Our Warriors have spent the last 10 days at Japalouppe, a world-class Equestrian Center, near Pune, India, learning horseback riding, exploring Indian culture, and praticing yoga and meditation techniques, and having the time of their life. We have just a few days left on the farm before we head to Tadoba National Park to explore wildlife with THA parent and expert Dr. Amol Khedgikar.
So how's the experience been so far? How are our Warriors doing halfway across the world? Here are some highlights and glimpses of our trip so far. Enjoy!
The Ultimate Equestrian Experience
From the moment you walk into Japalouppe, you can't help but feel something different. There's something special, something magical about the place, but it's hard to put your finger on it. Yes, there's the natural beauty: Japalouppe is surrounded by huge trees, full of luscious plants and vibrant animals that are in harmony with the ecosystem. The very moment you cross the gate, you teleport into an entirely different world, a calm and peaceful paradise, in complete contrast with the hustle and bustle, the noisy streets, the busy public, the baffling traffic, the car horns, the temple bells, the random processions, and all the other sights and sounds of Indian urban life.
But there's something more than just the natural beauty, despite it being so breathtaking. Maybe, it's the fact that the place is so full of life: all of the animals, the dogs, the horses, the ponies, the cats, the birds, the goats, the geese, the ducks, the pigs... they are so peaceful and full of joy. You can't help but fall in love with the animals here. Many of them had been discarded and left for dead by previous owners, only to have been revived with a new zest for life after staying here. There are children and families who visit Japalouppe by the hundreds, mesmerized by the horses, animal education center, and amazing food. The 80+ employees, are all treated with respect and love, and always carry a smile on their face.
But perhaps the most magical element is the WHY. Japalouppe is a place with purpose. So many of the employees aren't here just to earn money, they've found a calling. Years ago, one of the drivers started showing an affinity for animals. The founders noticed this natural inclination and nurtured it. Today, he's become the manager of the entire petting zoo. Another employee had showed up at their doorstep a few years ago with nothing more than a love for horses. Today, he's one of their best horseback riding instructors. There's an Actonesque intentionality imbibed in the fabric of this place. And it starts from the top. The founders, Lorraine and Rohan More, a mother and her son, are the heart and soul, the brains and brawn behind Japalouppe, and happen to be two of the most amazing people you'll find on the planet.
We begin with Lorraine More. At 69-years young and a smile that can light up the night sky, she is the heart and soul of Japalouppe. Regardless of whether you are a street sweeper or CEO, Lorraine will greet you with the same humilty and respect that all humans deserve.
Fascinated by the woman who gave her life to this place, I try to catch Lorraine for a chat every day, even just for a few minutes, to learn more about her journey... and every day I continue to be amazed by what I uncover. Here are some highlights:
She grew up with humble origins, e.g. wearing the hand-me-downs of her siblings while her family struggled to make ends meet, and hasn't forgotten where she came from. It's the source of her humility, gratitude, and core values.
Her husband passed away at a young age; she had hardly any money, two horses, a pony, and a tough choice to make: do I sell what we have to make ends meet or do I pour my heart and soul into this place and see what happens? She, along with her son, chose the latter and the rest is history. Step by step, day by day, brick by brick... they built this place organically over the last thirty years.
Today Japalouppe has over 70 horses, an animal hospital, a silo that produces 25-28 tons of grain a month, a petting zoo, and one of the best equestrian centers in the world.
She took the slow and steady route, focusing on the journey and the process rather than the result: obeying the laws, paying taxes, not cutting corners, doing what is right even when it's the more difficult and less traveled path, and not compromising on principle. This is the source of her confidence and courage today.
As a way to support her son who was dealing with diabetes, she started weightlifting with him five years ago, at age 64. She has now won two gold medals at the Asians Powerlifting Championship! I had the honor of joining her and Rohan for a workout and was blown away watching both mother and son engaged in such intense training.
She still maintains the landscaping for the entire farm by herself, taking pride in the fact that Japalouppe's beauty is natural and authentic, not artificially constructed.
A few days ago Lorraine took all of the Warriors on a trek up a nearby mountain with caves and a temple at the top. Not only could we hardly keep up with her pace, but as we stood on top of a hill we found out that Lorraine is a certified paraglider who loves the thrill of jumping off a cliff and flying thousands of feet in the air like a bird.
Then there's her son, Rohan More. If Lorraine is the heart and soul, Rohan is the brains and the brawn, quite literally. (He won the silver medal at the Asians Powerlifting Championship!) During one of our very first conversations, Rohan shared with Dr. Amol how he discovered a cure for a disease in horses previously believed to be incurable by synthesizing techniques used by human surgeons. He humbly proclaimes he's not a veternarian, yet you'll randomly find him at his own animal hospital providing treatments and conducting medical procedures to help the animals. He's absolutely given new life to so many animals and does it entirely out of compassion and care for their well being.
At the same time, while managing the operations of the entire farm, his passion for teaching stands out, and he's become one of the best riding instructors in the world. A quick observation of him instructing our Warriors will show you how much he loves it.
He also has a knack for working with children, playing pranks on them, sharing funny stories, and making them his legendary, mouthwatering desserts with his own hands.
Like his mother, Rohan displays a charming humility and continues to be baffled at the story of Japalouppe's success. I asked him what it was like to have overcome so much struggle in the early years and to have finally made it, and he responded with a confused look, wondering if indeed they had. Instead he quoted Robert Frost saying, there's just so much more to do, "I have miles to go before I sleep."
The Warriors in India
As for our Warriors, they are having the time of their life! They have all mastered the basics of horseback riding, earning Level One certification in six days, and impressing everyone on the camp with their effort and energy. They have built an incredible bond with the horses, overcoming the initial discomfort and struggle to achieve a level of mastery they never thought they could before. It's an incredible feeling to see them walking, saddling, and trotting with these beautiful, powerful 1000-pound creatures with such elegance and grace, engaging in a majestic dance between human and horse.
Aside from riding lessons and lectures on all things equestrian, Warriors are enjoying yoga and meditation sessions, games, trekking, snake shows, walks through the garden, bonding with the animals, dance parties and great food!
Despite flying halfway across the world to a foreign country, battling stomach issues, jet-lag, lost bags, bugs, a different climate, homesickness, the physical rigor of horse-back riding, very different teaching and learning styles, and much more, they continue to persevere, earning the respect and winning the hearts of everyone at Japalouppe. We are constantly told by the staff, the instructors, and the coordinators that this group is just special.
One of the best examples of this was on Day 7, the day after our Warriors earned their L1 certification. Rohan decided he wanted to take their riding lessons that day. He began a lesson on diagonals and was amazed at how quickly the Warriors picked it up. As he left the training ground, he approached Mayura, Amol, Purvi and me and was at a loss for words. He told us, "It usually takes, on average, four lessons for someone to learn diagonals. If I'm teaching, and there's a really good rider, maybe three. This is the first time in my 25 years of teaching that an entire group got it in one lesson. It's just incredible." He stuck out his arm and showed us his goosebumps.
Amol shared how our Warriors may joke around and have their fun here and there, but when they need to, they know how to flip that switch and focus, they know how to find flow, because they work on it at school. Rohan laughed and said, "Vijay, you need to open an Acton over here!"
Thank you Mayura for putting such a wonderful program together, connecting us to such an amazing place, and providing such a life-changing experience for our Warriors. It has exceeded any and all expectations and we're just at the halfway mark! Excited for the cultural immersion and wildlife expedition that lies ahead!