Thursday, December 29, 2016

Twelve years ago

Twelve years ago on a beautiful beach in Barbados the most amazing wonderful woman in the universe, in fact in all universes, said "I do" and formally declared her intent to spend the rest of her with me. With me! I am forever grateful.

In many many ways the Caribbean adventure that led us here, our 10th anniversary at Ola Lola's, (yes, our wedding anniversary and the anniversary of opening Ola Lola's are the same day), began on this cruise, on this beach.

Every step of our lives together has been an adventure. Like all great adventures it didn't always go the way we thought it would (who ever thought we'd own a bar on a tropical island?). The potholes and knotholes have fortunately been few and far between and the highs - oh my goddess, the highs! From 70 feet deep in the ocean to thousands of feet up in the mountains and each little everyday adventure in between, for 12 years of marriage and for 11 years together before, for this lifetime and all the ones to come, she is my partner in love and life and every adventure.

At a time of life when some people are settling down, we are embarking on a new Next Great Adventure to make her dream of a therapeutic equestrian center a reality. Who knew?

Thank you, mi amor, mi dushi, mi querida, my love, thank you. Happy Anniversary. And here's to many more anniversaries and adventures big and small.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

'twas the day after Christmas

Happy Boxing Day! I love the tradition of Boxing Day. So much better than the madhouse shopping event the day after Christmas has become. Click on the link above or here for more about Boxing Day.

For me, Boxing Day meant scuba diving. Waves are coming up so this might have been my last chance to get in my 400th dive before the New Year. But I got it in with an hour long dive at Crashboat.

I don't do selfies so thanks to Eric Dyce, my dive buddy on this dive, for the photo of me.

It may get calm enough at the end of the week to get in another dive, to get a head start on next year. My goal is to have 500 dives by the end of 2017.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Day

Meet our friends Rob and Jen. They are from Utah but choose to spend Christmas on a tropical island instead of a ski slope.

Christmas Day we opened Ola Lola's for our Community Christmas Potluck. Rob and Jen and their children Zach and Jada joined us for the celebration.

In addition to Jesus and Jimmy Buffet, December 25th is, it turns out, also Rob's birthday. So in the true spirit of Ola Lola's Rob got an Elaine-written birthday song. Actually, not just a song but a Christmas medley. Everyone joined in to wish Rob a very happy birthday.

Eat some food and fill your tummies        Falalalala lalalala
Christmas brings so many yummies        Falalalala lalalala

Don we now our beach apparel                Falalalala lalala
Sing we now this birthday carol                 Falalalala lalalala

Jen better watch out, Jada better not cry,
Zack better not pout, I’m telling you why  - Rob is here to enjoy his day

He’s laughing right now, Right here in this space
Santa’s gonna come, Put a smile on his face - Rob is here to enjoy his day

He’s got his family with him, The dogs are back at home
It’s Christmas AND his birthday, So we won’t let him alone

You better sing now, You better sing loud
You better join in to drown me out - Rob is here to enjoy his day

Rob’s birthday, Rob’s birthday - It’s on Christmas day
Oh what fun it is to sing a Christmas song this way

Rob’s birthday, Rob’s birthday - It’s on Christmas day
Oh what fun it is to sing a Christmas song this way

Rob and Jen are here, With Zack and Jada too
Rob’s added one more year, And we all say “Woo Hoo!”
It’s Puerto Rico fun to sing a Birthday song
And since it’s Christmas too, We’ll make it twice as long

Rob’s birthday, Rob’s birthday - It’s on Christmas day
Oh what fun it is to sing a Christmas song this way

We wish Rob a happy birthday
We wish Rob a happy birthday
We wish Rob a happy birthday
Cuz he’s added a year!

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a happy birthday – ROB
We wish you all a Merry Christmas
We wish you a happy birthday – ROB
And a Happy New Year!

Happy Birthday, Rob. And Happy New Year! And thanks to everyone who joined us for the potluck. It was fun. And so much food! All of it wonderful. Thank you!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve in the Caribbean

Or at least our little corner of the 

First, scuba diving:

Then riding horses on the beach:

Then running the dogs on the beach:

All that was sort of selfish, done a mostly for our joy (although the animals enjoyed the outings and even the fish seemed to enjoy our presence). So, for a nightcap we went to the hospitals to give blankets to those in the emergency rooms. (For more about this and the volunteer group Calorcito p'al Corazon see our earlier post, Calorcito p'al Corazon.) The greatest gift would have been for the emergency rooms to be empty, for there to be no one who needed an emergency room  Unfortunately, there were of course patients on Christmas Eve. One man thought I was Santa Claus. We did leave him a gift, a blanket and the gift of warmth. It is always amazing to go on the  hospital visits. People are so grateful. They are so surprised we give the blankets free.

And so, this is Christmas. We have a community everybody invited-everubody welcome potluck Christmas dinner in few hours. Time to go prep.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

It's Christmas Eve. Yes, I'm wishing everyone "Happy Holidays."

There are those who think "Happy Holidays" is a politically correct non-Christian greeting.

To me, "Happy Holidays" is inclusive, not exclusive. After all, in a season of holiday, Christmas is only one, one day. Okay, two if you count Christmas Eve. There are something like 27 holidays from November through January, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, wiccan, etc. I don't care where you are or how you celebrate the universe. We wish for all peace, joy, love, health and happiness.

So whatever however you celebrate, Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ola Lola's

A big part of what has taken up our time for the last few months has been getting Ola Lola's and our "treehouse" ready to put on the market. Ola Lola's was closed from August until December 1 You can see the results of our efforts on our website,, and on Zillow. We've had some nibbles and even a showing but no solid bites yet. So, you can still make your tropical dreams come true.

 We reopened just the bar - no kitchen, no food - on December 1. It's kind of a return to our roots: just me, standing behind the bar, waving at every car that goes by, hustling beers and cocktails. It's very early in the "season" yet so we'll see how it goes.

Elaine spends her out-of-the-kitchen time getting all the preliminaries - training documents, plans, volunteers, looking for a temporary location - ready to start our therapeutic riding center. We're planning to offer limited services even before we have land and are completely set up.

Before we can completely move on to this Next Great Adventure, we need to sell Ola Lola's. If you know anyone who might be interested in "living the dream," please share this information. Better yet have them contact us directly.  Thanks!


Monday, December 19, 2016

Ten years ago...

Ten years ago today we arrived on the island to begin what was then our Next Great Adventure: running a bar near the beach on a tropical island.

Now, ten years later, we are making the transition from the adventure of Ola Lola's to our Next Great Adventure working with horses.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Been a while

In all honesty, I had to stay away. The election pretty much devastated me. Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. I'm not going to dwell on it here, but I am more afraid for our country than I have ever been. W Bush was dangerous and an embarrassment; Trump is beyond the pale. There have been crazy bad people as President before. There has always been a separation between the person and the office. One could dislike the person but there was still respect for the office. The Republicans have destroyed that. Their behavior toward the Obama administration over the last eight years and now the election of Trump so a total disregard and a total lack of respect for the office and the American people.

I've spent 10 years here in Puerto Rico trying to be apolitical. I don't think I can be. I fear for my daughters and my granddaughters and my friends and family of color and my friends and family whose sexuality is different. This insanity must be fought and defeated.

I will however try to keep politics out of here. No promises but I will try.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everybody! No costumes or parties this year, just finishing touches on the place as it goes on the market.

Today is our good friend David's birthday. Sadly, David is no longer with us but his spirit lives on and on nights like this - rainy and stormy - breaks through. The photo is of David's favorite glass at Ola Lola's and his favorite drink.

David loved having his birthday on Halloween. He was so honored and humbled that people all over the world were having birthday parties for him. Plus, he always had a party for himself.

David was a golf course designer. He designed Royal Isabela here in Isabela. And he created the concept drawings for Ola Lola's.

One Halloween/birthday he was nearing completion of a golf course project. He threw a party for the construction crew and the course staff and their families. They cleared out the cart house for the party. The only rule was you had to come in costume. Well into the evening, the course owner and his wife came to the party, both dressed in regular street clothes. David met them at the door and said, "You know the rule: everyone must be in costume."

"I'm dressed as guy who signs your paychecks," the owner said.

"Great costume!" was David's reply.

Here's hoping your Halloween is spooky and fun. This Medalla is for you, David. Happy Halloween and happy birthday!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Diving drought

October has been a terrible month for diving. In fact I haven't been in the water in a month! The last time I went diving a group of us went to the south of the island to dive The Wall off Guanica.

There are several dive operators who go out to the wall but our favorite is Island Scuba in Guanica. The Wall is about two-and-a-half miles off-shore. For 28 miles it wraps around the southwest corner of the island. Last time I checked there were 16 marked dive sites on The Wall. The top of the wall is at about 65 feet. From there it plunges to between 160' to over 200' depending on where you are on The Wall. For a number of reasons our "floor" was at 100 feet.

One of the great things about the site we dove is there are frequently sharks along The Wall. Two Caribbean reef sharks hung out with us along The Wall. Two more joined us at the top before we headed back to the boat. (See the video above.)

Scared? No! Fascinated? Absolutely! Caribbean reef sharks are not aggressive. They were mildly curious about us but that's it. And what amazing beautiful creatures! I will dive with them any day.

Other than that there hasn't been much diving. I used the phrase "diving drought" but the lack of diving has been in large part because it has been a rainy summer and fall, especially up in the mountains. All the rain - and the silt it washes into the ocean - plays havoc with visibility. ]

And then in early/mid-October, hurricanes Matthew and Nicole started bringing waves. Much of the time storms don't interfere too much with diving but both of the storms drove waves from the northwest. Swells with a "lot of west in them" screw up diving everywhere.

But they did bring surf - and that's a story for another day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ola Lola's for sale

If you or someone you know is interested in moving to a beautiful tropical island, here's your chance.  There is more on our website, Feel free to contact us with any questions! or 787-629-3988

Feel free to share this far and wide. Thanks.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Viw through my horse's ears

Nine years ago on the night of the October full moon, Elaine rode Chocolate on the beach. She want me to ride, to feel the magic. It was windy, occasionally spitting rain but the moonlight and the ocean truly were magical.

We - Chocolate and I - turned to look back and to wait for Elaine to catch up with us. We'll never know what spooked him - a flash of moonlight on a wind-tossed wave, the "strange" shape of Elaine jogging toward us, whatever - but something did. He spun and bucked. I was a very green rider and wound up on my back in the sand. Chocolate took off running the other direction.

It was one of the longest nights of my life. We searched and searched up and down the beach for him. Our friend Tito (who gave Elaine Chocolate in the first place) came out to search on his horse. Sometime after midnight we agreed to give it up for the night but to meet again at first light to look. Of course Elaine couldn't and was out again by 2:00 am. By first light. all of us - Elaine, Tito on horseback and me - were already out.

Sometime after sunrise, Tito found Chocolate tied up in a yard across the main road and nearly a mile away. We couldn't figure out why he didn't come home or go to Tito's (where he lived for a while). Most horses know the way back to their barn. We figure in his fear he got confused and ran up the wrong road from the beach.

Word finally got to us on the beach that Tito had Chocolate and was headed home with him. Elaine ran home. I turned and started home on the beach. Like something out of a movie, as I walked on the beach there was a full double rainbow in the sky ahead of me.

Last night, the night of the October full moon, we decided to go for a sunset/moonrise ride. It was truly magical!

Chocolate and I are a very different team now. I've been riding him bareback a lot lately so I decided to forgo the saddle and ride with just a bareback pad. We were comfortable together, riding and even trotting easily. As the light fell into dusk, there was no anxiety from either of us.

It helped that it was a different night. No wind whipping up the waves, no funny lights reflecting off strange surfaces.

It was a beautiful, easy, comfortable, magical ride. I love it.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

'tis the season


 Ah, Hurricane Season! Hurricane Matthew, the fifth hurricane of the season, was briefly a Cat 5 early this morning. Since then, Matthew has slipped back to a Cat 4 and may weaken even further before it hits Jamaica.

When then-Tropical Storm Matthew went by well south of us, it brought us winds up to about 35 mph, rain and one of the most beautifully intense thunderstorms I've ever seen. If the storm hadn't frightened the dogs so much, I would have loved it.

Even as we send positive energy into the universe for people in Jamaica, eastern Cuba and Haiti, we are also grateful for what Matthew was - small - and was not - big and dangerous - when it went by us.

We are actually very fortunate here in Puerto Rico and especially here on the west coast when it comes to hurricanes. Most of the time the storms that form off the Horn of Africa are either tropical depressions (winds less than 39 mph) or tropical storms (winds 39-73 mph). Puerto Rico is usually the wedge that divides storms going north along the east coast of the US or south into the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

One reason these storms don't usually develop in to hurricanes until after they pass us is slightly cooler ocean temperatures between Africa and Puerto Rico. For one thing, the Atlantic is deeper and colder that the Caribbean. But there is another factor as well: Sahara dust.

Dust from the Sahara Desert streams across the Atlantic in the upper atmosphere. At times this dust cloud is heavy enough it can be seen from space. (A friend of ours used to work at the observatory in Arecibo. Part of his job was to monitor the Sahara dust.) This dust cloud actually shades the waters of the Atlantic just north of the equator. This shade keeps the water several degrees cooler than it would be without the cloud. This in turn means the tropical storms crossing the Atlantic have less warm moist air, which they depend on for development, to feed on until they hit the Caribbean. Thus, they frequently remain tropical storms, not hurricanes, when they hit Puerto Rico. (Another aside about the Sahara dust: this stream carries nutrients from the Sahara that help feed the Amazon forest. We are connected in ways we can can't even imagine!)

On those rare occasions the tropical storms do become hurricanes before they hit Puerto Rico, they are usually small and not well developed. Because they travel from east to west. they expend a lot of their energy - and rain - crossing the island. That means the eastern third of the island gets hit much harder than we in west do. A few years ago when Hurricane Irene passed over, the east side of the island had 60 mph winds and nearly 13 inches of rain. By the time Irene got to us there was no rain and 40 mph winds. That's what I meant by being fortunate here in the west.

And one more digression if I may: we had 40 mph, even 60 mph winds, when we lived in Michigan., usually when it was somewhere between 0 and 10 degrees. Here we 40-50 mph winds - and it's still 80! It's much easier to tie stuff down when you're not wearing thick gloves or your fingers aren't numb or sticking to whatever it is you are trying to tie down.

Here's hoping everyone in the path of Matthew hunkers down and is safe.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Black out- schmack out!

Meanwhile, underwater, Mother Ocean don't care about no black out.

Actually, this was shot the day before the Big Black-Out. We did two dives with Island Scuba in Guanica on the south coast of the island.  Our first dive was on The Wall to a max depth of 100'. The Wall continues down for another 100' or more.

We saw the barracuda and two reef sharks on the first dive. The barracuda were there but not interested in us. The reef sharks were curious but they see divers a lot so we didn't freak them out. They swam around us and kinda checked us out but that was it. Scary? Not a bit of it! It was incredible to hang out with these amazing creatures.

Our second dive was on a shallower (55') reef. It is a beautiful reef but the most interesting part (besides two hiding nurse sharks) was the coral farm. We noticed big healthy patches of staghorn coral. We have tiny bits of staghorn coral at Shacks but nothing like this.

And this was just one of several patches like this. We were wowed. Then we saw this:

The local dive community and the DRNA (Department of Natural Resources) are cultivating the staghorn coral on these frames.

Then they transplant the coral to new locations to start new colonies. We have a friend who is doing something similar with coral reefs in Hawaii. I would love to do this locally.

We did dive at Crashboat the day of the Big Black-Out.

I still don't think Mother Ocean cared if the lights were on or not.

Friday, September 23, 2016

36 hours of the Apocalypse

So you may have read (or maybe not considering how "The Media" treats Puerto Rico) that we had an island-wide black-out. The details depend a little on which account you read, but the basics are a fire started at one of the electric authority's (AEE) generating plants. As a self-defense mechanism, the rest of the system shut itself down. It was 36 hours of the Apocalypse.

People lined up at gas stations like this was the last tank of gas they could ever get. It was like the 70s and gas shortages and rationing all over again. People stocked up on water and canned foods like a Cat 5 hurricane was coming straight at us. Traffic lights were out. On an island where stop signs and traffic lights are sometimes more suggestions than actual rules, people didn't know what to do when there were no lights at all. I must say, from what I saw, the police did an unexpectedly excellent job handling traffic.

It was difficult to get news since almost all news comes electronically, either on TV or via the Internet, so no one really knew what happened or how long power would be out. Really, there was very little to do but make the best of it and ride it out. It was kinda like camping.

I want to copy something here a friend of ours wrote and posted on Facebook:

For my English speaking friends I am translating a post from this morning regarding the blackout. Everybody specially the media and the government have been continuously saying since yesterday that this is a crisis. Well I'm here to say that this is not a crisis, this is an inconvenience, a big one btw and an uncomfortable situation. No, having to recharge our phones in the car is not a crisis. Not being able to turn on the a/c is not a crisis, no, having to eat out because you have an electric stove is not a crisis either. I'm afraid to break the "terrible" news but having to put away your groceries in a cooler with ice is way far from being a crisis. A crisis are situations like the one that our Venezuelan brothers and sisters are living where they have to make lines that can take hours and even days just to try to get something to eat, not to mention that they don't have medicine. A crisis is having a car and not being able to move it because there is no gas anywhere like what happened in Cuba at the beginning of the 90's. A crisis is having to wait for a water truck because there is no such thing as water in your homes like in Ghana. A crisis is loosing family, friends and even the bed you would sleep on because of a natural disaster like a tsunami, an earthquake or a huge flood. Nothing like that is happening here. Traffic is flowing without any problem thanks to the excellent work the police is doing, our grocery stores have everything as usual, nobody has died because the battery of the laptop died etc. Let's be grateful for all our blessings and stop calling any inconvenience a crisis.

Mimi is absolutely right. this was an inconvenience, and really, a small one at that. For all the bad-mouthing of "the system" in Puerto Rico - and goddess knows there are enough problems with the system - the folks working on the problem restored electric service to most of the island in 36 hours. I think that's pretty damn good. In Michigan we could go 36 hours without electricity in the wake of a winter storm. Back there, we depended on electricity to heat homes. Back there, it was below freezing, often below zero degrees. Here it was still in the 80s. Yes, it was hot without fans and air conditioners. But nobody froze to death.

As Mimi so correctly pointed out, we have SO much to be grateful for. A few hours without electricity is a pretty minor inconvenience.

And there was a bonus: the night sky was beautiful without all the lights!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The path to PATH

A couple of days ago I wrote that Elaine has been working on certifications in equine assisted therapy. She is working with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, P.A.T.H. International.

Here is a short overview video of what P.A.T.H. is and does. By the way, this video was recorded at Fieldstone Farm in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, That's where Elaine was training in August. I had the opportunity to visit the facility - wow! What a beautiful operation!

Elaine has completed her first PATH certification and has started a second. She is also taking a class in October that deals specifically with working horses and veterans. Since by percentage of population Puerto Rico has the greatest number of people in the U.S. Armed Forces of any state or territory, there is a need here.

This is our Next Great Adventure. This is why Ola Lola's is for sale.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fire and smoke

Today is THAT day when we remember and mourn the horrific events in 2001.

By my friend Linda's birthday (happy belated birthday, by the way!) on the 7th, the memorial postings are ramping up. This year the big post was this year's high school freshman class will read about 9/11 as an event that happened before they were born. By my friend Vicki's birthday on the 10th, probably half the posts on Facebook are about 9/11. There will still be posts tomorrow on my friend Stacy's birthday.

"Never forget!" "Remember!" Photos of the WTC. Photos of firemen and other first responders. Those of use how were born then get to relive the horror.

But there are also reasons to celebrate on this date. Today is my love's birthday.

 Not everyone thinks it's appropriate to celebrate anything on this day. For first couple of years we struggled with it too. But then I realized 9/11 was her birthday long before 9/11/2001. Celebrating a life and remembering, honoring, respecting the victims in the WTC are not mutually exclusive.

So today I am celebrating her birth and her life with huge joy and gratitude. If they didn't scare the dogs, we'd have fireworks

Happy birthday, mi amor, mi dushi, mi querida!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

How I spent my summer vacation

Now that Labor Day is behind us, summer is "officially" over. Schools started here the first week of August so that was effectively the "end" of summer here. But then, we live on a tropical island so it's always summer here. Right now it rally feels like summer - hot, muggy and threatening thunder storms. We've got lots of thunder, just waiting on the rain.

Of course with the end of summer and the return to school comes the "what I did on my summer vacation" assignment. Since I haven't written in a while, I thought I'd take that on.

After Amber's birthday (my last post) I had a birthday. No, it is not the something anniversary of my 21st or 29th birthday. I have 65 years and am proud of it. I'm still here, still, kicking, still diving and riding and taking Amber (and the other three dogs) for his daily walk on the beach.

I got a bouncy house for my 65th birthday party. I've been in bouncy houses at other people's birthday parties, but I've never had one for my own party.

(One of the many reasons I don't do selfies!

And a cake that had it all!

Thank you, mi amor!

There has been some diving...

(Oh goddess - another selfie!)

but honestly not as much as I'd hoped for. It's been a very wet, rainy summer (this time last year we were in the midst of a terrible drought and they were rationing water). Lots of rain - especially in the mountains - screws up visibility by washing lots of mud and other stuff down the rivers and into the ocean. But there have been some really good dives.

Elaine was gone for a week in June and three weeks in August back to the States for training as we work towards the Next Great Adventure (more on that in a bit).

While Elaine was gone the first time, her mare KTJ was in a clinic in Arecibo for surgery on her leg. That was a rough time for all of us. Elaine was gone and her horse was having surgery. I was here without her taking care of the "ranch" and Ola Lola's. (That's one of the reasons I didn't do more diving.) Chocolate and Zip really missed KTJ and were glad when she came home.

It's taken KTJ some time to heal but she's doing fine. Elaine is finally able to work her nearly every day and has just started riding her again.

While Elaine was in northern Ohio staying with Amy and Miguel and the grandkids doing her second round of training, I got to sneak away to join her and visit.

Ola Lola's - to many people's chagrin - has been closed since the first of August with no hard deadline to reopen. We're doing maintenance and repairs that we can't do when were open and getting the house and business spruced up to sell. Yep! Ola Lola's is going on the market. If you or anyone you know is interested in "living the dream" on tropical island, get in touch with us. We may be able to help make that dream come true.

Of course, the big question everyone asks is "Why?" Very popular, top-rated bar/restaurant - why sell? For one thing I've been doing this for nearly 10 years (!),This is the second longest I've ever had a job. And, we're moving on the the Next Great Adventure.

We're looking for some land near here. We are creating a non-profit to have horses assist in therapy for people, especially veterans, and people assist in therapy for people-damaged horses. Elaine's work in the States this summer was toward two certifications for equine assisted therapy. She just completed the first (YAY! Congratulations!) and is on her way to the second.

So summer is over. I would say it's back to work and in a way it is. It's just different work with a different focus. We (half-)joke that you know you're truly on island time when you don't know what day it is any more. Elaine and I were talking today that we really don't know what day it is. For now we don't have that hard deadline of 3:00 pm Friday to open Ola Lola's so what day it is doesn't mean much. Our lives revolve around the animals and occasionally diving and working to get Ola Lola's ready. Not a bad life!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to one of the sweetest, wisest old souls in the universe.

Today Amber Ale turned 16. For years in Michigan he was an amazing therapy dog, working with both kids and adults.

Now his muzzle and paws are completely white; he's partially deaf. He has liver disease, maybe cancer. His back legs sometimes give out on him: he has trouble going up and down steps, But he has a great huge beautiful boundless spirit. He wants to GO - not as far and not as fast as he used to but still GO! He wants to be part of things, to share stuff with his two- and four-legged pack. Everyday he gets his walk on the beach with the other dogs. 

I hope there is somebody to take me for walks on the beach when I'm his age.

Happy birthday, Amber!

Friday, June 03, 2016

Caballos del mar

Of course, four-legged horses are not the only ones. As I said in an earlier post, I also love hanging out with caballos del mar.

And at some point, they are all sea horses!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

On horses

Way back in the last century, I took a riding class for a PE credit in college. I learned a little about grooming and tacking and caring for horses. Mostly we did trail rides on Western saddles and gear. We didn't train the horses at all. We just got them ready, got on and rode off.

I imagine that's kinda most folks' initial construct with horses: yes, there are some fancy show riders and jumpers and some horses race around a track and some prance in the Olympics. But basically, horses are for riding.

Fast forward a few years (decades) and I found myself in Puerto Rico, helping to care for Elaine's horse, Chocolate. When we only had one horse, he was her horse. I helped out occasionally, feeding and all. I learned a little about caring for him, but only enough to do what I needed to do to help. I was not going to be a rider. While Elaine's passion was the horse, I was learning to scuba dive. That was kind of deal: you ride, I dive. When the opportunity presented itself, I did a little riding. Eventually, Elaine became a certified scuba diver. We both did it so we could spend time together doing what the other loved. Don't get me wrong: I like to ride; I just wasn't very good at it. Elaine likes to dive but if it's a choice, she'll ride.

Then we got KTJ, our - Elaine's - big dark bay Thoroughbred rescue from the race track. She is a sweet smart girl and training and working with her quickly became Elaine's focus.

When Elaine went to St. Lucia to work three years ago. I stumbled along doing the best I could taking care of both horses. When Elaine came back, I decided I wanted to get more serious about this. She was working with KTJ so more and more Chocolate became "my" horse.

Most of what little I knew and what I read talked about the need to be the "Alpha horse," the herd leader and to become this, I had to dominate. Those of you who know me know that's not my strong suit. But I tried because that's what you're "supposed" to do with a horse. We had some success but many "training" sessions ended in all kind of frustration for me, but more importantly for my horse. I talked about these frustrations with Elaine and other horse-people friends but didn't really get anywhere.

One night, Elaine handed me a book and said, "I think you're ready for this." The book is Horses Never Lie by Mark Rashid. Simply put, we mostly look at our interactions with horses from our point of view, not the horses. And they are very different! In a herd there is a dominant horse who gets his way by, well, dominating the other horses. But there is frequently another horse Rashid calls the passive leader that the other horses follow because they trust and respect this horse.

This was an eye-opener, a game-changer, for me! I don't dominate well. Maybe I could become this trusted passive leader for my horse. Now, nearly a year later, I have a relationship with my horse.

And that's what this thing with a horse is about - a relationship. It's not about riding; riding a mutually agreed upon part of the relationship. It's certainly not about "breaking" a horse. It's about working together with trust and respect. That means listening to what the horse is telling me. Sometimes, I have to trust him more I trust myself. He has to learn to trust me that I won't put him in danger, that even if his prey-animal instincts say, "RUN!" he'll stay because he trusts that I won't let him get hurt. Sometimes he has to do training things he doesn't like (circling on a lunge line for example) because it helps get us in sync with each other. (Sounds the demands and requirements - and joys - of any great relationship!)

I can't believe how far we've come together in such a short time. Not having to or trying to dominate is so freeing, so relaxing. There are lots of trainers now doing some variation of "gentle" training. This feels so much better to me. I keep reading more, watching more and practicing more. Chocolate is a very smart, very sensitive horse. Now we both enjoy our time together and look forward to it. We are working on a great relationship!

Loving people and our dogs I understand. I am totally surprised at how much I've come to love this horse.

By the way, I just uploaded a whole bunch o' photos of the horses to Flickr. You might want to take a look. Enjoy!