Sary Pann takes working ponies and retrains them to carry tourists.
Sary Pann, owner of the Happy Ranch.
THE Happy Ranch in Siem Reap, established in 1996, is dedicated to improving the lot of Cambodian ponies.
Owner Sary Pann first bought a Cambodian pony in 1997 because he felt sorry about how hard the ponies were worked, and he has since added more to his stable, hiring them out to riders as a tourist attraction.
But training the ponies has proved difficult and requires extra patience because they are used to only pulling carts, not being ridden, he said.
"It's at least six months before we can train them to ride," Sary Pann said.
Lucinda King, a New Zealand horse expert working at the ranch, said the cart ponies are "worked so hard, from early morning to late at night. They're so used to trotting that they don't even remember how to run".
Sary Pann said his ranch has not yet broken even financially, even though he has been providing trail rides and riding lessons to tourists for almost three years.
But catering to tourists also presents obstacles. Cambodian ponies are typically smaller then Western horses, and the physique of some Westerners can prove too taxing for them.
The ranch has to impose a 90-kilogram limit.
Sary Pann has purchased a few bigger horses from Thailand and near the Vietnamese border to breed with his Cambodian ponies to give them more heft.
Despite the problems, the Cambodian ponies are proving as resilient as their human counterparts and seem to be finding a new and respected place within the society.
The ponies have also been used to help resurrect some Khmer traditions, and they are loaned to pagodas for bous neak ceremonies, in which monks who are preparing to be ordained ride through their village.