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A Heavenly Refuge for Traumatized Horses in Spain

Guests ride out on the horse that best matches their riding experience level, which is always important but especially so in the terrain around the ranch. Photo: Caballo Blanco.

(Article originally written in Danish by Louisa Wood)

This story begins like so many others, with "once upon a time" and a little girl. The little girl, Sarah, loved horses. Like many others, her parents couldn’t afford to buy her a horse. However, she had many friends who allowed her to spend time with their horses. Meet Sarah Vesey, who uprooted her life in England to pursue a lifelong dream in Spain, where she now cares for traumatized horses.

Sarah Vesey lived in a beautiful place in England called New Forest, famous for its wild ponies. These ponies are protected by law today and still roam freely, sleeping, eating, and residing wherever they please. Back then, some of the wild ponies could be adopted by the local residents.

Sarah's natural horse skills shone through at an early age. She quickly gained a reputation in the area for being able to work with horses that others couldn't handle. Sarah could earn their trust and help them feel safe. This eased their difficulties, so they were no longer a danger to people or themselves and could live a safe and happy life.

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A Holiday Became a Turning Point

As Sarah grew up, she and her boyfriend went on holiday to Spain. They visited a place that later became famous through a book called "Driving Over Lemons," but at that time, it was still very rural and traditional. Few people lived there, and Sarah fell in love with the extraordinary landscape of the Alpujarra region at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Here, snow falls in winter, and in summer, temperatures can reach 50 degrees. The harsh nature of these mountains feels like a journey back in time. Centuries ago, the area was under Moorish rule. This Arabic influence is still evident in the charming rustic architecture and topography. The Moors created 'acequias,' man-made streams that follow the hills' contours, bringing ice-cold water from the snowmelt of the higher mountain peaks to the arid Andalusian land below.

The view from horseback over the river near Órgiva. Photo: Daniëlle van Leeuwen Photography.

A Little Piece of Heaven

When Sarah returned to England, she knew she had left her heart high in the Spanish mountains. She packed up her life and returned to Spain with nothing but a caravan, her dog, Tess, and her horse, Cole. Sarah bought a piece of land on the mountain called 'La Chaparra,' which translates to 'the little one.' This little piece of heaven lies 1000 meters above sea level with a view of a vast reservoir that changes color with the seasonal light. In spring and autumn, when the sky is clearest with less Sahara dust or fewer clouds, you can even see the Rif mountains in Morocco across the Mediterranean.


Back to the Future

Twenty-three years later, Sarah still lives on La Chaparra on the same piece of land. It is no longer barren, as she has planted many trees and plants and created space for organic, home-grown produce. She has built small buildings in a rustic Moorish style as her family and business grew. Tess and Cole are no longer here, but five dogs have joined her for company. Nine cats are now part of the family, along with many chickens, silkworms, geese, and horses. Oh yes, the horses.

Horses are not the only animals at the Caballo Blanco ranch. Photo: Caballo Blanco.

Healing the Horses' Wounds

Over the years, Sarah's reputation, which she quickly built as a young woman, has spread throughout this rural part of Spain. Many traumatized horses have come to her for rehabilitation. Many more have stayed. Sarah's loving horsemanship has helped them heal. After careful observation, she approaches each delicate horse soul with techniques developed from a lifetime of knowledge about horses' behavior and needs. When it is safe for both the horse and those who will ride them, they begin to engage in what Sarah calls mountain therapy.

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Mountain Therapy

The horses that are suited for it can eventually become part of the team that creates memorable experiences for tourists on trekking tours. This means they explore the rugged landscape of the Spanish mountains, crush wild herbs under their hooves, and eat sweet figs from the trees as they pass by. The horses learn so much on these tours and eventually become comfortable around all kinds of people. They occasionally encounter traffic and other tourists, such as mountain bikers, in this mountain playground. They experience water, like the acequias, and wildlife, such as birds of prey and the wild, horned ibex goats.

The traumatized horses at Caballo Blanco are lucky to be in a place filled with care. Photo: Daniëlle van Leeuwen Photography.

The horses that are suitable can become part of the trekking family. Photo: Daniëlle van Leeuwen Photography.

Changing Landscapes

Over the past twenty years, thousands of tourists have come to experience these majestic mountains from horseback. It is an activity that connects us with our ancestors. Roads were first laid here as late as the 1950s. Mulberry trees were cultivated, and olives and almonds were key crops.

Unfortunately, climate change has affected the area, making it much drier than one could have imagined. One of the villages in the 60s had plans for a ski resort. Now they can count on maybe two weeks of snow a year, certainly not enough to ski. The land is no longer cultivated, as the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these stoic 'campesinos' have moved to more urban places in search of a lifestyle driven by technology rather than seasons.


Lifelong Friendships

When tourists come on holiday to the Ranch, they are paired with a horse that Sarah knows will suit them. Through the time guests and horses spend together and Sarah's ability to make the perfect matches, relationships are formed that last a lifetime. This is one of the ways many of the horses are adopted by people who fall in love with them. You could say it is one of the few places where a holiday romance can end up lasting a very long time.

Before guests head out, it is important to find the right match between riders and horses. Photo: Caballo Blanco.

The Impact of the Pandemic

When the coronavirus reached Spain and made its devastating entrance, the country and thus the Ranch were shut down. The horses were not allowed to be ridden in case of accidents and the risk of someone taking up a hospital bed. Many tourists had to cancel, and many postponed, thinking they could come in the near future. As we now know, that did not happen either. The Ranch lost more revenue than is bearable to think about. A neighbor was able to create a fundraising website to receive donations. This and the kind generosity of those who love the Ranch made it possible for the horses, Sarah, and her family to stay and just barely manage to feed themselves.

What's Happening Now?

The world is beginning to open up again. The rules have changed many times. Many more flights have been canceled, and there have been many refunds for stays and tours. Some European tourists who have been able to drive across borders have been able to visit occasionally. But the British visitors are generally still missing, unfortunately. The American and Canadian tourists are also not venturing back as much as before. Volunteers who visit the Ranch to guide tours and take care of the animals are in short supply, putting pressure on Sarah and her family to do as much as they can themselves. Sarah has had to take an office job to ensure there is enough money to feed everyone.

The traumatized horses at Caballo Blanco are lucky to be in a place filled with care. Photo: Daniëlle van Leeuwen Photography.

The horses at the Ranch during the pandemic have been the lucky ones. Due to a lack of funds and volunteers able to come to Spain, many horses, dogs, and cats have not been able to be helped. The reality for these animals is too heartbreaking to think about for long.

As the world slowly crawls back to some form of normal, it gives hope that the support the Ranch and Sarah can provide to the traumatized horses can return to the level it was before, with all that entails in terms of care, affection, feeding, and professional help.

Help the Horses

If you would like to help Sarah and the Ranch, please visit


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