For years, every time my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday, I would tell them a pony. Finally, my parents surprised me with a horse. I didn’t believe them until we picked him up the next day. The rest was history.
And, in case you’re wondering, I still want a pony for Christmas.
Many backpackers traveling around Australia on a working holiday visa either work in hospitality or farming. Most spend three months picking whatever fruit of vegetable is in season to earn their second-year visa. As an American, I don’t qualify for a second-year visa, but I knew I wanted to work on a horse farm.
I had horses for ten years before we sold them so I could go to college. It was a sad day to sell my childhood best friend, but he went to a good home with another little girl who fell in love with him. Moving to Australia gave me the opportunity to work with horses again on someone else’s dime. And, I got paid to do so!
During my first four months in Australia, I worked on two different horse farms in New South Wales. Both farms were very different with each resulting in very different experiences.
The first farm was an Olympic eventing stable just west of Sydney. The head rider won a team gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and he was gunning for the Rio team with several horses. I’ve never worked at a high-performance competition stable before so the experience was high stress. Of course, the pressure of the Olympics didn’t help anyone, and the rider I was working for has a bit of a reputation in Australia as being very difficult to work with, to say politely.
The days were long and much of the work was manual labor. I got paid a weekly wage with free accommodation in a small cottage and the use of the farm car. I worked there six weeks before I decided to move on to a new farm. I had enough of the pressure and stress and a friend from home connected me to the second stable I worked at, which turned out to be an amazing experience.
For the past two months, I worked at a small Warmblood breeding farm two hours south of Sydney along the South Coast. The second farm was a complete 180 from the first. I was surrounded by beautiful lush green fields filled with horses, dairy cows, and wineries. The work consisted of feeding, rugging, and helping break in the horses. I fell in love with all the horses immediately. And, my host family was just as awesome.
Day to day activities on a horse farm vary widely, but I’ll give you a breakdown on an average day at the Olympic eventing stable as there are many groom and stablehand jobs available on high-performance competition farms in Australia.
6:45 AM – Wake up
7:00 AM – Finish making morning feeds and throw a bale of hay in the trailer. Drive the quad bike around to all the paddocks and feed the horses (Side note: Most horses in Australia are not stabled at night. They live in small yards and paddocks 24/7). Before each horse is fed, we check their legs, face, and body for any injuries, missing shoes, or signs of illness. Depending on the time of year and temperature, we either take off or change their rugs (blankets), too. Feed runs take about an hour.
7:50 AM – Prep evening feed. Sweep and organize feed shed.
8:00 AM – Head to the office to check in with owners about the health of the horses and get a brief overview of the day. Daily schedules can change in a matter of seconds depending on owner schedules, vet or farrier appointments, or the weather.
8:15 AM – Breakfast
8:30 AM – Start getting the first horses ready for riding. Most of the time the head rider rode 4-5 horses, and his wife would ride another 1-3 horses. Occasionally, grooms would be asked to ride or lunge a horse or two depending on schedules.
9:00 AM – The first horse is ridden. While one horse is being ridden, another would be brought up to be groomed and tacked up. We always made sure that at least one horse is ready and on deck to be ridden. Once a horse is ridden, we untacked it, bathed it and turned it out in its paddock.
12:00 – 1:00 PM – Riding is usually complete by 12 or 1 pm, but it could be as late as 2:30 pm some days. Once all the horses are worked are turned out, it is time for lunch. Per our contracts, we are supposed to have an hour lunch break, but that rarely happened. At best we got a half hour and at the worse, we got 5 minutes to pee and shove food down our mouths.
1:00 – 3:30 PM – The afternoon is spent completing chores. Each day has a set amount of tasks that need to be completed. Some of the easier chores like, cleaning the rider’s boots, checking rugs for holes, and putting out rat bait, would only take a few minutes. But, other chores, like dragging the two arenas, would take up to an hour.
These chores are all on top of daily chores like sweeping, washing rugs and saddle clothes, and general cleanliness. And, then there are the written in tasks that will completely screw up your day, like clipping a horse or a vet and farrier appointment. When these chores happened, either you’d have to move the other less important chores to another day, or you were working a 12-hour day.
4:00 PM – Feed the horses their evening feeds. Some horses would have to be moved from their day paddocks to their night yards. Depending on the time of year, we would have to put on their medium or heavy rugs, too.
5:00 PM – Check off chores and write through the diary. Bring diaries to the office. Done for the day!
Most of the time there were two grooms on staff, but I spent two weeks alone as the only groom at one point. That was challenging and stressful. And, don’t get me started on squad training or competition days! Let’s just stay, working on a horse farm is a lot of work for very little pay.
Since I was working at an Olympic stable, I had the opportunity to be the Olympic groom for my boss and travel with him to Rio. It was an incredible opportunity, and I struggled with the decision, but ultimately I decided against going even though it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One of the other girls I worked with for a month on the farm went, and I couldn’t have been more excited for her! And, in case you are wondering, Australia won a team bronze in eventing in Rio! That’s Pluto, the Olympic horse above in his special compression suit (that was a total bitch to put on)!
My time on the breeding farm was low key. Only one horse was in work at the time, and I got to help his trainer break him in for riding. Alfie is a beautiful 3-year-old Warmblood gelding who I madly fell in love with right away. Unfortunately, he’s a bit afraid of everything, but he came a long way during my eight weeks on the farm. During my last week, Jim, his trainer, was able to trot around the round pen on him! I can’t wait to see how far he has come when I returned for a couple of weeks in September and October.
If you’re looking for an easy and well-paid job, working on a horse farm in Australia, is not it. But, if you love horses like I do, it is a rewarding experience. To find a horse farm job in Australia, use the following sites:
- Yard and Groom
- Backpacker groups on Facebook