The ancient temples of Angkor and the rural beauty of Siem Reap province can be enjoyed on horseback thanks to an equestrian centre offering rides on local and Arabian horses breeds.
Located some 2km from the heart of Siem Reap town, The Happy Ranch Horse Farm was founded nearly two decades ago by horse enthusiast Cambodian-American Pann Sary.
“I was working for the US Embassy between 1970 to 1975 before Cambodia fell into civil war. Then I was evacuated to the US temporary shelter called B52 in Thailand. I was there for about one month before I was sent to the US,” Sary said.
He lived and worked for 30 years in California until he retired and decided to come back to Siem Reap, where he was born and raised.
Wearing a cowboy hat, the 72-year-old pensioner told The Post: “I’m a horse person, I’m really fond of this animal. When I returned to my motherland [Cambodia], I bought a plot of land to raise a horse as a hobby. After some years, the number of horses kept increasing to the point that I found it impossible to take good care of them.
“It was at that time that I had an idea to open a horse farm to make sure my stables are maintained at international standards. Thus, The Happy Ranch Horse Farm has been here since 2000.”
Set on 5ha of land, the ranch has plenty of greenery, a small lake, a round horse pen, a dressage arena and a horse preparation area.
Sary initially found it hard to raise the animals as Cambodia used to have very few horse veterinarians and horse medicine was rare. The horses were raised and fed in a traditional way, so when the animals became sick there was a high mortality rate.
But today, with the support of the Cambodia Pony Welfare Organisation (CPWO), the ranch has strong and well bred horses that live for 30 to 40 years, weigh between 450kg to 480kg and grow to an average height of 1.6m.
The ranch has 38 horses and ponies that are taken care of by more than 10 staff from nearby villages.
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Ven Sokun, the ranch’s manager, told The Post about the high level of care the animals receive.
“We feed them three times a day. Their breakfast is at 5:30am, lunch at 11am and dinner at 5:30pm. We have horse keepers on standby at the ranch at all times. We trim their hooves monthly. We give the horses treatment to remove worms and other parasites every three months. We have a veterinary dentist here too. Each horse has its own health record book and we always keep good track of their wellbeing.
“They sleep on rice hull bedding, not the bare floor that can damage their hooves, coat and skin. At night, we light up the stall to protect our horses from mosquito bites. During the day, when the weather is too hot, we turn on the fan to help them cool down,” Sokun said.
Sokun said he knows the horses personalities and knows how to handle them with care. Each one is named after a location, time, day or its personality, with some names in English or French and some in Khmer.
“We chose names for our horses that are relevant to their lives. For example, one horse was born when it was sunrise so I named it sunshine. Some have local names like Asabay [happy horse],” he said.
A one-and-a-half-hour ride around the ranch, with trained stable hands assisting, costs $20, while a one-hour ride around the village is $38.
A longer two-hour ride in the countryside costs $60, an Angkor temple ride for three hours costs $75 and a four-hour countryside with temple ride costs $95.
“The maximum ride is four hours because I understand the horses well, I love them and think of them as my friends,” Sary said.
“I’ve noticed some riders are gentle and some others are a bit harsh to the animals. It might be difficult for the horses and can make them confused. Some riders are like professionals; they only need half-an-hour to get the horses connected with them and understand their commands.”
Besides their riding service, the ranch also offers horses for rental for wedding photo shoots and religious ceremonies.
Sokun said: “During Bombours Neak [a Buddhist holiday] season, we got a lot of bookings to rent the horses for religious rides. Many people who would like to temporarily enter the monkhood rent a horse for $80 during this religious ceremony.”
Entering his golden years, Sary said that the ranch has provided him with immeasurable happiness.
“I can live longer thanks to these horses. I really enjoy living with them and I think I’ll be able to look after The Happy Ranch Horse Farm until my last breathe. Hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy these moments with my horses for several more years,” he said.
The Happy Ranch Horse Farm is located in Siem Reap province’s Svay Dang Kum Village. More information can be found on their website (www.thehappyranch.com), Facebook (@Thehappyranch), or by telephone (070 920 002).