ESR’S Horse Internship, Natural Horsemanship work Trade Program.


This is a great opportunity to work hands-on with all eleven of our horses on a daily basis while learning Natural Horsemanship. More than a work-trade arrangement, our horse internship program focuses on teaching you to handle the horses using body language and leadership and allows you to put those skills into action. Because each of our horses has a very different personality, or “horseonality”, you will gain experience in putting your new found skills to work in a variety of contexts. Our work and learn program is very good for our horses because of the close personal attention you will be providing them.
We are also the only horse internship in Costa Rica that offers lessons in dressage/finesse riding and also lessons in jumping with natural horsemanship theory.
The chance to develop personal relationships with each of the horses using natural horsemanship makes this more than either a work-trade or a vacation, it is a valuable experience of a lifetime.


Exchanging work also has the benefit of significantly reducing the costs of your travel experience. While the basic riding vacation at ESR is $125 a day, with the work and learn program you can reduce that cost to approximately $36 a day. The minimum time commitment for this program is one month. Each additional day after the first month is also $36. 100% of the fee goes towards feeding the horses.

This includes:

  • Private room
  • All meals per day which can be catered to special diets (vegan, gluten-free)
  • Instruction in natural horsemanship based games, riding, jumping, and dressage depending on your interests
  • Trail rides
  • All day access to our horses as they live on the farm
  • Access to a large Parelli natural horsemanship video library

This is truly a great way to save on your travels and experience living on a beautiful horse farm, practice Natural Horsemanship, ride mountain trails, or improve your dressage and jumping while working with Costa Rican horses.

CURRICULUM (The “Study” in the Work Study)

The curriculum is largely based on Parelli with concepts from other natural horsemanship schoolings.

There are only two to three work study placements at a time so that you get plenty of daily instruction and access to the horses.  In your free time, you can compliment your hands-on studies by browsing our large Parelli natural horsemanship video library.

You will participate in a personalized learning program including natural horsemanship sessions, riding lessons, trail riding, and practice time.


  • Morning and evening feed and cleaning of stalls and paddock
  • Turnout and bringing in horses
  • Giving medicines and general horse care throughout the day as necessary
  • Errands related to the upkeep of the farm
  • Organization and cleaning of tack equipment
  • Help with hay and other deliveries that can arrive at random times during the day.

Work Studies are expected to clean up after themselves and help with accommodating clients.

We encourage you to give a lesson/ lessons in what you are learning to our volunteers. This helps you achieve a deeper understanding of the theory.
We may work on creative projects that require drawing or writing abilities. You are welcome to help with existing projects or suggest your own! Past Work Studies have helped out with sign making, painting, creating artwork, and copywriting.


Help with our Women’s Scholarship Program 

There’s a huge absence of women in the equestrian world of Costa Rica. When girls go to see a horse, they also see the harsh way of handling and training that is commonly used here. This can be a frightening experience for them and they often lose interest in participating.

The horses are desperate for girls to get involved, they have the power to change Costa Rica’s horse world for the better. Through the empowerment of Costa Rican women, our Women’s Scholarship Program helps to improve the lives of Costa Rican horses.

The girls and women in our program have a great time while they learn and build their confidence in the natural horsemanship methods. At Establo San Rafael, they learn that there’s another approach and the word is getting around!

Our work study students are encouraged to help with this program, it’s lots of fun!



Please contact me at to sign up.


You will stay in the single room with a twin bed, desk, chair, shelf and an electric outlet. The bathroom and hot shower are just a few steps away. Towels and sheets will be provided. A laundry machine and clothes lines for drying are available near the main house. All meals are served at the main house with the family and any guests that may be staying at the B&B.


Here is a good list of questions from a perspective work study.

1. What is the main language being used around the stable? Are there opportunities to immerse me in Spanish?

I speak English and a little Spanish and my husband speaks both.
The scholarship program you may be helping with are all Spanish speaking girls.
There is very little English spoken in the neighborhood we live in.

2. Are there opportunities for me to socialize with nearby locals?


3. I understand that 3 meals are provided per day. Will I also have access to a refrigerator and a kitchen to make my own snacks/meals if I’d like to?

We expect you to make yourself at home – you have access to the kitchen and house all day. You are welcome to keep any special items in the fridge.
Things that are not in our usual grocery list you will need to buy yourself, although we do adjust our meals and diet according to who is here.

4. What kind of food is served at meals?
All kinds.
We can accommodate special dietary needs (e.g. vegan, gluten-free), please email us the details. You can come with us to do the shopping and help prepare the meals.

5. About how many hours of work per day do you expect from your work-study volunteers? Does the program run Monday through Sunday or is it only
5 days a week with the weekends or some other days being free?

Each morning, expect to spend around two hours distributing the feed and water and cleaning stalls and paddock. In the evening you will clean the stalls and feed the horses, which takes around 30 – 40 mins. The horses do need care every day but days off can be arranged beforehand.

6. I understand that the work-studies are expected to help out throughout the day as they are needed. Is it possible to arrange the free time to go elsewhere? If possible, I’d like to get a clear understanding of what is expected of me at various times.

Yes, time off can be arranged, preferably after the morning horse chores are finished.

7. What is transportation like from the farm to the rest of Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has an excellent public transportation system. You can catch a bus from the farm to the local town of Puriscal.

8. If you only have 2 to 3 work-study people at a time, about how many house and garden volunteers do you have at a given time?

I take two house and garden volunteers at a time. The volunteer position has nothing to do with the horses. Often there is not one scheduled

9. Do you use a specific method of natural horsemanship?

I use allot of the Parelli curriculum but I began my journey with horses when I was 15 with Monty Robert’s philosophy.  I have been influenced by many others in recent years including David Litchman and Parelli.

10. Can I work with the horses during my free time?

You are encouraged to take a horse to the ring to practice as much as you can. The more hands on time you have with them the more you will learn.

11. Do you have a suggested packing list you can send me?

A rain coat would be good if it’s rainy season.
Rubber boots, but you can also get them here.
Several pairs of long pants that are not too tight for riding.
A light long sleeve shirt for the sun.
Bug repellent.
Hat-cap for the sun.
A light sweater, it can get chilly at night.
For girls, a good sports bra for riding.

12. Does the $36/day cover all fees?

Yes, your room, food, and horse program are all covered.
You will not spend money while you are on the farm. When we go to town you may want to buy personal items. This will be the only time you will have the opportunity to spend any money.

13. Can I get an airport pick up?

Yes, the price is $70. late night hours$80 Please send your flight information.

14. Can I do my laundry?

Yes, you are free to use the washing machine and closes line.


Here are what others have said about our work study program.

“Incredible Work/Study Position”
5 of 5 starsReviewed April 23, 2015, NEW
My 4 weeks at Establo San Rafael was certainly the experience of a lifetime! First of all, when you do this program, you become family. Brenda, Abel, and all their animals take you in and give you more love than your heart can handle. Mine burst on the daily 🙂 and I could go on and on about how great Brenda and Abel are as hosts, and how they put their livelihoods on the line to make sure these animals have the best care possible, but let me talk more about the work study position:

If you don’t mind getting a little dirty, sweaty, and you don’t consider work with animals “work” (as in, work you dread – like going to work in an office), you will love every second of this position. See, that’s how I am. Feeding the goats, bathing the horses, giving medicine to a sick foal, and running around taking care the things that make the lives better for these animals is not considered “work” to me, so I loved every minute of it!! I woke up at 6:30 am every day and went to bed around 10 pm still trying to fit in tasks and play with the horses — there’s so much to do and learn and so many animals to interact with, you will never be bored!!! 4 weeks wasn’t nearly enough!!

It’s also noteworthy that Brenda allows you to be very independent, which I also really liked. She won’t give you a strict schedule and chore list; she will trust that you know what should get done and that if you don’t, you will ask or jump in when you notice your help is needed. She is just tickled when you want to learn something new like clipping the goat’s feet or when you want to take the “Old Man” (Congo) down to the river for some special one-on-one time. The day is yours to use how you please and Brenda will always make sure you have received a lesson, gone on a trail ride or some knowledge. You will never go to bed feeling like you didn’t learn or grow in some way. The amount you learn about yourself, your strength, your connection with the animals and with nature is mind-blowing! As long as you’re open to it 🙂

Like with anything, the experience is what you make it — though you’d have to try really hard to make this one a bad one. But what I mean is, if you love animals & you want to interact with them, learn horsemanship the natural way, make lasting relationships with a wonderful host family, live somewhere beautiful and quiet, learn lots and keep busy, DO THIS INTERNSHIP! It is worth every penny and every drop of sweat.

Establo San Rafael is now my home away from home and I hope to visit every year. Natalie.

Traveling to Establo San Rafael was amazing. To this day, it remains my favorite trip of all time. The farm is exceptionally beautiful, which makes living and riding there almost majestic.
Brenda, the owner of the farm, has a special pack of horses that are each unique. For this reason, she can accommodate all levels and styles of riding. I would recommend her trips to anyone. Brenda is not only one of the kindest people I have come across, but also one of the most knowledgeable. She is a phenomenal horse lady- with tons of experience across many types of riding, a special teaching ability, and a natural way with horses. I learned so much from her during my stay- and I am an advanced rider who has a background in competitive horseback riding. Needless to say, everyone who wants to learn from her will succeed- and will have a fantastic time doing it!
The experience Establo San Rafael offers is like no other. I won’t expect to find anywhere like this again…and I very much hope to return one day. Jenna.

Establo San Rafael was more than I had hoped for. I traveled from Canada to Costa Rica alone and really didn’t know what to expect. I spent three weeks on the farm and can honestly say that by the end of the third week I was wishing I had more time. The horses are beautiful, well cared for, and full of personality. There is a horse for everybody, whether you’re a beginner or have been riding your whole life. I would definitely recommend E.S.R; Brenda is an amazing coach. The trails were beautiful. The area is beautiful and even if you aren’t into horseback riding there is a waterfall/swimming hole nearby that I visited a few times. Overall, my time in Puriscal was amazing and I would definitely recommend this farm to anyone. Justine.

Just wanted people to know that I spent 6 weeks on this beautiful ranch and had an amazing time! The horses are the best-taken care of that I’ve seen in Costa Rica and have many abilities. I learned a lot about the medical care and general horse knowledge (Brenda is like a walking -or should I say riding, horse dictionary), dressage, Parelli natural horsemanship and jumping among many other things. The views in San Rafael are breathtaking… If you want to get better in speaking horse you should definitely contact Brenda! Maiju.

I had a wonderful stay at Establo San Rafael with Brenda and her partner Abel. They are excellent hosts and the food was plentiful, fresh and delicious. As a guest at the farm you can completely make yourself at home, swinging in a hammock on the porch, looking out over the ring where the horses love to play and at the surrounding mountains bathed in sunshine is utter bliss. The horses (and all of the other animals) are extremely well looked after and very well loved. For me this trip was a perfect opportunity to relax in a horsey atmosphere, learn about natural horsemanship (in which I was a total beginner so don’t be afraid to give it a go even if you never have before!) and to get to experience the real ‘Tico’ lifestyle. Tourism has not really hit Puriscal, the nearest town, and riding around the surrounding villages is a fabulous experience of authentic Costa Rican countryside. I could not recommend Establo San Rafael highly enough for a horse retreat for any animal lover! Danielle Masterton
Gabby and teeny