When I first learned that the internship I accepted with Weddings in Vieques was on a small island a few miles off the coast of Puerto Rico, I didn’t know what to think. Heck, I’d never even heard of the tiny island of Vieques before, and now I was going to be spending my entire summer there learning how to be a wedding planner. I knew little of the place I would be calling home for the next few months… so, of course, I had to do my research.
There are some things research cannot teach you. You have to experience them first hand.
When I got to the island, one thing I discovered was that Vieques is filled with all sorts of critters running around all over the place. You can’t go anywhere without seeing some sort of lizard, and roosters that cock-a-doodle-do at all hours of the day (and night). Also, Vieques does not have any stoplights, street signs or anything else that would seem pretty normal to find in civilization!
However, they do have their very own interesting problems with traffic, despite the lack of actual cars on the island of less than 10,000 residents. Thanks to the wild horses running around EVERYWHERE!
That’s right; Vieques is filled with horses roaming the streets, beaches and neighborhoods like they own the place. And a number of people use their horses as their primary mode of transportation. It’s not uncommon to see them tied up in front of businesses during the day and bars or restaurants at night. My first week it seemed totally bizarre.
I like to joke that the horses are similar to the amount of deer we have back home in the Midwest, but unlike deer, which try and avoid your car and run away, NOTHING seems to bother Viequenses horses. Traffic literally has to stop so the horses can cross (or mosey down) the street and when 5 o’clock strikes, Sun Bay Beach is like happy hour for the horses! Oh, and trust me when I say this – they are not shy animals by any means. There have been multiple times that the horses have popped their heads into our vehicles to say hello to everybody. Check out this video of one mama horse who wanted a fee for pictures with her babies!
So, where did these beautiful horses come from? Well, the horses that were brought to Puerto Rico were a mix between the Berber and Spanish breeds. Those horses were then bred with other purebred horses to create a special type of horse that could handle the tropical conditions of Puerto Rico. This new horse breed became known as the Paso Fino. They can handle the climate and THEY SLEEP LYING DOWN. It’s good to know that’s normal when you roll up on a field of horses on their sides. Not something I’d ever seen before.
The Paso Fino isn’t like most horses. Their gate is smooth and, unlike the majority of horses, the rider does not bounce up and down. You don’t post on a Paso Fino. The horse’s back stays level and they always have three hooves on the ground and one in the air. The way the Paso Fino walks creates their unique, well-known sound – which is similar to high heels clacking on a wooden floor. It almost looks like they’re dancing when they walk. There is no way you can miss that sound when random horse families visit your trash cans in the middle of the night.
Some of the horses on Vieques are wild; however, most do belong to the people who live here – but you would have no idea! There is a joke on the island that says if a horse ends up in your yard and destroys your property, the owner of the horse will most likely not show up and take responsibly for it. It becomes your horse. But if you find the same horse roaming loose and take it home with you, the owner of that horse will be knocking at your front door wanting it back pretty quickly. It’s an island thing and there are animal organizations on Vieques working to identify the horses and their owners so there can be more accountability when there are accidents or damage, but so far, it hasn’t been very successful. And nobody who lives on Vieques seems to notice anymore. At our office, we refer to the horses in the parking lot as the “lawn crew.”
During my internship I had the pleasure of going horseback riding on these amazing horses! My boss Sandy sent me, my intern partner Janice, and our supervisor Kelsi on a lovely tour of the island on horseback with Taxi Horses Vieques. Sandy’s a huge advocate of teaching us everything possible about the island so that we can converse intelligently with the guests who visit for weddings. The owner of Taxi Horses treated us to a fantastic horseback tour that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. It wasn’t like any trail ride back in the United States – that’s for sure!
The tour led us through the hills of Vieques and from there, we were able to see the entire island and the beautiful beaches. Then we rode to the beach and even into the water on horseback! It was an amazing experience and the tour guides definitely knew their stuff and showed us a fantastic time!
One of the things I will remember most from my time on Vieques is the Paso Finos strolling around town, galloping down the streets, and grazing in the grass. We had a family of them paddocked next door (some owners do keep them penned) and they’d run to our fence to beg for mangos every day when we got home from work.
These stunning creatures are part of what makes this island so unique and amazing. And if you ever get the chance to come visit Vieques, you will know what I’m talking about. You can’t miss them. They’re another important element of what make Vieques Island the most amazing place to get married in the Caribbean!
McKenzie Gacki, Intern at Weddings in Vieques (now back finishing her last semester at UW-Stout)