You can see the four episodes of my time at Caballo Blanco here
If I’d have looked down last year whilst riding the section of the Sierra Nevada from Nigϋelas to Pampaneira, I’d have seen Caballo Blanco which is situated mid-way up the sierra above Lanjarón.
After getting two buses, from Malaga to Granada, then Granada to Lanjaron, I waited at a bar. Sarah #1 soon arrived at the bar to pick me up, we had a quick drink and a chat. An attractive, blond, English lady, she had an air of being calmly competent, living a very hectic life. I liked her and felt safe in her hands. Even though it’s possible to read the blurb on a Helpx hosts establishment and the reviews of other helpers, one never really knows what to expect, or the true personality of the host.
After going to a supermarket to do my food shopping, we made our way up to her ranch, Caballo Blanco. Being mid-summer, the land was parched, there was a nice-looking stable block, an oasis of greenery around the cortijo, horse paddocks up and down the valley, horses, dogs and cats everywhere. How would I ever learn all their names was the first thing going through my head!
Sarah left me in the hands of her lovely son Charlie, he whizzed me around the various buildings; the outdoor compost toilet, my quarters, the helper’s kitchen, the shower etc, then left me too it.
My sleeping quarters, a stone cabin, hadn’t been lived in for around six months, so needed a good clean. It was around 4pm, the sun hadn’t soaked through the stone walls by then, so it was the coolest place around, alas that didn’t last. By midnight the stone walls had started releasing the heat they had soaked up during the day, Charlie had said it’s best to leave the door shut, but I couldn’t remember why, so I did. It was like an oven. There were mosquitoes. I couldn’t sleep. I put my tent up inside the cabin, but it was like a sauna. I couldn’t get the tent outside without taking it apart, so I got what sleep I could with the tent inside the cabin. I barely slept that first night. And I’ll be honest, I thought about leaving that day, but I told myself I must give it a couple of days at least. And I’m so glad I did.
When I left the UK, my friends Van and Kim had given me a mozzie net as a present, Sarah arranged for it to be fitted over my bed in time for my second night there. How it transformed my experience, I could sleep with the door open for cooling and be protected not only against the mozzies but also all the other insects that were around. I slept so well that second night, and from then on this bedroom was my happy little refuge.
I slowly learnt all the dogs names, I never did learn all the cats names, quite a few of them were very similar in colour, I didn’t stand a chance with my memory! The horses names were difficult to learn, most had summer fly rugs and hoods on, you could barely see their unique colouring or form so I learnt their names by which paddock they were in!
It was very hot the whole time I was there which made working in the relentless sun harder work than it would ordinarily be.
My first job of the day was to let the chickens out of their shelter and to feed them, I forgot once but luckily Sarah had spotted my mistake. It amazed me that they have a finely tuned body clock, each night just as the sun was going down, they would all go back into the coop without prompting, adjusting the time as the sundown time changed week by week. I would then lock them in, to protect them against predators. Again, I had forgotten once, I was terribly upset that I’d forgotten but luckily none were harmed.
I was to work at least five hours a day, six days a week, in return for food and accommodation. I was happy to pay for my own food, Sarah took me shopping in town once a week, to me it was my way of contributing to the ranch. I didn’t stick strictly to the hours and tried to work as much as I could, within reason. I wasn’t sleeping well, waking at around 2am for a few hours, at least giving me the chance to go out and watch the wonderful Sierra Nevada night sky. But it did leave me tired, as did the heat and moreover, the punishing sun. My jobs were varied; from cleaning the semi-outdoor shower, barbecue, and outdoor cooker to tacking up horses and building fences.
For three weeks, after letting the chickens out, I’d spend a couple of hours a day, before the sun got too hot, repairing the fence around Tequila’s paddock, which was located ‘over the river’, basically down and up a valley. I’d be greeted each morning by Fluffy, a beautiful fluffy grey puss cat. She was banished over the river because Porcini, another cat, didn’t like her. He was a bully, poor Fluffy. I got quite attached to her, she would come in my bedroom for cuddles and sleep under the table in our kitchen, I’d try to protect her as much as I could. I was so very sad to leave her, I hope she is happy and healthy.
The wooden poles needed fixing to the metal posts, some of the poles weren’t quite long enough, so fixing them with bail string was quite difficult but I did my best! No two poles were fixed the same, but it looked quite tidy by the time I’d finished.
Sarah's partner, Miguel, grows many vegetables in the three vegetable gardens at Caballo Blanco, luckily I didn't have to weed them!! But most days I would pick vegetables: tomatoes, courgettes, peppers, chillis and French beans, for Sarah's household and for me and Linda. It was lovely to eat fresh veg, along with the fresh eggs. Me and Linda took turns in making a soup, usually tomato or courgette, which would last us a few days.
I could have ridden the horses more than I did, I found a two hour ride in the blistering sun drained my energy for the rest of the day but I enjoyed the rides I was taken on by either Linda or Elle. They have some fabulous routes up or down the sierra, along the caminos and along some steep and rocky singletrack that would have also been fun on a mountain bike. It was scarier riding steeply downhill, over rocks, on a horse than it is on a mountain bike, being so high up, and totally dependent on the horse’s sure-footedness.
When I was a kid, I had a fascination with Percheron horses, a French working horse. I'd never actually seen one until I arrived at Caballo Blanco. Malibu stood out from all the other horses, I noticed her as soon as I took a look around the paddocks, she is so big, around 17 hands high. I was very lucky as I'd always wanted to ride a Percheron, and Elle arranged with Sarah for me to ride Malibu! Elle rode Ciel and I rode Malibu, out on the sierra, it was wonderful. She was such a good girl, very well behaved and a comfortable ride. This was one of the many memorable times of my time at Caballo Blanco.
I had planned on staying a month or two, as it turned out I stayed just over five weeks, which wasn't long enough really but I was keen to secure myself another placement that could take me through September, when the weather would have cooled a little, making bikepacking a little more comfortable. And that’s where Sarah #2 comes in! Really, I could have stayed at Caballo Blanco as long as I wanted, within reason, Sarah was happy with my work, but I didn’t want to miss the chance of going to Sarah #2’s. As it turns out I could have stayed a little longer as the house-sitting Sarah #2 wanted me to do didn’t come to fruition until a much later date.
It’s now mid-November, I’ve been with Sarah #2 since mid-August. Looking back at those balmy days at Caballo Blanco fills me with such joy, it was a wonderful experience. I would love to go back but doubt I’ll get the chance now. Certainly, when I’m back on my feet and have a job, I’ll send them some money when I can.
Caballo Blanco not only rescues horses, Sarah also takes in any animal in need, hence not only the horses, cats and dogs but birds, geese and chickens. Whilst I was there her daughter Emma was looking after two foster kittens, both of which were found forever homes by the strong animal rescue network that exists in the Sierra Nevada. Sarah funds the ranch with the money raised from giving riding lessons and horse trekking experiences, and from donations.
The menagerie whilst I was there consisted of 25 horses, around 7 dogs and 10 cats, a flock of geese, two flocks of chickens, and a partridge (not in a pear tree). Sarah also has two teenage kids to look after, when I arrived, she was doing all the work herself, quite amazing!