I volunteered with horses at Rancho Carhuello in Chile for three weeks. The time went by so quickly, and I wish I could have stayed longer. Rancho Carhuello is a small family ranch, just 20 minutes from the centre of Pucon, Chile. It is surrounded by hills, volcanoes and a river. Pucon has a lot of outdoor activities to offer, and usually, tourists come here to hike the volcanoes, go river rafting or horseback riding. The ranch is run by Luis and Carmen and they live with their 5-year-old daughter.
Length of stay:
Min. 3 months and max. one season.
The first month is like a trial to see if the volunteer is fit for the job and fits in with the family. Giving a chance for both the family and volunteer to get comfortable.
Number of volunteers:
One volunteer at the time for now. In summer the ranch cabin is rented out for guests and you as a volunteer will stay in the house. Their plans for the future are to build a tiny house for their volunteers to stay in.
Oct – April. Contact them and ask if they need help out of season. More maintenance work than riding due to rain and storms.
Only female workers. Between 18 – 30 years.
The communication I had with Carmen before I arrived was really smooth. We had a phone call a month before my arrival. We discussed the details of my arrival, and she was able to tell me more about their place, the horses, and some practical information such as phone signal, weather conditions, work, what to bring, etc.
Carmen is German, and she came to Chile in 2007 to travel and ended up volunteering as a horseback guide, also in Pucon. This is where she met Luis. Luis is Chilean. He grew up in the countryside around Pucon and you can usually find him in the mountains exploring new trails on horseback, in the shed fixing various things needed around the ranch, or helping out a neighbour. Although he may not seem like the biggest fan of small talk, he’s actually a very kind and caring person. Being part of this family for three weeks has been a great experience. Living so closely with another family, you are part of their everyday life. This includes waking up and having breakfast, getting their daughter ready for school, tacking up the horses and the working day doesn’t end until bedtime. It's been a real pleasure to watch this family work together. They are a great team, both in the business and in their personal lives.
I volunteered at Rancho Carhuello in spring (October) and this is the time of year when they change from low to high season. The work around this time consists of maintenance and accompanying rides when needed. In the summer (November to February), work is mainly needed around the horses and with the trail rides they offer. They need help getting the horses ready, guiding the half-day rides, accompanying Luis on the 2-7 day horse riding holidays, and wherever else an extra hand is needed. Sometimes you need to help prepare meals for guests and keep the guests company during dinner.
They have ten horses at Rancho Carhuello. They are all horses with strong personalities. They have their friends that they prefer to walk next to and hierarchy in the group. They have horses for all levels of riding, which makes volunteering a lot more fun. The tack is typically Chilean and the riding style is western. Even if you’ve never ridden western before, it won’t take you long to learn. Please note that the rides that Rancho Carhuello offers are in the mountains and rocky areas so most of the ride is in a walk and not fast-paced.
Rancho Carhuello is looking for volunteers who can help out where needed. Whether it’s 7 hours of guiding in the saddle, or swinging a hammer and fixing fences. If you don’t feel too comfortable helping out with maintenance work, make sure to describe your strengths and weaknesses when applying for a volunteer position. It makes it a lot easier for both you as a volunteer and the team at Carhuello to make sure you have the best time.
If you are willing to learn, Luis will happily teach you how to work a saw or an axe. They shoe their horses themselves, as Luis is a farrier and he always appreciates some extra help. I had a bit of knowledge about shoeing horses after living in Uruguay some time, but Luis could explain exactly how and where to cut the hoof and the right angles for shoeing properly. This is probably one of the most useful skills I bring with me after this volunteering experience.
While fixing fences I was excited to see if it would be done the Latino way, leaving wires around and sharp edges that the horses could easily cut themselves on, but Luis got rid of all trash and made sure the fences were cut off where we had connected them so no animals would get hurt.
Spanish is a must for volunteering at Rancho Carhuello. Carmen speaks German, English and Spanish but Luis only speaks Spanish. He is patient (most of the time) and helps you along the way. I told him to please correct my Spanish so I can learn from my mistakes, which he sure did and I sure learned.
You will work closely with Luis, as you tack up horses together, go on trail rides, do maintenance work, and in case of an emergency it is very important that you have an understanding of Spanish.
When working with Luis, he will push you past your comfort zone which is very educational. For instance, I didn’t feel very comfortable working with the axe but he gave me a piece of wood and told me to chop it into smaller pieces for the asado (barbecue) and then he walked away. Turns out I did know how to use an axe after all!
Horse riding skills and general horse knowledge is required for this volunteering position. You need to be an intermediate to experienced rider but you do not need to have experience riding western style. This is super quick to learn. You need to be able to read the body language of the horses and predict if an accident is about to happen for the safety of the guests and horses.
The day starts at 7:30 am. They have their morning routine and you just wake up and slide into it. After a cup of coffee, we have breakfast and talk about which tasks have to be done. Carmen drives their daughter to school and Luis and I go start some of the work. On the days that we had trail rides we would tack up the horses and get them ready for the ride. The days that we didn’t have rides we would work on some maintenance.
From the very first day Luis tests you. The first day of work we had to shoe some horses. Luis laid out the tools and said “Carmen told me you know how to shoe a horse, so you go first and I’ll watch”. As I wrote earlier, I did know the basics of shoeing a horse but not to the point where I felt confident doing it. I gave him a suspicious look, as I was very sure I hadn’t told Carmen I knew how to shoe. Turned out I hadn’t and he was just messing with me!
One day we had to check the trail for the 2-day ride. After winter and a lot of snow and rain you have to go clear the trails and cut some trees. We actually ended up at a landslide where we didn’t have the tools to get through. After about 5 minutes of riding Luis cantered off towards a bush. He had seen a wild boar and wanted to hunt it. He didn’t get it and blamed it on me because I yelled ‘NOOO’ as he was throwing his knife.
You ride along a lake, and the first 1,5 hours is uphill. You end up in the middle of the mountains and ride on some very narrow paths right next to the mountainside. I do suffer from a severe fear of heights but usually when I’m on horseback I don’t quite feel it. I was riding Muchacho and he likes walking very close to the edge and he gave me a few small panic attacks along the way.
After another four hours of riding, Luis told me we had only made it a fourth of the way. By then my bum was starting to hurt a little. I started calculating and something didn’t add up. I told him we couldn’t only be a fourth of the way because then it would take us 16 hours until we made it to the end of the trail and to go back would be a total of 32 hours. As we had not brought anything for staying the night in the mountains, he told me we were going to use the saddles as pillows and make a fire to keep warm. Again, he was messing with me. We only had about 2 more hours of riding left and ended the day with 10 hours of riding.
As a volunteer you get all meals included and your own room in the family house. The meals are always homemade and very delicious. If you like cooking you are also very welcome to cook some of the meals. South Americans love meat and basically every meal consists of meat, potatoes and rice. At the Ranch they can also provide food for vegetarians and some vegan food, but vegan options in Chile are limited and very expensive. From your room you will have an incredible view of the Villarrica volcano. It is so dark around the farm that the number of stars on the night sky is truly incredible. I could lay in bed and watch the erupting Villarrica volcano spit out lava.
You work five days a week and get one day off. You can either spend your day off in Pucon or plan with Carmen to take a few days off in a row and go further away to explore more of Chile. For this volunteer position you need to be between 18 and 30 years old and female. The majority of the guests are female and you work very close with the guests and sometimes they will need help getting on and off the horse, so therefore they only accept female volunteers. Regarding the age, make sure to send Rancho Carhuello a message stating your previous experience in case you are not between 18 and 30 years old.
To sum it up, I had the best experience possible and when the three weeks were over, I was sad to leave the family, horses, dogs, chickens and ducks behind. Rancho Carhuello has the perfect combination of German structure and South American ‘no pasa nada’. If you haven’t worked with South Americans before and are used to the European mindset you will probably be a little impatient at times. South Americans work with the ethic that if you start one task you can’t start another before you finish the first one. This can mean you will have to watch a piece of meat for 2 hours while it’s on the BBQ. One morning Luis and I had to replace some wooden boards for the paddock. As we had finished taken down the old wood, we had to wait for Carmen to come back with the new wood. I said to Luis, now we have time to change the shoe of Moro Chico, but Luis told me we were working on the paddock now and could do the shoe when we finished the paddock. There is always something to do, so don’t hesitate to start on something else by yourself.
This is the perfect place to have your first volunteer experience and get to know Chile, but if you have previous experience with volunteering you will also have a good time as you already know the basics of guiding and won’t need as long to adapt.
If you have any questions about volunteering with Rancho Carhuello don’t hesitate to contact me on Instagram or send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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