Where: Marloie, Belgium
When: September 26 – October 19
Host: Couple on Horse Farm
Our third workaway experience was just as different as our first two had been. This host was a couple with a horse farm in Marloie, Belgium. They had mares with foals and a pasture of yearlings. We came to help them wean their foals. They also had four of the cutest doggies, lots of colorful chickens, and a large outdoor cage of beautiful birds that loved to sing.
Grace and I got up and going at 7:30 a.m. and took a bus and four trains to Marloie, Belgium. We had been in such a rush all day that we did not even have time to stop and eat. On our last train, Grace and I shared a compartment with an elderly Israeli gentleman. He made sure our parents knew where we were, gave us all his chocolate, and made us take half of his tuna sandwich.
Upon arrival, our host lady was kind enough to pick us up from the train station. On our first official day of work, Grace and I helped them move five mares and foals from the pasture to the stables. We then took one mare and baby to a separate pasture so the vet could operate on the baby’s herniated navel. After anesthesia was administered, the foal was put on her back and Grace held the front legs up while I held the back legs. I was able to get a front row seat to the operation from where I was situated. About halfway through the operation the anesthesia began to wear off and Grace and I could feel her gaining strength and starting to tense her leg muscles. We tried to alert the vet, but no one even paid attention to us. About three minutes later, we almost had a rodeo on our hands. This happened twice.
After that excitement, we went back to the stables and took the four mares out and put them back in the pasture. It was pretty sad. The next day he had us get in the box with the babies and brush and talk to them. I worked with one colt and one filly and Grace worked with one colt and one filly. We mostly worked with our same horses everyday. The first day we got into the box with them, my filly almost took my knee cap off when she swung her butt around and gave me a well aimed kick. I didn’t need our host to tell me that that was her way of telling me I was unwelcome. I caught on extremely quickly. The filly was difficult and hard headed, but after working with her everyday for about three weeks, she finally warmed up to me and became my favorite. Everyday we would get in the box and talk to them and brush them. Then, a couple days later we put halters on them, then leads. A few days later he had Grace and I take them out to the huge arena. We worked on getting them to walk and to halt. When the foals got better at this, he had us start working with their feet. We started on the front feet, working our way down the front leg, then picking it up the hoof. We would work them for about an hour at a time, multiple times a day, until they grew more and more comfortable with us and having their feet worked with.
Our host was an absolute horse whisperer. Grace and I are not horse whisperers. My mom’s family have thoroughbreds. I’ve been around horses enough to know what they look like, their smell, and which end to stay away from. I’ve witnessed a couple of births, and my mom and I enjoy riding -but that’s about it. When I’ve visited my mom’s family I’ve always enjoyed seeing the horses …from afar. Therefore, Grace and I had little knowledge and know-how to bring to the table. I know that horses are extremely smart. If you’re nervous or scared around them, they know. I was surprisingly comfortable going into this experience knowing I was getting an amazing learning opportunity. The first couple of days he was with us through everything, but after that, he would go do other work across his property or leave altogether. He gave us a lot of freedom with his horses. We tried to explain that just because he was amazing with horses, didn’t mean they listened to us the same. He was absolutely enchanting with them. He communicated so well with all the horses, it was so much fun to see him work with them. Plus, he was so patient and passionate when helping us. He really wanted to help us learn and understand. I learned so much from them, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Our other work included weedeating, power washing a stone cottage, building fences, and shoveling a lot of horse poop. Most of the time there was a radio playing country music throughout the barns and arena. We heard a lot of Johnny Cash, George Strait, Merle Haggard, and other classics. Our host reminded me of a lot of people from back home because he was always wearing his wranglers, boots, and cowboy hat. He was very proud of his ford truck. (You don’t see a lot of trucks in Europe -like ever!) It was so much fun!
At times, communication was a little difficult. They spoke English very well, but when he had to explain something or go into detail, we would get a little lost. One phrase he often said to me and we struggled with the most was “fast like a snail.” We worked on deciphering this for weeks. It wasn’t until a delay before we left that we figured out he was using ‘fast’ as ‘firm’ …I think.
After this host we are heading to Denmark to work on an organic farm. Packing up, we’ve realized how much of our clothes and shoes have soaked up the smell of horses. They have such a distinct smell. I grew up with this at my grandparents, but I never knew how it could creep into your skin and linger in everything. It’s a very comforting scent to me. And it might have made me a little homesick.