Sabine's Smiling Horses in Costa Rica
Soa's Volunteering Story 2011/2012
Pura vida! This is how I felt here the day I arrived.
I came to Costa Rica in April 2011 for a 5 month trip around the country. I first went to the Peninsula de Nicoya to relax and enjoy the beach. But soon enough I was ready to look for volunteering experiences. That thought never left my mind so my new vacation goal was on. The peninsula didnít offer me anything successful so I carried on to Monteverde. I always knew I wanted to horseback ride on my trip and a lot for that matter. So when I found Sabineís Smiling Horses in the Lonely Planet, I immediately went online and saw the volunteering opportunities. This is how it started. I wrote Sabine an email. We decided that I would come 2 months later as she didnít need me yet. I continued my trip to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and volunteered there with the indigenous communities until Sabine was ready to welcome me.
In June 2011, I was starting my day in the countryside. I stayed at Smiling Horses for 2 months. The first day went very well. We woke up around 6 AM, fed the horses (they are very well fed, you should know that!) with Tara, Sabineís daughter. She showed me around the farm a little bit and we fixed breakfast together. The rest of the day was spent getting to know each other and the animals. Mainly, I went with the flow and tried to help as much as possible everywhere I could.
A typical day evolves around the tours scheduled during the day. It could go from 1 to 3 tours a day which requires a lot of flexibility from one another. You also get to feed the horses, brush and wash them and give a lot of love. You have different tasks depending on the weather, like cleaning the saddles, cleaning the barn, fixing fences or cut grass with Jimmy, the employee.
I didnít have any farm life experience before coming to Costa Rica and so volunteering here requires a lot of willingness to learn. You have to: love animals, be willing to teach and be taught, know a little bit of Spanish, be ready to discover new muscles you never thought you had and GET DIRTY! Therefore, I started helping on tours and soon enough I was guiding on my own. Although, I really loved guiding with Tara as much as possible as she is the most educated 10 year old you will ever meet.
During the night time, the house is full of laughter. You get to cook with Sabine and Tara, discover new recipes, make new ones, eat a lot, tell stories of travelling and even play games after dinner.
Altogether, I spent such a nice summer I came back in December for the high season and because I missed my new host family so much. I spent another 2 months here just picking everything up where I left it. Every week I fell in love with a new horse and at the end just wanted to ride them all the times for all tours, I could never make up my mind. Prince, the 1 year old foal, will always stay in my heart as my favourite baby horse ever!
I left with much more knowledge about horses then I could ever imagine. I truly wish every new volunteer will enjoy their experience at Smiling Horses as much as I did as a part of my heart stayed there forever.
Soanandrianina Rajaona or Soa
Claudia's Volunteering Story 2008
In October 2007 I started traveling in Costa Rica with a friend. We would travel for nine weeks and do some volunteering on farms throughout Costa Rica. Because I really like to ride and be around horses, I was looking for a place where I could do that. Through another person I came into contact with Sabine and we agreed on a date for me to arrive in Santa Elena.
The first few days were spent getting to know the place with all the animals and there are lots of them! I always enjoy living with families and share not only food but lots of stories and experiences as well, which I also did while traveling around Australia. Although I hadnít guided horse tours before, I used to ride horses a lot and I worked on cattle stations in Australia. The local guides that Sabine had, showed me the different rides around the area and soon I was guiding the tours myself! Advantage of doing is this is that I both get to ride, which I love to do, and meet lots of interesting people.
Thereís not a really typical day at Sabineís Smiling Horses, everything depends on the rides that are coming in. Some days there are two tours a day and Iíll be on a horse for 4 to 6 hours and other days Iíll oil the saddles or clean out the stables. Because of this variety it doesnít get boring. I learned a lot of new things here too, which not all have to do with horses. From drawing and painting to cutting sugar cane and planting grass, and playing ďUnoĒ with who ever is in the house. Being a volunteer here means sharing lots of fun, in the house but also when there are activities in Santa Elena or Monteverde. For New Yearís for example, we went to a Beatles tribute concert of all local musicians of the Monteverde community and the week before we went to Costa Rican circus! Generally, there was something going on almost once a week. Now Iíve been here almost six weeks and Iím still not bored!
Although I have two favorite horses, I like them all! I am really glad that I decided to extended my stay in Costa Rica and therefor at Sabineís Smiling Horses!!
Laura's Volunteering Story 2006
I am 23 year old graduate student from Northern California in the United States. I first volunteered with Sabine in the summer of 2004 and have returned 3 more times not only to work, but to visit Sabine who I now consider my friend.
I have been riding horses since I was 9, both at English stables and at a ranch where we rode western. I lived at the barn as a kid, working in exchange for lessons and trying to find horses to ride as I did not have my own. Because of this work, and my experience on the ranch where we worked with young horses I consider myself to be pretty well-rounded when it comes to horses. This is why I sought out Sabine and her farm, where it seemed she truly cared about the animals and not just making money off of them. I offered Sabine my knowledge of horses and willingness to learn in exchange for room and board and a chance to live in the wonderful town of Monteverde for the summer.
From the first day I walked into her house, Sabine made me feel incredibly welcome and at ease. The way she invites people into her house and holds nothing back is refreshing and makes one feel immediately like you are part of the family. Her daughter Tara has never-ending energy and a wild imagination. She will be happy to show you around the farm and it is guaranteed that you will find yourself playing games or reading books to her in a matter of hours. It is a very multicultural house as Sabine is from Germany, we are living in Costa Rica, and there are constantly tourists from different countries passing through. Three languages are spoken with regularity - German between Sabine and Tara, Spanish with the employees and locals, and English with most of the tourists and volunteers.
There are constantly new animals at the farm and it takes time to learn their names and individual personalities. At any point in time, there will be cats, dogs, rabbits, a guinea pig, goats, ducks, parakeets, and of course horses. Sabine has a passion for breeding and training her own horses so there are always foals running around and young horses to work with. It is a very satisfying accomplishment to meet a foal one year, work with them as yearlings the next summer and then return in a couple years to be able to ride them on tours and know that you helped with their training and had a hand in forming a reliable trail horse.
When I am staying on the farm, I find that my main job is to help Sabine in whatever she needs to do. Because of my experience with horses, that often means preparing the horses for tours and leading the tours, and also working with horses on the ground and in the round pen. This often allowed her employee to do other jobs that I am less qualified to do, such as shoeing horses, repairing fences, and cutting sugar cane. When you live on a farm, there is always work to do and I guarantee you will never get bored!
As you will come to know, the tourism industry is very cyclical Ė for days on end you will have no tours and then in one day there will be three. Because of this, it is extremely important to be flexible. You will wake up each morning having a general idea of what you want to accomplish but at the same time you must be ready to change at a momentís notice. It is hard to describe what a typical day would be like since we never know, but in general, the day starts at 6:30am. The animals get their breakfast first then we sit down to eat. Tours are usually given at 9am, 1pm or 4pm so you may be getting horses ready to go out and greeting the tourists or welcoming them as they return and putting the horses away. If not, then the morning may be filled with working in the round pen with the young horses, moving horses from field to field, cleaning the rabbit house, or weeding in the garden. Lunch is usually served around mid-day, followed by a short rest time and then another period of work. Unless you are on a sunset tour, the day usually ends around 5pm when the rain often comes and forces people indoors (at least during the rainy season). In the evenings I like to spend some time with Tara, Sabine usually cooks a great dinner, and there is always time to read a good book or play cards. After Tara goes to sleep, I often find myself sitting out on the patio with Sabine, talking for hours until we both agree we need to go to sleep so we can wake up the next day and do the whole thing over again.
I donít eat meat so when I travel I am always a little worried about people being able to handle my restrictions and getting a variety of food. (While I love gallopinto, I cannot eat this 3 times a day!!) Sabine is very understanding when it comes to dietary needs and individual preferences. She is a good cook and will often take requests for meals (I love her pancakes). In addition to the Costa Rican staples of rice and beans, she makes some German foods which I have come to love. There are always plenty of things to snack on throughout the day and she encourages you to feel at home and help yourself to whatever you want. One thing is guaranteed Ė you will not go hungry in this house!
In the end, I want to convey how wonderful my experience has been on this farm. Sabine truly makes an effort to ensure that you are happy with your work and finds a way to integrate you into her family of people and animals. I have been here 4 times now and will continue to come back because of Sabine. Even though she is very well-travelled and educated, she has an intense desire to learn from everyone she meets, and for this I admire her. I have shared many nights of great conversation with her and other friends and always find my time on the finca to be fulfilling and well worth the trip. I highly recommend this as a volunteer opportunity for anyone with a passion for animals, especially horses, and a desire to live life to the fullest as Sabine does every day.
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