Experience Life On Our Horse Farm

Our work exchange program lets you live, work, and learn in a playful and relaxed atmosphere

Our Work Exchange Student Program

Our work exchange program is a fantastic option for those interested in learning natural horsemanship and assisting with the day-to-day work that helps keep our horses healthy and happy.
This is an opportunity to work hands-on with all of our horses daily while learning natural horsemanship. More than a work-trade arrangement, our stusant program focuses on teaching you to interact with horses using body language, love, and leadership and allows you to put those skills into action. Skills covered in class include natural horsemanship seven games, liberty games, bitless dressage/finesse riding, and lessons in jumping and technical trail riding depending upon your interests.
Because each of our horses has a very different personality, or “horseanality,” you will gain experience that will help your leadership and increase your ability to gain the trust of most horses. Our interns are also very good for our horses, who benefit from the close personal attention you will be providing them.
The chance to develop personal relationships with each of the horses using natural horsemanship makes this more than either a work-trade or a horse vacation – it is a valuable experience of a lifetime.

The program includes:

  • Your own private room in our intern cabin here on the farm
  • Three basic meals per day – which we all help prepare and clean up together afterwards. (We can accommodate vegan and gluten free diets.)
  • five sessions a week in natural horsemanship games, riding lessons, technical trail riding, jumping, and natural dressage depending on your interests.
  • Practice time with the horses every day you are here.
  • Individualized attention in a small group setting to ensure you learn and advance quickly. We take no more than 4 interns at a time, to ensure everyone gets a great education.
  • Trail riding
  • Seven days a week access to our horses to practace.
  • Access to a large Parelli natural horsemanship video library.

Expectations of work exchange students:

In exchange for a significant discount on lessons, rides, room, and board, interns are expected to help out on the farm. Such tasks include:

  • Helping during morning and evening feed
  • Cleaning of stalls and paddock
  • Turnout and bringing in horses
  • Giving medicines and general horse care throughout the day as necessary
  • Help with our clients riding programs.
  • Organization and cleaning of tack equipment
  • Help in preparing meals and cleaning up afterward
  • Help with hay and other deliveries that can arrive at random times during the day
  • A general can-do attitude and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and pitch in when you see there’s work to be done
  • We love teaching Natural Horsemanship to all sizes of people.  But our horses are small Costa Rican horses. Because of this we have an 86kg (190lb) weight limit for our two-hour ride and 77kg (170lbs) for longer rides. The weight limit for our riding lessons is 86 kg (190lb). All groundgame lessons in Natural Horsemanship however can be attended by people of any size, shape, age, number of limbs, ability, experience, etc.

Program Cost:

  • 1 Month Commitment: $40/day, which comes out to roughly $1,200/month.
  • 2 Week Commitment: $45/day

Want to stay without having to work? Consider one of our holiday packages.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Work Exchange

What language is spoken on the farm?

I (Brenda) speak English and my husband Abelʼs first language is Spanish. Life on the farm is primarily conducted in English, and all lessons are taught in English.

If the local scholarship program is running you may be helping with the Spanish speaking girls that come for the program, but life on the farm is primarily conducted in English.

There is very little English spoken in the neighborhood we live in, should you feel social and adventurous.

Are there opportunities to socialize with locals?

The entire area we are in is Spanish-speaking. You will need to be active in pursuing this socialization, however. Keep in mind that we live in a rural area, where are aren’t many shops or restaurants.

Will I have access to a refrigerator or kitchen?


Although 3 meals a day are provided, you may want to keep some snacks or your favorite foods in our kitchen to supplement what we provide.

Please make yourself at home. You will have access to the kitchen and the house all day. You are welcome to keep any special items in the fridge.

Snacks, speciality items, and things that are not in our usual grocery list you will need to bring with you or buy for yourself in Puriscal, although we do try and adjust our meals and diet according to who is here.

What kind of food is served at mealtime?

All kinds. We can accommodate some special dietary needs (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free).

We serve meat around two times a week if there are meat-eaters staying on the farm.

You are welcome to supplement that on your own if you like more. You can also come with us up to town to help with the shopping or to pick up additional items for yourself.

How many hours/day will I be expected to work? And how many days/week?

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 to 40 mins.

The horses do need care every day, so interns are typically expected to pitch in 7 days a week, but days off can be arranged beforehand.

Will I have any downtime? What if I want to go explore somewhere else for a day?

You will have down time most days of the week. Interns usually enjoy hanging out on the veranda, visiting with the animals, going on hikes in the surrounding mountains, or going into town.

Just check in with us when planning your day. Time off can usually be arranged, preferably after the morning horse chores are finished. But if you want a morning off this can also usually be arranged beforehand; just let us know.

Can I work with the horses during my free time?

Yes, absolutely!

All interns are encouraged to take a horse to the ring to practice as much possible. The more hands-on time you have with them the more you will learn. For riding practice you will need to check with me first, however.

What is transportation like? Can somebody pick me up at the airport?

Fuller details on traveling to/from Establo San Rafael are listed on the “Getting Here” page, but the short answer is:

Yes, we have an Uber guy we trust I can send you his # or we can arrange your airport pickup with him for a reasonable fee.

As for getting around locally, in addition to Uber and taxis this region of Costa Rica has a good public transportation system. You can catch a bus from the farm to the local town of Puriscal for 300 colones (about 50 cents US). (We have bus the schedule posted in the kitchen.)

Do you practice a specific type of natural horsemanship?

I use a lot of the Parelli curriculum but I began my journey with horses when I was 15 with Monty Robertʼs philosophy. I have been influenced by many others throut the years including David Litchman, Nita Jo Rush, and others.

What should I pack to bring with me?
  • A raincoat would be good if itʼs rainy season.
  • Rubber boots, such as Wellingtons (you can also buy these in Puriscal)
  • Several pairs of long pants that are not too tight for riding
  • A light long sleeve shirt for the sun
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Hat-cap for the sun
  • A light sweater, it can get chilly at night
  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • A good sports bra for riding (for females)
  • A book to read, sketchbook and art supplies, or other materials to enjoy during down time

I also suggest picking up a pre-paid SIM card with Movistar or Kolbi on your way to the farm so that you can have phone and internet data on your personal smartphone. Pre-paid SIM cards are available at the airport, as well as at numerous shops and kiosks in just about any town. (Note that credit must be purchased with cash.)

Is there WiFi on the farm?

There is a WiFi router in the main house.

We do get good cell and data coverage here, so you may want to pick up a pre-paid SIM card with Movistar or Kolbi on your way to the farm so that you can have phone and internet data on your personal smartphone. Pre-paid SIM cards are available at the airport, at numerous shops in just about any town. (Note that phone/data credit must be purchased with cash.)

Does the work exchange fee cover all costs? Will I have to pay for anything else?

The fee covers your room, food, and horse program.

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.

You will also be responsible for the expense of your travel to/from the farm.

If you wish to go into town when one of us isn’t driving in, you can call a taxi or an Uber – you will be expected to pay for your own rides.

Where can I do my laundry?

You are welcome to use the washing machine and clothesline. (We don’t have a drier.)

Is it better to come in the dry season or rainy season?

Either is great!

There is not much difference to the program except that we do our horse session at a different time of day to accommodate the weather of whatever season we’re in. There is also a lot of mud in the horse paddock during the rainy season, but it’s also much cooler and greener.

I like the rainy season (May through November) better, actually!

Note that the rainiest month tends to be October.

Will I have my own room?

Yes. All interns get their own private room, with shared bathroom.

How many other interns will be there? Is it more of a social scene or mellow?

There are usually one to two other interns and my assistant. We are very serious about your learning experience, which is why we limit the number of interns we take on at a time. This means it’s usually more quiet, or tranquillo here – definitely not a party scene!

Are the lessons private or done with the other interns/guests?

The class is shared with the other interns and those here for intensive retreats.

Can I do some bareback riding?

We use a lot of the Parelli method. We practice games for learning liberty on the ground and you will learn the concepts of riding bridleless. We use a lot of bareback riding in our lessons. We also work on upper-level finesse riding if the student is ready.

What do you think the interns love most about their time at ESR?

How far along they get with their natural horsemanship, and their relationships they develop with the horses. Everyone is amazed with how much they grow their skillset and comfort with horses in their time here.

Volunteer Position

The free volunteer position is for an experienced horse person trail guide-assistant riding instructor. You will need a decent understanding of natural horsemanship seven games at least around level three in all savvys, to help teach natural horsemanship games to my beginners. You will be helping to guide my interns through their program and learning experience. Therefore you need to be patient and diplomatic. Our intern’s experience is very important to us. This is a three-month minimum com- mitment. Please send experience bio and photos of you with horses.

“Establo San Rafael was more than I had hoped for. I traveled from Canada to Costa Rica alone and really didnʼt 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 youʼre a beginner or have been riding your whole life. If you want to improve your dressage I would definitely recommend E.S.R; Brenda is an amazing coach. The trails were beautiful. Everyone about the area is beautiful and even if you arenʼt 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, Canada

“My time at the farm has been the best time of my life. I have never felt happier. Friendly animals (horses), beautiful nature and of course amazing people. Brenda and her family all have such big hearts, and such love for each other and the animals. I came as a work-study. The work was sometimes hard, but always rewarding (think banana pancakes for breakfast!). I learned so much. I constantly dream of returning. Be sure to check the timetable for the bus when coming up, everything runs on Costa Rica time. The best way to learn natural horsemanship.” ~ Nina, Germany

Truly an earthquake to my life – place, time, and people that found permanent residence in my heart. My first month in Costa Rica I spent working as an intern at Estabolo San Rafael. Brenda introduced me to a special natural horsemanship language that has not only opened a way for me to communicate with the horses but has also taught me a great deal about being a good leader and a genuine friend. Perhaps horses have things to teach us sometimes? People Iʼve met here have energized me in many ways they probably didnʼt even realize – I am so grateful for the guidance and the companionship I have found here. ~ Zhanetta

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