It’s now been about two weeks since I was on the ranch, which has given me plenty of time to reflect on the time I spent there (mainly thinking that I’d love to go back), and makes it a good time to write a review for my first ‘Workaway’ placement.
I did not want to go to the ranch. I knew it would be fun. I knew I’d meet new people. I knew I’d be in a part of the world I’d never been before.
I was coming off the back of an awesome two months at my summer camp with a huge group of friends; many of whom were sticking together and planning their own travel arrangements, jetting off across America or into Canada. They were researching all the exciting places they were going to see, all the cool things they’d do. Having spent 3 months in 2013, and another 3 months this year, and having never really left New York State (shhh, flying into Newark, New Jersey, and driving through Pensylvania doesn’t count), the temptation was high to go further afield.
Me and a friend, Charlie even thought up a mad plan to buy a cheap car, drive down to Miami and back, before trying to selling it on (or burning it and rolling it into the ocean.) The fact our budget was only about $500 each wasn’t a deterrent – it just meant we’d be sleeping in the rust-bucket of a car we’d managed to buy, in between our meals of plain rice). Somehow, we even roped two girls into this plan (not the burning bit) and spent a fortnight planning the logistics, however it was only when the eventual (and inevitable?) car transaction fell through that I resigned myself to going to the ranch.
I guess that’s a lesson in flexibility when travelling – be flexible and ready to go with the flow. But, I guess the following is a lesson in embracing whatever the next step is – you never know how brilliant something might be!
It was strange arriving on the ranch. I felt very excited, having spoken to Alice (the host) about everything I’d be getting up to over the next few weeks, but it was bizarre arriving on the ranch where everyone is already in an established group – I was the newbie. It was completely different to Camp, where 90 individuals turn up at the same. Initially, on the ranch I found myself having to put effort in to striking up conversations, but everyone was very welcoming, and I soon got to know all the girls who worked there well. This was aided by some drinking on one of the first nights which helped me get to know everyone well… maybe too well aha! After that, we felt like a close team working together, but also good friends who we could have some banter with. Naturally, being the only guy, this banter was repeatedly targeted at me, but it was all good-humoured and always a sweet atmosphere.
I embraced living with so many girls fully and had a few experiences I never thought I’d have… or had never thought about at all really! From seaweed face masks to painted nails, from plucked eyebrows to a make-up filled face, they could all be ticked off the bucket list… if they were ever even on it!
With hindsight, I can see the two hours preparatory horse riding I did in Wales before leaving, didn’t set me up with what to expect. Being by far the least experienced on the ride meant that when going on staff rides, it was a baptism of fire, and I just had to cling on and keep up! We cantered on the first day, and the progressions continued over the following days, with my confidence increasing at a similar rate, leading up to my eventual demise, when I galloped and fell off on the last day. This allowed me a chance to do some awesome things with horses, many of which are covered in the blog posts, but there is one which was definitely top; the bareback full moon canter. Definitely one of my favourite memories from the ranch, perhaps of the entire summer, it was just amazing. I was pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, if not cantering away from the boundary on the other side in a stunning place, under a full moon and super starry night, but that waswhat made it such a thrilling and spectacular experience.
The work wasn’t all that tough, having arrived on what may be the quietest fortnight of the year, which allowed for many staff rides, and a pretty chilled time. When there was work, it was nothing to complain about, and was usually just riding with guests on trails. The hardest work came on one of the last days when we had to shift 550 bales of hay brought in by truck into our upstairs barn, which was very physically tiring and a nice challenge. The plot twist in this story, is that, upon completion, a few of the bales were discovered to be a barn fire hazard, and we had to take them all back out again. The plot twist again, is that the following morning, the declaration was made “they’re not a fire hazard”, and they all had to be placed back in the barn! I remember saying that in a few weeks, we’d be laughing about it, to try and ease some frustrations. It’s now been a few weeks, and it still makes me laugh!
I really appreciated the way we weren’t just seen as a source of cheap labour, but our host was keen for us to get lots of out of the experience too and have a great time, and would take us on trips around the area whether to the Amish Community, Letchworth Falls State Park, or simply out for a (fully paid) meal at a restaurant! What a nice tough! In the two weeks I was there, I was taken on 5 or 6 trips, which was highly generous, and made for a lotta fun!
When the 15th September came, I did not want to leave the horse ranch. I’d had fun, met new people, and been living in a new part of the world!
So, having done my first Workaway, it’s safe to say that I absolutely loved it. Would I do another one? Oh for sure! I think it will be a radically different experience however. We were very blessed on the ranch with so many other people; the ranch would have been drastically transformed with no other staff, as it was 12 miles from the nearest town so would have had the potential to be quite lonely, and dull. It would clearly be less important if you were busier or had more work to do (which is pretty likely), or were less removed from the wider world. I’m not saying another Workaway would be worse, just different!
If you’re interested in more detail on what life on the ranch was like, here’s part 1, a great place to start!