When Vermont native Caitlin Boylan graduated college, there were two things she knew she wanted to do: travel and work with horses. The Irish Working Holiday Authorisation provided a perfect way to do both. Here’s Caitlin’s advice for applying online for jobs abroad (hint—have a backup plan), and why you should consider applying for this very cool visa if you’re a recent college grad from the US. So here they are: the pros and cons of working with horses in Ireland.
Author: Sarah Dimichino
Question: Tell us a little about your background with horses.
I’ve always ridden horses, all through my childhood and then into college. I went to a school specifically because it had an equestrian team. In the end I didn’t end up on the team, but I did ride horses in the area, which was in Maryland in the US. I rode, taught lessons, leased horses and worked for people who went hunting in the mornings. When I graduated, I went to Ireland six months later on a “working holiday visa.”
So, I’ve always ridden horses. I started in dressage and eventing and did hunter/jumpers and foxhunting for a little while. But always English – always jumpers or eventing, more or less. When I was younger, I thought that that was what I was going to do. And then, you know, I went to Ireland and realized that nobody had any money. So, I knew that I wasn’t going to do that as a career. [Laughs.]
Q: Was Ireland your first trip overseas?
No. I studied abroad three times in college, and I’d been in Ireland during one of my semesters. Back then I studied at the University of Limerick, and that’s kind of why I went back after college. I also studied abroad in Morocco and Mexico.
Q: Where have you gone since then?
Lots of places…but I can tell you where I’ve lived, because that’s a shorter list. After Ireland, I moved to Vietnam and I taught English there. And then Australia, and Prague, and for a little while, Spain.
Q: How did you learn about the Irish working holiday visa and what advice would you give someone who wants to apply?
I don’t remember when I learned about it, but it must have been sometime during that first year following my graduation, because that’s when you have to apply. It’s pretty straightforward. That’s why I guess the advice I’d give is “why not apply?” Then you can decide after you’ve applied if you actually want to go…but also, why not go? Because you can do whatever you want to do in terms of work. If you’re thinking about going abroad, go abroad. And Ireland – in terms of language and safety, it’s all very comfortable and very safe, so why not go?
Q: How did you find jobs working with horses in Ireland?
I found it on a website called yardandgroom.com. Applying for jobs online is difficult, especially abroad. They speak English [in Ireland] and you know what you’re looking for in terms of horses, but it is a process. I actually applied for a number of jobs but not a lot of them got back to me. It was just the people who were willing to understand that I was coming from abroad and applying a few months in advance, so they had to be open to talking to me for a little while and not be needing me tomorrow.
And then I needed housing. That was a big thing. Some people don’t have housing and I didn’t want to work at a yard where I’d also need to find an apartment. I don’t remember how many people I talked to, but I talked to a number of people. The one that I ended up with seemed like she had the most experience dealing with people like me. And that’s why I ended up there.
Q: What was the job description, and what did you end up doing?
The description was probably “groom and rider” and that is what I did. I mucked out stalls, I groomed horses, I rode horses – little breaker ponies, things that bucked you off and had never been sat on – and a lot of the “grunt” horse work that any horse person should expect. It was backbreaking, especially because in Ireland they use straw instead of shavings and that’s much more difficult to pick out. Absurd. [Laughs.] They were very, very long days but there were also lots and lots of horses to ride. The first yard I worked at was for somebody who’d competed in the Barcelona Olympics in the 90s, and then later I worked for somebody who was an international showjumper, so I definitely learned a lot. But I also worked very, very hard.
I was in Ireland for about ten months, I think, so just shy of a year. [Overall, I worked at] two horse yards for about three months each. After that, I ended up not doing horses for a little while. I spent four months traveling and worked at a hostel and just random things. I kind of burnt out on horses for a little while.
Q: Were the two yards very different?
Yes. The first one was an eventer and the second one was a showjumper, but also the first one was a sales yard and the second was more of a breeding yard. At the first one there were a bunch of us doing the same job, and the second one was just me doing that job and other people doing different things, and I was the only one living on the yard. I also did some trail rides at the second one, and some lessons, whereas at the first one, none of that existed. So, they were quite different in many ways.
Q: From my experience working abroad, most people want you to be in the country with a local phone number before they’ll consider hiring you.
On arrival, of course I did not [have an Irish phone number]; I actually wrote about this on my blog. I had a phone number for the yard, which must have been a landline. So, I got on the bus from Dublin airport and went all the way out to where the farm was, south of Dublin. I was one of the last people on the bus. All these people just kept getting off, and getting off, until I was the only on it. Then I finally got off in the town I was supposed to get off in, and I had this phone number, but I had no phone, because I’d just landed in the country a few hours earlier. I asked some random man, “Could I use your phone, please?” and so I called the people who owned the yard with this random guy’s phone on the side of the street, and they came and got me downtown. Being flexible like that was important in being able to just go there.
Q: Are there any red flags you’d be on the lookout for if you were to do this again?
Oh gosh. At the first yard where I worked, I was there for three months and it was hard work, and they told me they were giving me a weekly stipend, which I did not get. But I don’t know how I would have known that beforehand.
Doing things online is really hard because there are red flags you could see about somebody in person, but when you’re on the internet it’s very easy for people to portray themselves as something that they are not.And it’s tough when the person is providing not only your job, but also your accommodation, and you’re in a strange country. One of the things I’d recommend is to make sure you have the money to get out. If somebody picks you up and you’re like, “Oh my god, I can’t be here,” you need to have the funds to get a taxi and a hotel for the night, to figure out where you’ll go tomorrow.
Q: Looking back, what was the hardest thing about working with horses in Ireland and what’s your best memory?
Honestly, it’s like the same things are both, you know? The best memories are being up way too late and then finally having a beer with the people I worked with all day long. And the worst thing is waking up really early and working all day. You’re like, “oh my god, I can’t believe I’m doing this,” but you’re also loving it… kind of… at the same time. You have to be in a situation like that to really understand what that means—it’s like you hate it, but you love it. [Laughs.]
Q: Any other memories that particularly stand out?
At the first yard where I worked, it was the man’s family’s farm; he’d inherited it from his father. It was a massive number of acres, and out back of the farm were all of these acres where they had basically a wild horse herd. I mean, some of the horses had been brought in throughout their lives, but they kind of just lived out.
I remember one night, I went out with another girl who was working with me to hang out with the horses. And you know, they’re kind of this mix between being familiar with people but still a little bit wild, and so we just walked out there, and sat on this beautiful green hillside in Ireland, and looked out over the valley and hung out with the horses. That’s definitely one memory I have that sticks out, just as a nice moment.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for someone looking to take a “horse holiday” in Ireland?
I guess there are two types of horse holidays, right? If you want to go on a “holiday” and include horses in that holiday – like you want to go riding for the day – or if you want to ride every day. The second yard I worked at was in County Clare in the Ennis area – the west of Ireland. A place like that is… well, Ireland is absolutely stunning across the board. There’s no question; you can’t go wrong.
I led trail rides in that area for any level of rider at Clare Equestrian Centre. [We rode] Irish Drafts and Irish Sport Horses, which are like showjumpers but “thicker.” They’re beautiful animals. If it didn’t cost 10,000 dollars to get them across the Atlantic, I would have brought one home with me. [Laughs.] So if you just want to go for a trail ride one day, that’s a great place to do it.
If you were looking for a holiday like, “every day I’m riding,” and riding a horse from Point A to Point B and then camping there, I would have to say I don’t have experience doing that. But the whole country is beautiful! You can’t go wrong with a holiday in Ireland, much less a horse-riding holiday in Ireland. It’s great for both of those things.
Irish Working Holiday Authorisation
Recent college graduates from the United States should definitely have a closer look at the Irish Working Holiday Authorisation. This visa lets you live and work in the Republic of Ireland for up to a year without needing to find employment beforehand! It’s easy to apply for and relatively inexpensive. As Caitlin would say – “why not go?”
More Useful Information
More useful information on how to get a job with horses in a foreign country can be found in our section about working abroad with horses. There you can learn about interesting opportunities like being an airline groom for horses.