Here’s everything you need to know about volunteering at the horse sanctuary in Florida, including detailed placement information and the free time trips available.
Where is the project located?
The sanctuary is located in the Orlando wetlands region, a beautiful natural location where neighbours, despite distances between properties, are very close and work together to maintain the tranquillity of their unique community.
What is the background and aim of the project?
Until 2011 the sanctuary owner managed everything almost single handed. Although commendable in spirit, strength and willpower, there was a unknown downside for the horses. Following a great deal of contact with one person, the mustangs were scared and wary of anyone else which had created problems for veterinary care and opening the centre for the public to raise funds and awareness.
Through opening up the centre, the horses, are benefiting from a variety of people being around them and better care in order that successful adoptions can be organized more effectively.
In an ideal future, the sanctuary would be able to purchase enough land for large numbers of abandoned mustangs to live independently to prevent human contact and the need for carefully managed adoptions.
Volunteers live on site at the sanctuary with staff on hand at all times during your stay for any support and advice you may need. A dedicated volunteer co-ordinator is available at all times including extra support in the busy periods provided by local volunteers who are passionate supporters of the sanctuary.
Orlando is an international tourist centre so it is important to take sensible precautions when out and about as for anywhere, leaving important valuables locked away at the sanctuary.
Will I have free time to explore?
Horses don’t break for the weekends so there is always something to do if you want to keep busy! However, most volunteers take a day or two out each week to explore or relax. There is a swimming pool on site so you may be happy to spend your free days relaxing. For more ideas see below!
The Fairytale Disney castle
Walt Disney World
Price from just £60
You’re never too old for Disney! Widely considered the best attractions for adults are the Epcot centre, Hollywood Studios, any of the faster rides and the waterparks if you are visiting in the summer.
It is possible to visit in a day, at a stretch if you leave early enough, but it is recommended to take a couple of days and combine with a trip to Universal Studios.
Great white sand beaches on both coasts
Price from £50
Florida is the beach capital of the USA. From beaches on your doorstep within a trail’s ride to resort towns of Daytona beach and Miami to the Florida keys you won’t have any excuses to get to the beach.
Cocoa beach is widely considered the best East coast beach closest to Orlando which is conveniently situated only 40 miles south of the sanctuary (and right next to Cape Canaveral space centre).
Universal Film Studios
Price from just £87
Universal Studios markets itself as an attraction for teens and adults. Enjoy the new Magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter and enjoy a traditional English pub lunch in Diagon Alley.
Hold your breath on the Revenge of the Mummy rollercoaster. Other top attractions include Men in Black, ET, Shrek and Terminator.
Kennedy Space centre – virtually on your doorstep
Kennedy Space Center
Price from just £32
A great attraction for anyone interested in space. Most visits include an opportunity to meet a genuine astronaut for a question and answer session.
It is worth checking their website for rocket launch dates and maybe plan a visit for a launch day, for an exhilarating once in a lifetime experience.
Visiting vet attends to one of the horses.
Volunteers at an Indian-Pow-Wow get together.
Do I need experience?
No experience or riding experience is needed to be successful. In some ways, volunteers who have never worked with animals or ridden horses previously may find the experience extremely rewarding and a great new learning experience.
Experienced riders should be aware that trail rides are American-trail-style, slow and walked gently around the wetlands and beach, the wild mustangs are sadly unable to be ridden.
What is it like to be a volunteer?
Aside from the usual daily care, mucking out, feeding, and cleaning duties, there are a variety of unique activities connected with caring for wild mustangs, including talking to them! Wild mustangs enjoy human company.
For their health and well being in captivity need to be used to people to be able to receive care and veterinary attention when needed. Volunteers may sit with a mustang and spend 2 hours chatting to them, you might want to bring a favourite book to read from!
Horse painting is another unusual activity you may help with and selling them to the general public is an additional source of income for the sanctuary.
You may also be asked to assist or observe when the local vet makes his frequent visits.
If you stay long enough you will also have a few opportunities to ride on the sanctuary’s permanent non-mustang horses in the spectacular scenery both on site which is considerable and large enough to hike around, and in the Orlando wetlands reserve. You will often be able to ride the horses to the beach.
What other volunteer activities are there?
Building and repair work, from fences to enclosures. Helping with fundraising at local fairs and events.
How are meals organised?
Meals are compulsory and provided for all volunteers due to the location of the sanctuary as it is impractical to travel to the nearest shop each day.
However the staff visit the local shop regularly by car, and you are welcome to join to pick up snacks and drinks.
What do need to take equipment wise for me?
For everyday work in the summer, shorts and t-shirts with trainers and comfortable sandals depending on what you are doing. Mosquito repellent is essential.
For visits at other times of year, bring clothes suitable for a British late summer/autumn. A better idea is to check the weather just before travel to get it right.
What happens on arrival?
The nearest airport to the project is Orlando. We will send your flights details to the local team for you and once you arrive at Orlando, one of the staff will be there to meet you. More detailed instructions for your airport arrival are emailed closer to travel.
What to take to help the sanctuary?
A detailed list of current items in need is provided closer to travel. Old blankets and sheets are always in need for the horses and other animals.
Are return transfers provided?
Yes. These are arranged after arrival closer to your departure.
Wild mustang at a state holding centre awaits a new home
Volunteer with Romeo in the wetlands surrounding the sanctuary.
Are there start dates?
Monday to Wednesday are recommended as ideal days to arrive. This will enable you to settle in before the weekend when many volunteers will head off to Orlando to do the sights, although it will depend on the needs of the horses and other animal care.
What happens if I take a tour during my stay?
Many volunteers staying a couple of weeks will take 2 or 3 days out to do Orlando. You can do this on your own, or more typically volunteers will get together in a group to travel.
Project costs still apply until the day you leave the programme. This is due to the desperate needs for all the additional funding to cover the sanctuary’s costs of caring for the horses.
What are the costs after I have registered and booked my space?
The weekly project costs are £465 pw. This weekly contribution covers the running costs of the sanctuary (bills and electricity etc.) and resources for the horses from veterinary care and horse feed to building work. All meals are included.
Due to the location of the sanctuary, all meals and airport pick up/drop off are organized automatically.
A visa is required for British passport holders to the USA.
We also recommend taking extra for the many trips which are available, £150 should cover a basic highlights tour or a weekend at the coast with other volunteers.
Like any holiday it is a good idea to take as much as you can extra in case there is anything else you might want to do in your free time or things you may want to buy or donate for the project you are working with.
Horse painting is a fun activity.
Volunteers on the trail.
Will I be the only volunteer?
We will put you in touch with others going around the same time when you book. It might be possible to fly out together if you are both travelling in the same month. Although some volunteers travel with friends, the bigger majority travel alone.
This project also receives volunteers from other countries – so even if there is no one arriving at the same time as you from the UK, there is a good chance you will meet volunteers coming from elsewhere.
How will I get around in my free time?
Public transport is limited to reach the sanctuary, however the project staff can drop off volunteers at the nearest bus stop (with pick up on your return). For a 2 hour bus trip into Orlando, allow US $14 each way (approx. £10).
How are project payments organised?
Project payments are calculated on a nightly basis. If you arrive on a Tuesday and stay 11 nights, you will be charged for 11 nights. This makes it easier if you find a great flight deal for uneven weeks.
Can I extend my stay?
We recommend booking the longest time that you might stay. If you leave the programme earlier,a refund of your unused nights is available. Simply email us your leaving date after you have left the sanctuary.
Don’t forget to tell one of the co-ordinators or everyone will be worrying about where you are!
Do I need a visa?
A visa is required for most visitors to the USA and this needs to be obtained before travel. Allow 3 to 4 weeks. The process is straightforward.
British passport holders will need to comply with the usual visitor visa if needed but will not need any special additional permit/working visa. Volunteering with animals does not require a special visa, only volunteering with humans.
What happens after you have booked?
As soon as you have booked with the once-only £125 registration fee (this covers one or more projects within a year), you will receive a welcome email confirming your booking and explaining in more detail how to get organised for you trip.
We will Buddy you up with another volunteer going to the Florida volunteer programme arriving around the same time so you should have a good chance to travel together if you wish to
You will also receive a Welcome Pack with some useful information which will include project specific advice on what to take, how to prepare and travel health recommendations
Below is an example timeline of what to do next after booking
At anytime : As soon as you have booked with the once only registration fee and received your confirmation email from us explaining what to do next, buy a return flight to Orlando airport. Flights can go up considerably over time and you may save one or two hundred pounds by buying early. There is generally no difference in cost between a two week or four week return flight so if you can afford to cover your weekly stay and have the time available it can be more economical to stay longer. Most volunteers say they would have stayed an extra week if they had realised the flight would have cost the same for a longer stay. If you are flying from Europe, it can be a good idea to arrive in the afternoon or evening so you can get a good night’s sleep after arrival. Search for flights on the website skyscanner.net or call a few agents (Dial A Flight, Trailfinders) and ask for their best quote before you make a purchase.
Add yourself to the Buddy Listto meet other volunteers, travel together or simply find a familiar face when you arrive.
Join the volunteer community on Facebook to see recent pictures from projects and other interesting stories and updates.
Anytime before travel : Arrange suitable travel insurance – this can often be bought at the same time as your flight, ensure medical bills and repatriation are included as medical bills can soar in the USA without adequate insurance.
A visa is required before travel for most passport holders and most nationalities. Contact the nearest American Embassy by telephone or visit their website. For British passport holders, the usual visa will be required but no special visa for volunteering is needed as you will not be volunteering with people.
As soon as you have your flight to Orlando: Email us your flight to organise your pick up.
At anytime : pay for your project – we will send you an invoice by email to pay online – don’t worry we will send you a reminder if you forget!
We will organise your pick up and transfer from Orlando airport automatically when we receive your flights
Want to know more?
If you have any questions big or small on any aspect of the Florida wild horse project or would like to check available dates please contact us at the earliest opportunity as this project fills quickly with volunteers from around the world.Alternatively complete an easy enquiry form with your contact details and we’ll be in touch asap!
Placement at a glance
18yrs+ on arrival
Pre-departure helpdesk, in-country coordinating team on site with 24hr emergency support. Anything happens? You will be looked after straightaway and transferred for immediate medical attention in the sanctuary’s own transport.
2 hours from Orlando. Rural wetland next to national park on coast.
Volunteer house on site. Volunteers share bedrooms, sleeping 2 to 4.
Variable over 5 days. Longer breaks to sightsee possible.
Getting to project
Volunteers live at the sanctuary so no travelling!
1 week. 2 weeks preferred.
Volunteers usually stay
2 weeks, longer stays possible.
All year round
When to apply
As early as possible to avoid disappointment as bed spaces are limited.
£465 per week & £125 (Registration to join OV which provides a year of volunteering without registering again)
Airport Pick-up Service
Provided for Monday arrivals
Shop 40 minutes
Bars 40 minutes
Chemist 40 minutes
Bus 40 minutes
Taxis 40 minutes
Cash machine 40 minutes
Bank 40 minutes
Pay phone 40 minutes
Internet access 40 minutes
Laundry on-site + small fee
Basics, what to take?
Pillow and sheets
Volunteers stay on site sharing bedrooms 2 to 4 volunteers.
You will be well looked after at the ranch. The sanctuary owner is as passionate about her mustangs and other animals as much as her volunteers! Until 2011 the sanctuary owner managed everything almost single handed. Although commendable in spirit, strength and willpower, there was a unknown downside for the horses.
Following a great deal of contact with one person, the mustangs were wary of others creating problems for veterinary care and opening to the public. With volunteer help, the horses, are benefiting from a variety of people being around them and better care.
If this is your first time volunteering abroad, or visiting the USA, this placement is perfect. With all meals provided, a family-atmosphere, with go-to support on site when you need it and last not least, good ol’ American hospitality, we can offer an unrivalled experience!
The benefits of your local in-country team
What is a volunteer coordinator?
Every project has a volunteer coordinator. This is the person responsible for organising your volunteering and looking after your welfare needs during your stay and they are all English speaking.
What experience do volunteer coordinators have?
All our coordinators are local people with knowledge and experience gained over many years of supporting volunteers. They have a deep knowledge of their local community, providing an invaluable source of information.
9 in 10 coordinators at our destinations have between 5 – 7 years experience and 7 in 10 of our coordinators have supported more than a thousand volunteers each (current as of August 2013).
If they don’t know where to buy Parmesan cheese when the shops are shut, no one will!
Who are volunteer coordinators?
At some destinations the volunteer coordinator will also be the manager/director of the project you are volunteering if you are based in one location. Examples of manager/coordinator projects will be Kenya-Mombasa/Peru/Cambodia/South Africa/Argentina/Uganda/India.
Some destinations require an independent volunteer coordinator because there are many projects volunteers go to. Independent coordinators will organise a variety of placements at many different projects in the local community throughout your visit. He/she will liaise with all the projects/schools/hospitals on your behalf to organise schedules for your volunteer group. Examples of volunteer programmes are: Morocco/Ghana/Tanzania/Kenya-Masai/Malawi/Mexico-Merida/Ecuador.
Thailand and Nepal offer a mix of both.
Is there only one volunteer coordinator?
Coordinators have other staff supporting them, from drivers to housekeepers, and cooks and assistant coordinators.
Support team size varies between project type and time of year. The typical size of any support team will be 5 – 7. There may also be a long stay volunteer helping out
The Uganda school project had at last count 15 local staff supporting volunteers which ranged from security to water carriers!
What do coordinators do?
Airport pick up
Your in-country coordinator will organise your pick up and make sure you get to the volunteer house as smoothly as possible. If your coordinator does not meet volunteers from the airport, their trusted regular driver will be sent to meet you.
Liaise with local projects
If you are on a mixed volunteer programme (Morocco/Ghana/Tanzania/Kenya-Masai/Malawi/Mexico-Merida/Ecuador) your coordinator will be regularly liaising with the projects you will be going to today, this week and next, organising suitable times and communicating schedules to the volunteer group.
Help organise specific placements
Coordinators will also ensure that volunteers with special preferences eg. medical/building can get involved as fully as possible in their preferred area of work.
Show you around and help you to locate things
Need a Sim card? Want to buy some paintbrushes for an art session tomorrow? Speak to your coordinator – they will advise on where, how to get there and prices.
Provide an orientation on arrival
Your coordinator or their local team will provide an orientation on arrival of what’s where and how to get started. This may take the form of a more formal meeting for all new arrivals by your coordinator or through informal advice for new arrivals from staff, long stay volunteers, handouts, information on the noticeboard as per needs dictate.
This will usually include any important cultural awareness if this may affect your stay. For example bare tummies should be covered in Ghana for example otherwise the children won’t stop giggling!
Help you when things go wrong
We are often asked what happens when things go wrong. Your local team are the experts on getting you the help you need immediately. They have seen it all before (in a nice way) and are well experienced in looking after hundreds of volunteers each year with all the usual niggles from sunburn to upset tummies. Whether you need a doctor in the night for sickness or you want to try out a new project or move bedroom or volunteer house.
If you have remembered to print off your project contact details and leave them with family (these are sent before travel to all volunteers) – your family can also contact the coordinator directly. Or they can call us and we can put them in touch.
But if you need further assistance or advice we are here to help you. Contact us straightaway and we might be able to make the niggly issues go away.
For any country related crises which may occur which would require volunteers to return home, your coordinator and their team will ensure everyone is safely escorted to the airport or Embassy as per the advice provided by each volunteer’s government together with any additional support that may be required.
Help you when you feel unwell
Coordinators are the first port of call if you think you may need medical assistance. They will organise an escort to the local clinic/hospital and make sure you are well treated. They can also contact home and will be happy to speak to parents to explain how you are. If you are volunteering alone, they may also stay with you in the hospital or request that a member of their staff and a volunteer keep you company as it can be quite daunting to be in a foreign hospital, even if it is only an infected mosquito bite!
Most health problems are minor and with a day or two’s bed rest either at the volunteer house or the local hospital and plenty of water, most volunteers are back to their normal selves again.
While on the subject of hospitals – make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance to cover local medical bills and repatriation. In developing countries and where medical care is mostly private, it is not uncommon to be admitted into a private room for something which would be treated as an out-patient back home. Without insurance, hospital fees can be as much as £200 per day.
For doctors appointments when you only need a prescription, your coordinator will help you to locate the nearest doctor/clinic. For these it is often easier to pay on the spot and not claim on the insurance. Expect to pay approx. £5 – £15 per consultation and £5 – £20 for basic medication.
Your coordinator knows all the best trips and best prices which volunteers over the years have participated on and recommended. If the options are not posted on a notice board ask your coordinator what is available and how to book. Typical prices across all destinations as a very rough guide: £30 – £40 for a day’s activity, £200 – £400 for a trek/budget safari for 3 – 5 days. Most volunteers go together in a group for more fun and get discounts. Additional trip discounts for volunteers are available in Ghana and Tanzania.
Return transfer back to the airport
Your coordinator can organise the return trip back to the airport for you, simply ask a few days before your flight. This is not automatically organised as many volunteers will have made friends and may leave the project a day or two earlier to sightsee before flying home, want to go shopping right up to the last minute or forget that the transfer was booked and have already jumped in a taxi!
Do I need experience? No experience is required, in fact the staff often say that having no or little riding experience may be beneficial as you won’t get so frustrated not being able to ride the shelter’s mustangs or on the ‘walking’ rides around the wetlands and down to the beach.
Who will show me what to do? A dedicated volunteer co-ordinator is present at all times to show you how to do everything, from mucking out, reading to the horses (!yes, reading) to saddling up and riding on the regular horses if you have never rode before.
What is the minimum stay? To get the most out of your visit, longer stays are preferred. Two weeks or less does not provide enough time for some volunteers to get stuck in and learn everything there is to know to be able to get more out of their stay.
How can I prepare for volunteering? Read up on the plight of the Mustangs in North America, in addition you might want to research horse whispering.
Will I be met on arrival? All volunteers are met at the airport in Orlando on arrival.
What do I need to take? Bring clothes and shoes which you can work in and what can get mucky. For most visitors between Easter and October it can be very warm so pack accordingly. A good suggestion for warm months is to bring (for female volunteers:) a handful of T-shirts, a couple of pairs of denim shorts (tougher than regular fabrics), two pairs of leggings in case you find leggings more comfortable or a couple of pairs of loose trousers together with some trainers or ankle high wellies (because of the hotter weather). You don’t want to be in flip flops in horse manure whatever the temperature!
Where will I be staying? On site at the sanctuary.
What are the costs? It is £465 per week for 2018 arriving volunteers based on the UK/USA exchange rate as of May 2nd 2017. The actual cost charged is $600 US Dollars a week so this cost may fluctuate slightly between the time of booking and paying for your programme closer to travel. All project costs are made directly to the project and you will be advised closer to travel how to organise this.
All meals are included in the weekly cost although it is sensible to have some pocket money during your stay for additional snacks or day trips on free days.
Airport pick up is available for Monday arrivals.
Is Florida safe?
Absolutely. The only areas which are not recommended to visit without a local would be some run down areas of Miami, but few visitors travel down as far as Miami in their free time as there is so much to do locally.
Do I need a visa? You will need to obtain a tourist visa. You do not need any other type of volunteer visa as you will be working with animals. The rule for a special visa/permit only applies to volunteering with humans! However, American officialdom at airports can be quite strict so it is best not to mention volunteering in case the immigration official in front of you is not aware of the rule – it happens! You will have all contact details for the project before you go so if anyone gets in a muddle and needs to call to verify with the project they or you can do so easily!
Are there fixed arrival dates? It is recommended to arrive on a Monday, in addition, so all new arriving volunteers have more chances to have a fellow ‘newbie’ with them during their first week, it’s more fun to share your new experiences! Airport pick ups for other days of the week are charged at $50 US Dollars.
Will I need any jabs? Only the usual boosters you would need from time to time in the UK such as Tetanus. You will need to take insect repellent as there are a lot of mosquitoes/midges because of the heat and wetlands close by.
How will I get back to the airport? The local staff will help organise this for you.
Do you feel you made a difference, how?Yes, we cleaned the stables, observed the mustangs for any problems, helped with the vet visits and prepared the food for the horses.What did you do for fun?Went to most of the local attractions, the space centre was for me the best.When was your most enjoyable exp...
My time at the sanctuaryMy time at the sanctuary was amazing, it’s about the horses but it’s also the people you meet and get to know. I have made so many friends and will be keeping in touch with everybody!Every day was the same but different but the usual routine was have breakfast, then clear and muck ou...