Volunteer work is one of the best ways to further any skill, and is an excellent form of continual professional development. If you have an employable skill already, doing volunteer work opens up doors for things like work/stay opportunities. This is one way Riley and I were able to secure free accommodation on our travels in the States.
Finding accommodation in exchange for some work was much easier given that I’m a riding coach and trainer at home in Scotland, with years of experience with horses – something that’s always sought after, as caring for horses requires a lot of work! However if you can offer any skill that may be of use, or just a helping hand with something, there are many warm hearted people in the world that would love to open their doors to a traveller looking for a place to stay. Couch surfing is one way to do this that doesn’t require as much in exchange, however I wanted to challenge myself and explore a different equestrian culture to the one I’m used to in Scotland.
After such a positive experience volunteering at Zephyr Horses in Byron Bay, Australia at the beginning of 2018, I wanted to explore equestrian culture in the United States, and try my hand at Western riding. It was as easy as making an advert, and posting it in some local horsey pages on Facebook for Arizona and Nevada – two places I was keen to see on my trip. I had also e-mailed a few ranches in California that were of interest, to see if they could offer accomodation in exchange for work. It paid off to contact several places, however I was delighted when Arthur from A&M Equestrian in AZ, offered both Riley and I, a place to stay while we were there.
It was a privilege to work with such beautiful Arabians and ex-racehorses, and getting to try Western riding for the first time. After discovering a love for it – I’m now determined to invest in a western saddle myself at some point! Arthur and Catie, the owners of Arabians and More, are both exceptional horse people and were so generous with their time and knowledge during my stay. Their thoughtfulness, care, and consideration for the animals they have and train is expressed greatly in the horses personalities.
The establishment caters for lessons, training, and boarding. Catie and Arthur do a terrific job retiring and re-training racehorses, supporting them, and giving them the best start in their new careers and homes off the track. Catie has also recently competed in the Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park on her chestnut gelding Samendra, known as Hero. I had the privilege of getting to ride Hero while I was there (see photos below!). Incredibly, he had won over $153,000 in his time on the track, with his pedigree even including the well known racehorse – Secretariat! As a testament to the kind and brilliant training he’s received, and his lovely personality, he’s now turning his hoof to being a lesson horse to kids of all ages.
As well as re-affirming my love for Thoroughbreds, being at Arabians and More allowed me to fulfill my childhood ache for all things Arabian. I’ve had a love for this desert breed ever since I was a little girl, and getting to ride and work with them in America was incredible.
I rode a couple of fabulous Arabians while I was there, a grey gelding named Luke, in particular, made me realise just how agile this breed is. For the non-horsey folk out there, riding an Arabian is like driving a Lamborghini. They make for a sensitive and exciting ride, and with their level of intelligence, they’re incredibly fun to interact with. Luke gave me a fantastic core workout in our little sessions together!
The other place we stayed at was on Crazy Horse Ranch in Morongo Valley, California. This was with a lady named Jacklyn who ran the place herself, and hosts volunteers on a regular basis to help her around the ranch.
We cared for a mixture of animals during our stay there, from horses, dogs, and rescued cats, to goats and chickens. It was an excellent base for Riley and I to visit the nearby Joshua Tree National Park, and see Los Angeles after our morning duties, and we had a lot of fun working together on various ranch tasks.
Riley even came out with us on a trail ride, and had his first canter on horseback! Total natural by the way.
Our trip to the US was a memorable one, and I’m excited to go back in the future to experience more of their equestrian culture. Wyoming, Montana, and Texas are high on the list and I’m keen to try cutting and barrel racing! And to those who are interested in trying something new, broadening their skills, and immersing themselves in a slightly different way of life – I would highly encourage a working holiday or volunteering abroad. Most places you’ll find will be willing to offer accommodation, and even some food during your stay whilst you work or care for their animals/children – meaning the trip doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, but can still benefit you hugely when it comes to experience.
Photo credit to my lovely other half, Riley!