When I was 20, I was fortunate to spend six-months as a working student with an Olympic dressage rider. Because I had only ridden hunters and came with no previous dressage experience, I really wasn’t an ideal candidate, however, I’m pretty sure she was swayed by her other working student who said I was the only one that could carry two full water buckets, so I got the job. Unfortunately, I never really hit it off with my boss. After a long brutal Boston winter, I knew the exact moment when she decided to let me go. While I was repairing, or should I say patching, a fence again, she rode up to me on a horse, put her hand on her hip and watched me struggle. This lasted for several minutes. Finally, I said “do you want to tell me how you would like this fence fixed, or do you want to tell me after I am done?”. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was doomed. This was so disrespectful! I was young, but there is no excuse. Even though she let me go, I do have the utmost respect for her. She was a single mom working in a tough business. At this time, the big money was with the hunters and jumpers than in the dressage discipline. With that said, any good hunter rider worth their salt has a dressage foundation. (After I had left, I learned that she had hired her German trainer’s young daughter. Word was, she didn’t work at all). It was during the winter at this farm, when I adopted my first dog, Trapper.
My Mom didn’t have an issue with shipping a horse home, but she did tell me not to bother coming home if I had dog in tow. You see, I had a history of adopting unwanted pets; a pregnant cat, a three-legged dog and while my parents were out of town a $25 pony that had been destined for the killers. At a young age, I realized it was easier to ask for forgiveness than it was to ask for permission. Not necessarily a good thing. This was one of those times.
I can vividly remember standing in the kitchen having a heated discussion with my mother about “that dog!” (why is it “mom” when things are good, and use the word “mother” when situations escalate?). Trapper was sitting on my bags that were piled on top of a picnic table in the screened porch. He wagged and wiggled his butt while looking through the window. He tilted his head every time someone glanced at him. For the moment, Trapper was in the way station and not allowed to enter. In the tone of Ron Weasley’s mother, my mom lectured me for ignoring her explicit instructions with regards to “that damn dog”. Trapper found not being accepted in an adoring manner was confusing. At some point, this small dog won the argument with big brown eyes, he found the softness in my Mom’s heart. She ran out of argument and begrudgingly, Trapper was allowed to stay.
At this time, I was a bit adrift. Took some college courses and did poorly. When looking through The Chronicle, I found another horse job in New York. In retrospect, this was a great job. They paid well, gave me a car, medical and on top of this, I had free board on my horse, fox hunting privileges and was provided a cottage. The owners were hard workers and good people. As horse jobs go, this was an exceptionally good arrangement. Even Trapper liked living on the 300 acre farm in Duchess County.
The day broke down to morning barn chores and then legging up 3-5 horses in the afternoons. During hunting season, the weekends were all about turning out the horses (which means grooming them till they gleamed) and then cleaning them up while everyone was at the hunt breakfast. One New Year’s Day, I gave 23 baths. The horses were clipped so they dried off quickly and that particular day, winter hadn’t set in yet. I had a system and used a lot of coolers. I also hustled my butt off.
The downside was, and there is always a downside, I was the only employee. As much as I loved the work, total isolation wasn’t the answer either. This was when I realized I wasn’t cut out for the remote bubble known as the horse world.
In 1980, the world was smaller. People didn’t travel like they do now, however, for me, the move meant opportunity. Outside of working with horses, the only skill I had was cooking. Cooking school required a minimum two-years experience. I had been offered a pantry position at a resort in NY. The prevailing culture at the time was because I was a woman, I couldn’t handle the “heat of the kitchen”. My oldest brother, said “come to the islands! I know many women chefs!”. Given the choice New York winters vs. a tropical island, island life sounded like heaven on earth. Let me tell you, it was!
Art imitating life is the best way to describe my move to Maui. In comparison, I wasn’t much different than the Beverly Hillbillies. I was a mousy looking 20 year-old, timid girl with a dash of sass, moving far, far away. Up until then, I had spent more time with horses than with people. Horses gave me confidence. Now I had my dog for a best friend and with him, I was brave. Once I was settled, it was time for him to make the trip. Ironically, both of my parents were quite fond of my dog and didn’t want to give him up. Trapper caught a flight with a friend who was traveling to Oahu, he traveled as baggage. He had to be quarantined before joining me on Maui. For this two month ordeal, I hired a groomer to give him daily exercise, attention and weekly baths hoping this would prevent him from being traumatized. He had never been in a kennel before.
After quarantine, picking him up from the airport was no different than meeting any other loved one. Trapper must have barked the whole flight because there was no bark left. He was two at the time and I hadn’t seen him in a year. He looked like one does when they recognize someone, but can’t remember from where. We made the drive from Kahalui to my tiny cottage in Honokowai. As soon as Trapper went inside and smelled the small oriental rug that had come from home, he suddenly jumped into my lap and gave me doggie kisses. He was finally home.
Trapper had a few look-a-likes on the island. Every so often I’d get a call saying that they just saw him on the road, but he was at my feet. One time when he was with a friend, I turned my car around when I saw what I thought was him running the other way.
My favorite story was walking down Front Street with Evelyn. Trapper was with a friend for the day and they passed us by in his pickup truck. Evy said “who is that with Trapper?” like he were a celebrity. Good times, good times.
After five years, the time came for us to return to the mainland. I cried harder leaving my Maui family than I did when I had left the east coast. Part of my heart will always be home in the islands. There is a way of speaking and tone of voice that is so alluring. Even now, when I hear my local friends talk, I’m transported back to the nights after work, when I would hang out at with my buddy Dale at the Tiki Bar and talk story.
When all the tourists were tucked in for the night, the island went to sleep. In the distance you could hear waves gently breaking on the shore with the occasional crash for extra measure. This was the way the island reminded me that nothing in this world is predictable. The island is wise.