Apart from swimming, sun-bathing, massage and picnicking, horse-riding is another activity tourists to Hua Hin can indulge in.
"Horses are symbol of Hua Hin. Horse-riding brings vitality to life on the beach," said 55-year-old Lae, a thin, tanned figure who has been offering the service for over 15 years.
"I don't know how it started, but horses have been here a long time. They are here to stay," he said, stroking his seven-year-old deep red-brown stallion Coke.
"Being on the horse's back is a truly relaxing experience. It complements the free-flowing holiday spirit of visiting tourists," he said with a smile.
Unlike motorised vehicles, horses make for environmentally-friendly beach tour. There is no air or noise pollution from exhaust emissions or the roar of car engines. And you can ride them for hours at a stretch. They only stop for peeing or poohing. The cost for an hour's ride is 400 baht during which they can enjoy a scenic view of the five-kilometre stretch from Hua Hin beach all the way up to Khao Takiep area.
Horse-riding is more popular among children and foreigners, but gown-up local tourists are sadly not quite into it, Lae lamented.
"Many Thais believe horses are dirty and dangerous. But that's not true," Lae said in defence of horses. "If you know them, you will love them. They are friendly, kind and gentle. Especially these beach horses, they are very tame," said the soft-spoken Lae.
Speaking of tourist safety, he said there was nothing to worry as all horses on the beach were tame and restricted to one gender - male. "Female horses cannot work on the beach because they may cause feud among male steeds," Lae said with a teasing grin.
But he urged tourists to heed the advise of horse owners.
"Some people think they have riding experience and won't listen to my advice. Some get drunk and want to take the saddle themselves. You see no matter how good one is with horses, risks are always there," he said, but quickly added that accidents were rare and minor in nature.
As for tourists not happy with service provided by horse owners, he said they could always lodge complaints with Tourist Police.
Every horse operating on the beach is registered. Each has an identification number posted on its sides. "Always remember the number of the horse you mount. In case of accidents or other problems, report the number to police and they will deal with its owner," Lae explained.
There are a total of 61 horses offering riding service on Hua Hin beaches, but not all of them are there at the same time, and there is no queue system. Tourists can pick the horse of their choice, which is usually determined by colour, features and size - from stallions like Coke to Leo, a pony in Lae's stable. The minimum cost is 200 baht for an half-hour ride.
Lae said this job gives him sufficient income to look after himself, his daughter, two horses and some small pets. During high tourist season and clear skies, Lae can earn up to 1,000 baht a day, but if the weather turns foul Coke, Leo and their owner only have themselves to entertain.
"Even if I earn nothing, my horses still have to eat," Lae said. Fortunately for him, there are patches of grass all around Hua Hin where they can graze freely. But he still has to cough out 100 baht daily in food supplements to ensure his horses stay in prime condition.
"Horses are quite strong and less prone to disease. They don't need much care, but mutual trust and understanding," he said.
The change in season has no bearing on Lae. Every morning he and his daughter ride Coke and Leo to the beach to cater to tourists and remain there until dusk.
"I am not educated. I don't know what else I could do for a living that would give me the freedom and joy that I derive from being with my horses. Being with them and working at a beach where the rich come for holiday has been more than a bonus for me," said Lae.
Bangkok Post December 05 www.bangkokpost.com
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