Having volunteered with horses in several countries in Africa like Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana, I can tell you all about the ins and outs!
This article contains links, some of which are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of my links, I earn a commission which allows me to fund this blog. I only post links of products I have used and enjoyed and that have truly benefited me on my travels!
Before we start I want you to think about the following options and make well-informed choices. You will most likely be spending your precious time and money on your volunteering adventure and it’s important you make the right decisions!
There are several different categories in volunteering. Some programs provide you with free food and accommodation in return for your work for them. For other programs you might need to pay for your own accommodation and food instead. There are also programs where you pay a fee to volunteer, this usually means more free time and being able to join guest activities or it means the program is just very exclusive. It’s for you to decide what your budget is and how much you want to work. Usually the rule is, the less you pay, the longer the working hours are. I’ve personally always loved the programs in which the working hours are long as it allows you to be fully submerged into the team, the horses and the work. Keep in mind whether you want to travel during your volunteering time and how much of your budget is going into that. You might have the weekend off, have 5 days a month off or get no off days. You can also add a few weeks or even months to your trip to travel more.
I have been volunteering and traveling for years and am quite proud to say I’ve never come back to the Netherlands completely broke! There are some tips and tricks I’ve used over the years to save and earn money. First some apps: whenever I buy new clothes or shoes, I sell some old clothes through Vinted, this way I make sure I never spend more money on clothes than I earn. Another way to earn some extra money is through Fiverr, where you can advertise your skills such as drawing, editing, designing, marketing and so much more! It’s an easy and nice way to earn some extra money doing what you love. I also worked a lot through Upwork, where I did some transcription and editing work. If you’re a content creator, make a Buy Me A Coffee page, it allows you to sell your content online and get supporters to fund your creativity! Last but not least is Sweatcoin, this is an app I always have on my phone when I’m doing long rides or walks as it allows you to earn coins through walking. With the coins you can buy lots of things from the shop, you can even bid on $1000 gift cards from Amazon and popular brands! Other tips for saving money: buy supplies in bulk! I always do my groceries once a week or once every 2 weeks and buy everything in bulk. I usually make sure to always have rice and pasta on me, which allows me to make a quick meal by buying some veggies at the market. Vegetables and lots of other stuff is much cheaper to get at the market than in the supermarket. Also, make sure to check for discounts and free breakfasts. I always check to see if a hostel or campsite has specific days for discounts, this is usually between monday and thursday. This way you can book your hostel on the cheapest days and wild camp during the weekend. Also, always grab the free breakfast! Whenever I book a place with free breakfast, I try to go as late as possible, for example after a morning walk, so I can eat enough to skip lunch. TIP: use Wise to do international payments for your programs, it saves you a lot of money on transfer fees. If you use this link to make your account (which is free), you also get an extra discount on transfer fees for your first transaction!
You can also look for jobs with horses abroad with which you can earn money. I will be writing a post about that with lots of detail as well! Keep in mind that getting an international horse job is extremely competitive and if you have volunteering experience it looks crazy good on your CV!
Also read: Volunteering with horses in Namibia
Where would you like to go? Can’t stand the heat or love the sun? Do you melt in the rain or like the snow? You will likely be spending lots of time in the program and if you can’t deal with heat/cold, it’s important you make the right decision! Also consider how far from home you want to be, on the other side of the world, just around the corner or somewhere in the middle? What kind of landscape and possibly wildlife do you want to experience? Beach, forest, mountain, dressage stable, desert, ranch and so much more is possible! Make sure to think about what it means to ride in certain landscapes. Riding on the beach will most likely be fast paced and riding through mountainous terrain might involve parts where you lead your horse.
It’s incredibly important to be honest about your riding experience and fitness. If you overestimate yourself you will not enjoy the ride as much as you can! When you are looking for a place to volunteer, there are usually short descriptions on the website about the volunteer program and the requirements. It might be difficult to rate your own abilities but I’ll help you out. First of all, you have the categories beginner, intermediate and experienced. A beginner is usually someone who rides but is not comfortable yet in all paces, you can do a rising trot but are not experienced in fast paced riding. An intermediate rider is someone who is comfortable in all paces but in a set environment like an arena and does not have a lot of experience with outrides or young/feisty horses. An experienced rider is able to handle very hot and forward going horses and has lots of experience riding out in the open. More often you’ll be asked to rate your skills out of 5 stars which allows you to also rate yourself somewhere between beginner and intermediate or intermediate and experienced. It’s always important to explain your rating further by writing a little story about your experience and how often you ride. If you rate yourself 5 out of 5 stars because in the past you’ve worked with all kinds of horses but you haven’t ridden in a few years, it’s very important to clarify this. This way the people that run the program know you might need some time to readjust to being in the saddle again! Also think about the fact that other fitness (besides riding) may be necessary, such as hiking up steep mountain passes or mucking out stables.
Also read: What is my horse riding experience level?
Are you looking for adventure? Do you want to improve your skills? Are you preparing for a competition in your discipline? Are you interested in trying out new disciplines? Or are you looking for a combination? There are lots of different volunteer programs; for English/dressage riding, Western, showjumping, polo, horsemanship, endurance and more. If you narrow down what kind of discipline you want to volunteer in it will make your search much easier! Don’t worry about being too specific in your search as there are thousands of horse riding volunteer programs around the world.
How long do you want to volunteer for? Most programs have a minimum and maximum time investment, usually the minimum is 2 or 3 weeks and the maximum is around 3, but sometimes even 6 months. It’s important to figure out how much time you want to invest and apply to the right program for that amount of time. However, if you want to spend 2 weeks somewhere but the minimum requirement is 3 weeks, do not be discouraged! If you feel like you’re the perfect fit, sell yourself!
Before we start our guide, what languages do you speak and what are you comfortable with? Not all staff speak perfect English, so this is all about what you are comfortable with. If you would like to be guided in perfect English so everything is always clear, make sure to specify this in your search.
Also read: How do I communicate with my guide if I don't speak the local language?
Before we start - make sure to have a look at the following incredible horse riding and volunteering destinations. Make sure to reach out to the place you really love, even if they don't have a volunteer program. Make sure to really sell your unique skills and try to make them aware of why they need you to come volunteer for them.
Zimbabwe - Volunteering with Rhinos and Elephants on horseback.
Argentina - Working cattle ranch in Patagonia.
Mexico - Ride at a rancho in the highlands.
Egypt - Ride Arabs through Luxor.
Spain - Ride through vineyards in Andalusia.
Also make sure to look on this website for your volunteering trip, they have lots of destinations to choose from. They offer holidays, budget holidays, volunteering opportunities and remote working stays.
Getting down to between 3 and 5 volunteer programs is very important and the very first step to finding your perfect match! Use the questions above to narrow down your options. As an example: I was traveling through Africa, from SA to Kenya and through all the countries in between and decided I wanted to volunteer somewhere during this journey. This already narrowed down my search to only Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. I had been volunteering and working at a horse safari business for almost a year and decided I wanted something different – beach rides! That already excludes Zimbabwe, but also excluded Mozambique and Tanzania as their coasts were too far off-route for me. It was clear: I wanted to ride horses on the beach in Malawi, so the search started. What felt like a thousand instagram hashtags, facebook pages and google deep-dives later, I narrowed it down to 3 farms and ended up finding my perfect match.
To find the perfect horse riding destination for your time as a volunteer concerns thinking about your budget, time investment and more. Check the companies’ websites and/or instagram pages to see if there is any information about a volunteer program. However, if there is no info about a volunteer program, don’t give up immediately but try sending them a message/email asking about the possibility of volunteering. To find your match, also check if there is a weight limit for the horses or any required experience and skills. Once you’ve found your perfect match(es), it’s time to start applying!
Applying to more than one volunteer program is the smartest thing to do, I usually apply to 2 programs that match with my preferences in case one of them doesn’t work out. When you write your application make sure to check the website to see if there are any forms you need to fill out, read and complete them thoroughly to not make a sloppy first impression. Make sure to make your application personal and fitting to the company you’re applying, a compliment never hurts! Don’t be afraid to sell yourself as there might be a lot of competition. However, if you’re authentic, straight to the point and confident with your skills, you have nothing to worry about!
Hard work, bliss, the hardest days of your life and the best.
After being accepted into a volunteer program you will most likely receive an email with an outline of the kind of work that’s expected of you. It’s difficult for me to tell you what to expect from your time as a volunteer as every program is different. However, I can tell you about my experiences. Every volunteer I’ve ever met (or been) experiences that one day or week where you feel like it’s all falling apart. I had that day when I arrived in South Africa as a volunteer for the first time and was trying to fall asleep on an air mattress, in 40 degrees, in a house riddled with (very loud!) termites. However, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, when we moved to a different volunteer house a few months later, I honestly missed my termite riddled little home. When you’re volunteering with horses overseas, you will experience an entirely new culture and environment so it’s not strange to feel alone and a little scared. However, I’ve also had the most amazing days of my life while volunteering and it’s worth the few moments where you’re a bit lost. It might feel like a big leap to decide to volunteer for the first time and especially for an extended period of time but I promise you, it’s an absolutely amazing experience.
TIP: Have a look at this blog post to read all the information on a fantastic volunteer program in Zimbabwe all about wildlife conservation and horse riding, and the post includes an exclusive discount code!
Are you still not certain how to start or continue your search for the perfect horse riding volunteer program or have any other questions? Do not hesitate to contact me! I'll be more than happy to create the perfect horse riding trip for you. If you want more information or are looking to get more involved in this lifestyle, we can schedule an online consultation and discuss! You can find the rates and options for online consultations here. You can also fill in the contact form or message me on instagram.
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