Meghan is a Californian girl who grew up trail riding in the sunshine state. Soon a busy career took her away from horses, travelling all over the world. Today, she combines an international career with her off-grid horse ranch in Spain. She tells us how she manages to balance the life of an Equestrian Adventuress with a busy work schedule. Furthermore she explains how to convert a horse-sceptic of a husband into the main support structure at the ranch. After reading this, living with horses in Spain on an off-grid ranch never sounded easier!
Author: Meghan Sapp
Growing Up Trail Riding in California
When I was in high school, living near Mount Diablo State Park east of San Francisco, California, I knew I was pretty lucky. I had my own 4×4 pick-up truck (that was so old it could have drunk alcohol legally several years before I could). And on weekends I was paid $40 a day to ride the purebred Arabian mare I’d had since she was six months old, guiding trail rides up and down “my” mountain.
I then headed off to Montana to go to university where I’d hoped to marry a cowboy and become a horse trainer. Deep in my heart, I was a cowgirl, and all I ever really wanted was a horse ranch of my very own.
Life took over, however, and I eventually had to give my horse up as I spread my wings, travelled the West as an agricultural journalist and eventually moved to Europe where I wrote for magazines and newswires living in several different European capitals.
Meeting My Soon-to-be Cowboy in Spain
After living in Brussels where I worked as a lobbyist, I moved to Vitoria, Spain as part of a career transition. One evening, during a local “fiesta,” a tall, curly-head Basque came to chat me up. There weren’t many American girls around and he’d learned growing up that girls speaking English were a lot more, um, friendly, than the local girls.
Four months after I met my would-be husband, I gave him the fright of his life. I told him that I had a five-year-old daughter in California that I wanted to bring over. After he got over the shock of discovering my daughter was actually my mare, he knew how much she meant to me. She arrived a few months later from California. That “family photo” we took of the three of us was front and center on our eventual wedding invitation.
Horses were not his thing when we met. He’d been scarred by a previous girlfriend who had forced him to watch her take riding lessons. I did things differently and taught him the ropes from the start. I made sure he was involved with everything from grooming to riding. Today, he’s a world-class mucker!
Living on an Off-grid Horse Ranch
Today, we live on Curly Creek Ranch, an off-grid, almost entirely sustainable horse ranch in northern Spain, tucked high up on a southern facing hill looking into an idyllic valley on 3.5 hectares between San Sebastian and Pamplona. Solar and wind power along with batteries keep the lights and all of our modern appliances humming, our chimney provides hot water for showers and heating, and hopefully next summer we’ll be producing biogas from horse manure to provide gas for cooking to replace the chimney. And heat the jacuzzi, of course!
Living With Horses in Spain
Looking out from my home office window, I can see our modest 20m x 60m non-covered riding arena (that’s hard as a rock at the moment but a proper footing is a mission in itself) next to the very special Fairy Forest (I call it that, no one else does). You can also just barely see the tall wooden entrance gate, Texas style, built with the 200 or so year-old oak beams that were in the old stone house we bought, knocked down and rebuilt to be completely energy efficient.
Left of there, my 14-year-old ¾ Arabian, ¼ AQHA palomino Barbie mare named Khali is grazing with her six-week-old chestnut filly. My mom bred Khali in California and I fell in love with her on a visit when she was just two weeks old.
And There is Even More Horses
A bit further up the hill, the geldings are hanging out in the shade under some old ash trees: Khali’s first son Matty and Ranger, better known as Grumpy Grandpa. According to his ID chip he was born in Slovenia, but how he got to Spain or what his life was like before he came to us three years ago, we’ll never know. There is also Mosso, a 6 or 8-year-old chestnut sweetheart of a gelding who was all but abandoned and was lent to us for the summer, who we may end up having for forever.
Add to our herd of over-loved, underworked but well-cared-for horses our mastiff-mix dog Harry, our black huntress cat Diana, two cats some city friends brought out to us in hope we could give them a better life, six laying hens, three white turkeys en route to being Thanksgiving dinner, three goats (including one we bottle-raised this winter who thinks she’s a dog) and a Billy goat, plus our newest arrival, a pregnant meat rabbit who should give birth in the next few weeks. We also have about 200m2 of organic gardens where we plant on average 50 different kinds of vegetables throughout the year, nearly a dozen very young fruit trees that make me wonder what we were planning to do with all that fruit when they eventually mature, and blueberries and strawberries that we’re still very much figuring out.
A Mission Finding our Dream Plot
We first found this property one cold December day in 2013, after looking at more than 60 properties all around the Basque region for more than two years. I felt disheartened, on the verge of giving up on my little girl’s dream of a horse ranch and doomed to live forever in a city apartment. However, we decided to drive up one last country road over one last hill.
I’ll never forget the feeling of when we first drove into what would soon become our ranch, where we’d plant all of our dreams and hopes for the future (and every penny we could earn, inherit, beg or borrow, but no stealing!). Four months later it was ours, two months later we began construction, and an excruciating three years later, we moved in. And here we’ve been for almost exactly three years and every day we realize how blessed we are to live here and live this life.
A Stay-at-Home Husband Who Makes It Work
I’m often asked: Why does Iñigo (my husband) get to stay home and live your dream while you’re off travelling the world for work?
The answer, for better or for worse, is that someone has to pay for this dream. And in our case, that someone is me. In Spain, there are no jobs that pay what we would need to earn in order to stay on top of the ranch and this very financially hungry project of ours.
But don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I love to travel.
As a journalist, later lobbyist, entrepreneur and now managing director of a global website for news and analysis, among other entrepreneurial pursuits and volunteer activities, I’ve been travelling at least two weeks per month for the better part of the last 15 years. All in all, I’ve travelled to more than 60 countries on every continent (except Antarctica), most of which have been for work. I have had a lot of wanderlust, suffering from a distinct lack of a sense of home and belonging, that is, until Iñigo and the ranch.
Iñigo is an engineer and the technical piece to our sustainable off-grid ranch project. He is all around ranch manager the rest of the time. And he loves it. He’s never been happier, healthier or stronger in his life (minus the apparently cowboy requisite beer belly, of course).
Work, Ranch and Horses – The Perfect Balance
Through my job, I love exploring the world and meeting new people, innovating, mentoring, working with people. On the other hand, I’ve found and made a home. A place where my horses welcome me when I drive through the gate (except my mare, because, well, she’s a mare) and my husband is always happy to have me around for as long as I can be. Yes, I would like to be home more. Yes, I would love to ride more and hopefully this summer that will actually happen – being home for a whole six weeks in a row is going to be glorious. But I know that when those six weeks are up, or maybe even before then, my passport is going to get itchy again and it’ll be time to go, so I can be oh so glad to come home.
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