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I’ve always been curious of what lies outside my little town in Maine, and this sense of curiosity led me to another quiet town on the South Island of New Zealand, Gore.
Another fact about myself is that I enjoy saving money. Yes, I know, this trait is a hard one to stay loyal to, especially when working with horses.
However, I found ways. I found out about a program called WWOOFing. The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I could discuss the whole process of how the site works, but in order to avoid boredom, I will keep it short.
Basically, you work on farms in exchange for free accommodation and food. The site allows you to find and interact with hosts.
I cheated a little bit, and keyword searched the word “horse”.
Raking weeds for 5 months didn’t sound so appealing, so I filtered those right out. By doing this, I found a wonderful stranger.
His name is Trevor Copland, owner of Cosy Dell Arabians. Little did I know, this stranger would shape my life, and my understanding of horses greatly.
I was scared, nervous, and questioning my decision to go to the farthest possible point from home. This all disappeared seconds after meeting Trevor. He picked me up from the airport smiling and barefoot. Quite honestly, he seemed more like family. Upon arrival, I thought I would be helping at a barn, similar to how the American equine industry works. It was entirely different. The Arabians ran freely, on many hectares of land. I also believed I would be handling, for lack of a better word, “normal” horses. However, these horses were special.
Generally speaking, the Arabians are born wild, from mares who are not handled. They then grow up on the fields just being horses and later are brought in around 5 years old to be handled, and eventually ridden. I certainly had my work cut out for me.
A couple of the girls I worked with and I were assigned a young Arabian. Trevor was always careful who he let work with these horses, as it could get dangerous quickly. We learned from Trevor how to understand the horses, when to apply pressure and when to remove it. He had a special way with the horses, he trusted them and never once doubted them.
Trevor always said that you need to take a break in between working with each horse. I didn’t think it made any difference. To be entirely honest, I didn’t understand half of the things Trevor did. However after 5 months, I understood. I understood why patience is so important. I understood what the horses were thinking. I understood why you mount from both sides. Why you need to stay in the horses “pocket”. Everything Trevor taught, that I thought was bogus, turned out to be entirely relevant. I will never forget what I learned there.
I worked with about ten young horses while I was there, and each case was an entirely different story. I remember one day I was hanging out with Bambi in his paddock. Not touching him, just talking to him and learning his language. I then repositioned myself slightly on the fence post and this was enough to set him off running through the fence to the other horses. Yes, through the fence. All I could say was, “Well, he’s not a jumper.” You seem to forget how sensitive these horses really are, until you do something no other horse would have lost its marbles over.
That being said, I had another horse I broke in named “Opie”. He was the complete opposite of Bambi. When he was first learning to lead, I laid out a towel on the ground, something most of the arabs would have a fit over, and asked him to follow me over it. He stopped just before it, lowered his head, sniffed it, then followed me over. I laughed just thinking about Bambi running through a fence when I just shifted my weight, and here was Opie with a horse-eating towel under him and he couldn't care less.
I can only hope I can go back some day. I have never seen someone so kind to his horses. So understanding, not only to horses, but to his WWOOFers as well. I wish I had never left.
After Trevor’s I spent some time working with sport horses. The horses were incredible, but it was not the place for me. Most of the family was welcoming, and most cared about how I was feeling. However, promises weren’t kept, and I saw things that I didn't agree with and couldn’t ignore. One thing I would like to point out about WWOOFing is that there are hosts that are not fit for everyone.
I got incredibly lucky with Trevor. Just a tip for someone who may be thinking of WWOOFing, do your research before going to your host, read the reviews on the farm (they really do reflect well), and never feel like you are obligated to stay. You may leave at any point you are unhappy.
After two weeks, I decided to leave. My curiosity led me to another host who practiced and taught liberty riding. I had never even attempted going bridleless, so I thought hey, why not. With only two weeks left, I might as well push myself. So I left for the Centre of Connected Horsemanship & Liberty Riding.
Between Jo and Trevor, my understanding of horses was shifted. My patience grew, and I learned to trust horses in an entirely different way. I had an incredible time in New Zealand, and I will never regret my decision to travel so far from home. It has become a second home for me and I now have connections that I never would have made without WWOOFing. I could not recommend it enough. It is extremely affordable, and the growing and learning you will experience is unlike any other.
Thank you to Trevor, for being such an incredible host and an incredible horseman. Thank you to Jo Baker for having such an interesting understanding of horses, and for teaching it to students all over the world. I will be forever grateful for the knowledge and understanding that I learned from both Trevor Copland and Jo Baker.
Story, photos and video by Kendall Szumilas