Working in Jerusalem: A true horse tale

If Caroline Hadash's poodle hadn't been injured, she might have become a nun.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
When Swiss tourist Caroline Petter married Israeli native Ohad Hadash, she didn't only change her last name, she took on everything the name implied: A new country, language, culture and profession. Caroline shrugs off any homesickness. And if one wanders around their horse ranch in lush and idyllic Tzur Hadassah, it's easy to understand why. The couple has succeeded in importing the aura of a mountainous European resort to the hills around Jerusalem. Caroline and Ohad's marriage and business are a perfect demonstration of the maxim that accidents can sometimes yield unexpected and positive results. If not for Caroline's little poodle getting injured in Jerusalem, Ohad might have still been working as a paramedic, and Caroline might have remained in Switzerland working as a riding teacher - or maybe even as a nun. In 1989, the then 21-year-old Caroline came here from Geneva with her poodle, Charlie, to "hozer b'tshuva" (return to religion), as she puts it, as a Christian. She bought an open ticket for a year "to see if God was present more in Israel than in Switzerland." Her friends told her she wouldn't last a week. She proved them wrong, even though, judging from the first week of her trip, their warnings might have been justified. At first Charlie was nothing but trouble - she'd take him from hostel to hostel, desperate to find housing for them both. Finally she found a small hotel in the Old City that welcomed pets, but Charlie must have been getting antsy. On their way to check out the ruins of an old church, Charlie charged ahead and fell about 12 meters from the Old City walls. French speakers directed her to a veterinarian in Rehavia, where she lugged the injured poodle. Her quest for God may have been cut short, but she found "salvation" in the guise of 23-year-old Ohad, the brother-in-law of the veterinarian. Overcoming the language barrier (Caroline didn't speak English or Hebrew), he showed this unexpected guest around the country. The two hit it off and fell in love. "We had it good together, and it's still good for us together," Caroline, 39, says in fluent Hebrew on the patio of their Swiss-style restaurant-cafe located near the stables. Charlie, who died only recently, recovered from his injuries and lived 18 more years. The Holy Land proved to fulfill its original purpose as well, and while she left her homeland, Caroline did not leave her religion. Despite their differences in nationality, culture and religion, the two are deeply united by their love for animals. During their courtship, Ohad took Caroline to visit his father's defunct farming supply factory in Tzur Hadassah, quickly eliciting Caroline's enthusiasm. "She said to me, 'I don't understand. Tzur Hadassah is just as beautiful [as Switzerland],'" Ohad tells In Jerusalem. Tzur Hadassah has developed significantly since then and is now home to about 1,000 families, compared to some 200 back then. The couple transformed the factory into a living space, and began to work as "dog sitters" for the canine patients of Ohad's brother-in-law, thus supplementing Ohad's income as a paramedic for Magen David Adom. In 1991 they bought two horses and began another business: A riding school. "It just happened that people in the neighborhood would ask me to teach their kids to ride," Ohad explains. The couple's tendency to go with the flow produced prolific results, and that's in addition to their three daughters, nine, 13 and 15. Ohad took accredited riding courses himself, hired new instructors and eventually left his MDA job to open a full-fledged riding school and dog kennel. They also opened a lounge with coffee served from a machine. The machine, however, couldn't fulfill the demand of their growing clientele. "We got the idea to start a cafe, more for students and parents, but then it turned into a neighborhood pub," Ohad says. But community development planners pushed them to sell the property and this time they decided to go all out: In 2002 they invested about $500,000 to build a ranch and dog kennel of European standards on four dunams (one acre) in Tzur Hadassah. The couple currently employs five instructors, two maintenance personnel, as well as chefs and waitresses. They own 12 purebred horses and rent their stables out to others. The ranch is sequestered among trees, nature reserves and rolling hills, about 500 dunams of which are at their disposal for riding. Ohad attributes the growth of the business in part to the growing demand for quality riding experiences in Israel. "It's a hobby that's becoming more popular in recent years," he says, citing an increase in the number of riding schools and national horse competitions. The gross income of their business reaches $1.2 million yearly, but they admit to a having a large overhead and long work days. "We never made a business plan," Caroline says. "Horses are not an economical field." What distinguishes Harei Yehuda Ranch from others in the Jerusalem area are the accompanying businesses, particularly the restaurant which provides a Swiss dining experience in the form of "grill parties." In a cozy cabin that overlooks the riding field, diners grill for themselves slices of beef, chicken and turkey on the top rack and cheeses on the bottom rack of a table grill. The couple serves wines and baked goods from wineries and bakeries in the area. The only item missing to complete the experience is snow on the mountain tops. Still, Caroline is satisfied. She goes back every so often to visit her family, but says Israel is her home. "I miss the skiing, food, some good friends, but we keep in touch."