There once was a little girl growing up in the idyllic English countryside, surrounded by wild ponies, and friends with horses. Her skill with these animals was known to all the equestrian lovers in the area, regardless of her young age. Whenever there was a horse with behavioral problems, whatever the cause, it was her that was called in to assist the owners and their beloved pet. This little girl was Sarah Vesey. This is the story of how Sarah kept ‘Caballo Blanco’, her trekking and horse rescue ranch, going through a pandemic.

Horse rescue in Andalusia 

Twenty years ago, Sarah visited friends in southern Spain and fell head over heels in love with the striking landscape. Ancient mountains under a crystal blue sky and views all the way across the Mediterranean to Africa stole her heart.

With a caravan and a dream, she bought a patch of land halfway up a mountain. She began what was to become her life’s work, building a trekking and horse rescue ranch. She named it ‘Caballo Blanco’ after the traditional colouring of the Andalusian horses the area is famous for.

Caballo Blanco Ranch
Tequila and Pieper

The pandemic of 2020 caused unprecedented disruptions to the trekking and horse rescue work. Tourists were unable to visit, more often than not meaning that refunds for their trekking holidays had to be paid out. No future bookings were being made.

The fate of the horses on the Caballo Blanco ranch was looking shaky. Thirty horses, eight cats, six dogs, chickens, ducks, and geese all needed feed but there was no money coming in. 

Marketing Caballo Blanco with social media

Sarah’s neighbor volunteered to help. Elle’s experience with website creation and social media management came from running a successful company in the UK. A branding and website makeover brought the Caballo Blanco Ranch’s online ‘shop window’ up-to-date and user-friendly. Facebook was now being regularly updated and an Instagram account was born! 

Previous visitors to the horse rescue ranch were thrilled to see the horses with whom they had previously fallen in love when on holiday. People who had not yet been able to visit were excited to learn more about the horses’ histories. Thanks to the kindness of the audience and their passion to help these wonderful animals, an online fundraising campaign helped buy feed for at least a few months.

Caballo Blanco Ranch
The pandemic closed down horse trekking to the public

A local artist, Helen of La Pequeña Galeria, has offered to donate a personalized pet portrait as a raffle prize to help raise funds. There is still time to get involved and win a beautiful piece of original artwork. Using PayPal, just send €2 with a note saying “Raffle” and we will add your name to the draw from a riding hat!

Reconnecting with locals

Initially, the lockdown regulations prevented horse riding completely. This meant the horses needed lunging for exercise regularly instead. It changed again and so local people were able to come to visit.

Elle arranged for the local newspaper to come and this reminded people in neighboring villages that the horse rescue was open for experiences as well. The boredom of lockdown was encouraging people to try horse riding for the first time or to pick it up again after a long hiatus. Providing horse riding lessons and day treks allowed local people to experience time with the horses, enjoy their area from a new perspective and gave the horses some much needed stimulation.

Another way the Ranch has coped through lockdown is with the help of local horse lovers. Caballo Blanco has loaned around half of the herd to people living in the area. This enables them to learn how to keep a horse without the lifetime commitment. It can even become an opportunity for rehoming as people fall in love with their guest horses and become “failed fosters”! If this happens, the Ranch are then able to commit to taking on new horse rescues.

One of the newest horses to the Ranch, Malibu, is a 17hh Percheron. She had been worked as a plough horse but had not received proper training with her feet. This meant that her condition was ever-worsening and soon she was unable to work.

Throughout the lockdown, Sarah and her volunteers were able to teach this gentle giant how to be cared for correctly. Her feet are so big that special horseshoes had to be made by the farrier for her. Sarah even started to back and ride her. With the proper care and attention, this beautiful girl’s mountain rehabilitation will allow her to be ridden when the tourists come back. Malibu will make the perfect beginners’ horse as she is so strong and sturdy. 

Caballo Blanco
Caballo Blanco Ranch

Rescue animals

Rescue horses aren’t the only cases that Caballo Blanco takes on. Sarah’s skills extend to all animals and she’s passed this on to her daughter. The Ranch had rescue kittens come to stay; Bindi, Bagheera, Boxer, Jock and Flamenco. They’re hard work to house train but a constant supply of amusement and entertainment.

Rescue dogs were also fostered; Colin, Amber, Mister, Meeko, and Dingo. This meant lots of spaying and neutering fees, vaccination costs, travel costs and time spent retraining. All these lovely animals have happily found forever homes through the network of animal lovers sharing the news and social media posts.

Looking forward

Thanks to the local Andalusia community and support from the international community both with donations and sharing social media posts, there is still a future for the Caballo Blanco. They will survive the pandemic.  Other businesses haven’t been so lucky and we are so grateful to live to see another day.

Remaining open has meant that the horses who can’t be rehomed are still safe; those who could be fostered are keeping safe; dogs and cats that might otherwise have been bereft of safety could come to us and forever homes found; not only all that but the future of more horses and other animals is bright as we will be able to continue our rescue work. Here’s to seeing some of you for a holiday in the not so distant future too!

This story is part of a short series we are doing on unusual lockdown/pandemic stories. The rest of the stories are available here. We will be adding one a week for the next few weeks.

Louisa Wood wrote this article for us. She manages Caballo Blanco’s web site and social media. She is a British expat that has lived in Portugal, Hong Kong and Spain.
Sarah Vesey is British and is a long term expat living in Spain. You can find Caballo Blanco on IG and on FB.

Photography by Daniëlle van Leeuwen Photograph you can find her on FB and IG