Panca Nugraha, The Jakarta Post, Dompu
The milk of wild horses has been prescribed as an effective remedy to various illnesses since the 1990s. Many people believe it cures severe illnesses such as cancer, leukemia, pneumonia, bronchitis and typhoid fever. Some maintain it enhances stamina and virility in men.
Sumbawa Island, West Nusa Tenggara, is known as a producer of wild horse milk, with production centers in the regencies of Sumbawa, Dompu and Bima.
Saneo village, around 10 km from the regency capital in Woja district, is one such production center in Dompu regency.
"Many people come to Saneo just to obtain pure wild horse milk and at the same time to watch the process firsthand," Saneo village chief Junaiddin told The Jakarta Post.
However, not a single horse was present in the village nor in the stables at residents' homes when the Post visited the area, because villagers allow their horses to forage freely, fetching them home only in the evening to milk them.
"The local administration has assisted us in packaging the milk since 2004. Milk is packaged and sealed as soon as it's milked to maintain its freshness," said Junaiddin.
Producing a bottle of milk is a time and energy-consuming process.
The afternoon the Post visited, local farmer Arifin went with dozens of other farmers to retrieve their horses. It took an hour to reach the forest on foot before the horses were spotted.
Around 30 of them roamed on a flat and sparsely vegetated plain. A number of mares were seen with their foals, next to a few steeds. None of them were tied, and only a few wore bamboo straps around their necks to mark ownership.
"Huiiik... Jara," Arifin called toward a group of horses. Jara means horse in the local language. Other farmers followed, each using a distinct call, some clapping their hands as a sign to round up.
The horses galloped toward their owners. Arifin stroked his mare, tied a rope around its neck, then guided it home while its foal followed close behind.
Back home Arifin tied and separated the foal from the mare to prevent it from suckling at its mother's breast.
After cleaning the mare's nipples with a wet cloth, Arifin milked the mare, gathering the milk in a plastic container. He then sieved it, poured it into bottles, and sealed the bottles without adding other ingredients or preservatives.
"It can last up to four months like this. It tastes better after two months compared to when it's freshly milked," he said.
In Saneo, wild horse milk sells for Rp 15,000 (US$1.60) per 600-ml bottle, and 20,000 for a 800-ml bottle. Outside the area, however, the price is higher. In Mataram the price of the larger bottle can reach Rp 100,000.
"Wild horse milk is not derived from wild horses that are caught. They are tame to their owners, but are raised in the wild. They live and forage in the forest," said Junaiddin, who takes his horses to the forest before daybreak each morning.
There are more than 200 horses in Saneo, with around 30 of them used for milk production. Together they produce an average of 60 to 80 bottles daily.
At times this falls short of demand.
"We are sometimes overwhelmed by higher demand," said Junaiddin.
Dompu regency administration spokesman Wahyuddin told the Post that the Bogor Dairy Product Analysis Center tested the milk in 2004. "It proved that wild horse milk from Saneo could cure intestinal infection and stomach cancer."
Tests also showed it is capable of fighting bacterial growth.