A Visit to Hippodromo de Monterrico

A horse and rider pass by on the backside of Lima's Hipodromo de Monterrico in Peru.

A horse and rider pass by on the backside of Lima’s Hipodromo de Monterrico in Peru

I had a chance to visit Lima’s Hipodromo de Monterrico when I was in Peru early in September for a missions trip with Joni & Friends. I love taking pictures at South American racetracks for so many different reasons — the vibrant colors, the unusual ways of doing things, the variations in barns and climates and training programs.

A rider schools a young horse in a concrete-walled round pen at Hipodromo de Monterrico in Lima, Peru

A rider schools a young horse in a concrete-walled round pen at Hipodromo de Monterrico

Maybe things come alive for me more at South American tracks because it’s less big-dollar industry, more a hobby, like our glory days. Stables are small and tight-knit. Horses seem heartier. Methods are old-school.

Peru Track 4

Blurring through a morning gallop at Hipodromo de Monterrico

The riders don’t use saddles except to breeze at most South American ovals. I’d seen this in Panama before so I didn’t find it surprising, but I’m always surprised — no matter what country I visit — that more riders don’t end up on the ground after hurtling around at high speeds with only a bareback pad and their excellent horsemanship to keep them astride.

Peru Track 5

A young rider comes back on a horse decked out in pink stable colors

Rather than take up the time of riders heading back and forth between barns, grooms meet them near the gap. This creates a holding pattern of sorts of riderless horses and their caregivers, pretty much just chilling between sets.

Peru Track 6

Grooms wait with their charges for riders to arrive at Hipodromo de Monterrico

I started taking pictures of grooms and horses in Panama when I first went there in 2011. They play the same waiting game, although the process seems to move a little faster there than in Peru.

Peru Track 7

A groom and his horse strike similar poses while waiting at the track

I like the way the horses and grooms seem to mirror each other’s attitudes. You rarely see an antsy, keyed up Thoroughbred around this time. They might get on the muscle once the rider is up, but they’re very used to waiting and enjoy watching the morning activities.

Peru Track 8

The grooms and horses often wear similar colors

The groom and his charge below are two of my favorites from the visit. The wise, weathered, calm — yet alert — appearance is mirrored in both horse and human. In a moment it will be time to train, but for now, they’re just taking in the world at hand.

Peru Track 9

This groom is definitely an old soul and his horse appears to match

And Then the Summer Rain

“Whenever it rains, you will think of her.” — Neil Gaiman

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 30, 2014) — The storm came tonight as summer storms will, heavy presence weighting the air with expectation. There was quiet and then the skies opened to a steady roar as a welcome breeze carried in the rush of rain.

I opened the door and flipped on the porch light and shot up through the glistening water and yellow glow, droplets dancing on their way to earth.

The weight of life is balanced by the beauty of little things: tender gestures, simple gifts, the perfect connections we make with each other when least expected. This month I’ve learned to embrace spontaneity, to relish the perfection of unplanned moments — and now more than ever, I love getting caught in the summer rain.

Certain Kind of Life (photos from Shicali)

“A vocation or calling is a certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God for the common good. The author of every calling is God himself…every man is to live as he is called of God.” — William Perkins

Shicali pottery on the wheel, El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 18, 2013) — “You’ve got to use the life you’ve been given to give others life.

“You’ve got gifts that weren’t given to line your life with; they were given to be a lifeline to others — or your lose your life.

“It comes like an echo from God; if your gifts don’t give relief, you don’t get real life. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?

“…You’ve got to use your position inside the gate for those outside the gate — or you’re in the position of losing everything.

Potter works at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

“If you have any food in your fridge, any clothes in your closet, any small roof, rented or owned, over your head, you are richer than 75 percent of the world… if you have anything saved in the bank, any bills in your wallet, any spare change in a jar, you are one of the top 8 percent wealthiest people in the world.

“If you can read these words right now, you have a gift three billion people right now don’t. If your stomach isn’t twisted in hunger pangs, you have a gift that one billion people right now don’t. If you know Christ as the greatest Gift, you have a gift that millons of untold people don’t…

Potter's hands at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

“When you unwrap your worth in the Gift of Christ, your release your grip on all the other gifts. You are loved and carried and secure, and what else do you need when you have Him? You are free, free, to lavishly give away your gifts when all your value, worth, joy, and riches are in the greatest of gifts.

“Why, writes George Muller, would anyone inside the gate ‘seek  to be rich, and great, and honored in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised?’

“You can see it during Advent — over on the west side, over in the slum, over the backyard fence — the way someone reaches out a hand and someone weak grabs hold. And all the gates give way to God, for such a time as this.”

— Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

Finished pottery at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

Finished pottery at Shicali in El Salvador, Nov. 18, 2013

Shicali is the retail and pottery shop for ACOGIPRI in El Salvador, a co-op of independent disabled individuals — Cooperative Association of the Integral Pro-Rehabilitation Independent Group — that works with the disabled. With no social programs, education system, or economic support for those with special needs in that country, ACOGIPRI is working to change that by providing jobs for deaf pottery artisans. The group provides training and workshop space while marketing and selling the finished products. It was amazing to see the beautiful work produced by these incredible artists during my visit to El Salvador with Joni & Friends. You can read more about Shicali on their website.

Crossing Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 7, 2013) — I’m obsessed with the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. It brings a great sense of peace, but not out of spineless acquiescence. The lyrics call for such faith, such trust. I know I don’t have that now.

Ocean Quote

I’ve always been in love with the ocean, probably because I grew up going to Lake Michigan as a child in the Chicago suburbs, and when you’re three or four or even 10 or, heck, 27, Lake Michigan might as well be an ocean. It took a while for me to figure out that every time I visited somewhere with a coastline, there was a common denominator; I actually could feel the calm descend inside my soul. I can name all the places — Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine, Shackleford Banks in North Carolina, Manhattan Beach in Southern California, more — where unintentionally, I have been drawn to the water and found myself at peace.

Shackleford Banks, N.C., 2012

Shackleford Banks, N.C., 2012

But last month when I was watching the towering waves break in Costa Del Sol, I think I realized for the first time how much that heaving, brutal water thrills yet frightens me, how much I want to be in the surf and on the sand but not too far out, not too risky. And then the other things I love came to mind, like riding horses, galloping cross-country and jumping with a 1,200-pound animal with a mind of its’ own, no problem, because everything else fades away and when you jump just right and you and your horse are in that perfect rhythm, it feels better than flying;  like driving too fast because it’s fun and thank God there are no autobahns in North America; like traveling at the drop of a hat to places I’ve never been to explore cultures I know nothing about, distance never an issue, here or on another continent, wherever there’s adventure.

I do these things wholeheartedly, and I rarely think twice about the danger. I enjoy the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the experience. The risks are worth the rewards.

And then, the ocean.

Costa Del Sol, El Salvador, Nov. 13, 2013

The dangers. The unpredictability. The undertow. It’s easier to sit safely on the shore, at most to tiptoe like that old Counting Crows song, “along the edge of where the ocean meets the land, just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus.” But to feel the water, you have to step off the dry land, and to swim — to really swim — you have to walk into deep waters, and to set sail you have to brave the waves.

Design by Joshua Noom Creative, http://www.joshuanoom.com

Design: Joshua Noom Creative, www.joshuanoom.com

Maybe that’s why this song speaks to me right now, in this season, exactly where I’m at.

Pockets of Joy, Just the Beginning

COSTA DEL SOL, EL SALVADOR (Nov. 17, 2013) — The last day of Joni & Friends’ IFR is always a sad one. We say our goodbyes. We send the families on their way. There are tears and hugs, fond memories from the hours that suddenly seem to have flown by. The connection is genuine. You can’t fake unconditional love.

But even in the sorrow, we find pockets of joy.

Hugo and Claudia

Like Hugo’s kiss for Claudia


Like tears and encouragement shared by Mercedes and Dani's mother

Like tears and encouragement shared by Mercedes and Dani’s mother


Like the loving support of Eduardo's older brother

Like the loving support of Eduardo’s older brother


Like the farewell exchange of Antonio (seated) and a friend...

Like the farewell exchange of Antonio (seated) and a friend…


Like the light in Marvin's eyes.

Like the light in Marvin’s eyes.

We leave this place and we leave each other, but to each we have given of ourselves, and in return we receive. These memories go with us back into the “real world,” where the families — who through this retreat earned a fresh perspective and strength for the journey — discover not the end of their new life, but just the beginning.