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Okay! Okay! Okay! So, I was a little pudgy, had no balance and not a clue what I was doing!


As the saying goes, "I've come a long way, baby!"


This is the year 2004, Leap Year. In January, I decided to leap. What prompted my leap was a chance conversation with some friends, Al and Melissa Flowers, who used to board horses here in the Florida Keys where I live. I mentioned I had always wanted to own a horse and if they ever thought of boarding horses again, I hoped they would keep me in mind.

A few days later, Melissa called to say they would like to have horses in their lives again. A corner of a page turned and my dream came to life. I began researching horse breeds and pedigrees. That’s when I first learned about Paso Finos. What a spectacular horse! They are well known for their friendly people-loving temperament. Though small in stature, they have an elegant chiseled conformation, combined with that singular lateral four-beat gait.

I visited some farms in Ocala and had nearly decided to buy a horse from a breeder there. Following the advice in all the books about buying horses, I knew I should check as many places as I could. So, when I learned about a farm in Homestead, I owed it to myself to at least go look. I called one Friday night in March at 5 pm and went to visit the next morning. When they unloaded Resplandor De Maria from his trailer, my heart stopped. Though very small (as am I), he is an exquisite bay gelding. As I sat in the saddle, I felt a Cheshire cat grin spread across my face and I yelled, “this is great!” The very next day, my business partner, Douglas Miller, bought him for me as a gift.

It took another month to finalize all the boarding arrangements. Finally, in April, Resplandor came to the Keys. There was only one problem. Very minor. Trivial, I would call it. I didn’t know how to ride a horse. There was no mistaking it. I’m not saying I could ride, but just not very well. I really, really didn’t know how to ride. I knew more about how airplanes stay in the air than I knew about how to maintain my balance on a horse.

That’s how I came to meet Diego Bravo at the Ocala School of Equestrian Art-Paso Horses. With such a magnificent horse, I owed it to him to be the best rider I could. I didn’t want just any instructor. I wanted the best I could find. I especially wanted to honor the Paso Fino heritage. So, I flew from Key West to Orlando, and drove from there to Ocala for training.

Driving to Ocala, I felt several urges to turn back. Quite frankly, I didn’t know if I could ride. Being self-employed all my adult life has meant working long hours with few days off. My cousin accuses me of being “recreationally challenged.” Up until now, I aspired to be a couch potato, spending the little spare time I have watching movies. The low grades I received in phys ed in high school and college destroyed what otherwise would have been a near-perfect grade point average. In ten more years, I could probably be third base.

So, here I was, over 50 years old, 10% over my target weight, no athletic ability, trying to persuade myself not to turn back. I pulled out all the stops. I sang the Julie Andrews “Confidence” song from the Sound of Music (“I have confidence in sunshine. . . ). I lectured myself. “People have been riding horses for thousands of years, including people older than you, more impaired than you, and children smaller than you, If they can do it, you can, too.” “They call it an equestrian school because you go to learn. If you already knew how, there’d be no reason to go.” “Do you remember learning to walk?” “No.” “But you’ve watched infants learning to walk. They weave around like a drunken sailor. The next thing you know, your mantra is ‘stop running in the house.’ Learning to balance on a horse is probably just like that. It seems impossible, but it will come to you.”

By the time arrived, I was so nervous I was practically vibrating. Diego, however, is an artfully skilled man. I’m not going to tell you all the tricks, tips and trials he put me through. That would be like telling you the end of a great movie just before you saw it. You need to experience Diego for yourself. But sometime between May and July, in my 20+/- hours of training with Diego, I did learn to ride. Looking in the mirror one morning, I exploded into laughter. Somewhere along the line, I had very inadvertently lost that extra fat and developed (no way!) some muscles!

Due to my heavy work schedule, I’ve never been able to take long vacations. So, I brought the vacation to me. Nothing in my life has been more rewarding than my introduction to the world of Paso Finos: the events, the great people, the wondrous horses, and above all, Resplandor de Maria.

Students must participate in training with Diego Bravo, Ocala School of Equestrian Art, to obtain minimum competency.  Schooling in the Keys includes supervised riding, classroom instruction, lessons in horsekeeping, hands on experience, including grooming, feeding, sanitation.  Horses and equipment provided.  Qualified participants may compete in national horse shows and take part in structured pleasure events, such as trail rides and parades.  Students must wear long pants, hard boots and helmets while riding.  Evidence of accident and health insurance required. 

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