - sometimes left chained to their harnesses. Their salvation is in the hands of just a few welfare groups, hotel allies and conscientious tourists who are desperately trying to stop a culturally ingrained cycle of abuse.
The horses' life span, some activists say, is a mere 1 to 3 years.
Located off the coast of Indonesia, the Gili Islands are a sequence of three islands with stunning beaches and a booming tourist development. There is no motorized transportation on the Gilis, so the tens of thousands of annual visitors - often Americans, Europeans and Australians - can either rent a bike or pay for a "cidomo," a horse and cart, which costs about $6 for a 15-minute ride.
Warning: Disturbing images below
Cheri Beauchemin went to Gili Trawangan in 2010 and was shocked by what she saw. "I didn't know anything about the ponies on the island," she told The Dodo. "In front of my hotel there was a horse carriage loaded with tourists and luggage. At that time, the roads were mostly deep sand, and the poor pony struggled to pull all the excessive weight through that sand."
The driver, she says, beat the pony mercilessly. She decided then and there the plight of the horses would be her life's work.