22 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Volunteering a win-win

I have to admit that it took me a while to figure out the attraction of voluntourism. Without having seen it in action, it seemed on that there was something slightly do-goodish and martyr-like about it.

Actually seeing volunteers in action, though, changed my mind. The first place I really saw the light was at Cintsa Horses, near East London. Here Georgie Dickerson, her daughter Penny and grand-daughter Asha-Jane run what used to be a normal horse-riding outfit. You could go for rides on the beach, or long outrides lasting two days or more. The problem is that Georgie cannot help rescuing horses. Well, anything, actually - from battery chickens to wounded sheep. The same with horses.

So on her property you’ll find skinny old horses living out their last years. You’ll find riding school horses that were mistreated and problematic. An American saddlehorse that has a mortal fear of being caught. A racehorse that was given illegal stimulants. A long-legged jumper that was passed from owner to owner.

Georgie took them in and volunteers made it possible. They come out for weeks at a time, gently working with the horses, grooming them and getting the new ones used to halters and bridles. Taking ticks off them. Making them feel loved, really.

The perks? The odd outride, or galloping at dawn on the beach (not all the horses are rescue, incidentally). But there had to be more. One young Irish woman had just returned for her third stint here - in under a year! Another woman decided to rather do this than buy her own horse in England. She was already planning her next trip. Puzzling.

When I saw a horse affectionately nuzzle one of the volunteers, I suddenly realised what voluntourism is about: the most valuable thing on Earth is to be useful.

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