From Endurance to Dressage
We have staff meetings about once a month and always on Wednesday afternoons. This week, my principal sent an ominous sounding email alerting us to the fact that at or around 11:30 a.m. the district office was sending a public message to both staff and parents. I can't speak for the rest of my colleagues, but my stomach was in knots. What more could be done to make the workday even more stressful?
The message arrived, but it said nothing that we didn't already know: cases of the Coronavirus in California are on the rise so all staff should endeavor to keep themselves isolated in an effort to avoid contracting the disease. I won't go into my personal beliefs about this whole mess, but suffice it to say I am sick and tired of being told not to get sick and tired.
At 2:45, I joined our regular Zoom meeting. On laptop number two - I have four assigned to me, I opened the agenda. I scanned the list of topics and saw the regular items that we always discuss. A whole section was devoted to frequent hand washing and social distancing. But then at the bottom, something caught my eye. Questions? Oh, yeah, I have plenty.
So there you have it; I am once again working from home, and I could not be happier about it. I love teaching, I truly do, but what my district, and probably others, is proposing once we do return, is just untenable. Our students would have less than three hours a day of live instruction. They would be masked and barricaded behind a three-sided plexiglass containment system while sitting six feet apart. They would have no recess, no meals consumed on campus, and for the half day that they weren't with me, they would be at home working independently without teacher help. They can barely do fifth grade work with my help. To all of this I just shake my head.
Working from home helps alleviate (to some degree) my frustration with waning daylight, so for that I am grateful. My dogs are also thankful. I think my students prefer the personal freedom that learning from home enables them to have. They can hear and see me for one. They can bounce around in their seats, walk from room to room - RB does it all day every day, and most importantly they get to have live instruction from morning through the afternoon.
In a nut shell, here's what I want to see happen for our students: we either go back to school normally without all of the barricades, social distancing, and daily temperature checks, or we all stay home. I can't stand the fact that our kiddos, who aren't sick, have to be treated as though they are or will be.
What a mess.
On Friday evening, my friend Wendy - the one who brought her mare Beanie to ride last month, brought her friend Bailey along with Bailey's sister, Breanna, to my house. It would take me fewer than ten fingers to count the times that I have done something with friends over the past nine months, and three of those times were with Wendy. I haven't realized how starved I've been for social interaction.
When Wendy was here in November, we rode through the parking lot of the California Living Museum (CALM). Workers were busy installing thousands of strands of lights for the annual Holiday Lights event that has gained in popularity over the past eighteen years. Normally, the lights and displays are erected within the zoo itself, but this year, due to Coronavirus shutdowns, the event is being staged as a drive-through experience. And oh, boy, is it ever worth the price of admission!
Wendy thought it sounded like fun, so I told her that if she wanted to go, she had better invite me! Early last week, she sent me a text, and we quickly planned a girls night out, something I hadn't done in a long, long time. On Friday evening, Wendy, Bailey, and Breanna drove over from the desert. They came to my house where we made hot chocolate with whipped cream, and then we all piled into my truck for the short drive to CALM.
This year, visitors pay for and "reserve" their time online. On your chosen night, you drive to the east side of CALM where your ticket is scanned, your vehicle marked, and then you are routed down a service road which takes you to a specially created grand entrance. As we neared CALM, a sea of lights hovered in the distance. We all oohed and awed appreciatively as the lights grew larger and larger through the windows.
As we passed under the lighted entrance, we turned up the Christmas carols and settled in to be wowed. We weren't disappointed. Everywhere we looked, millions of twinkling lights spread as far as the eye could see. Rising out of a sea of blue lights, a whale began to shoot "water" up into the sky. Everywhere we looked, lights were in motion.
Spread out over numerous acres, the designers created a twisting, spiraling path that wound through the different themes - the ocean, a jungle, a forest, and others. My favorite was the prehistoric world with a volcano spewing colored smoke.
As each car entered the labyrinth, headlights were extinguished. No one was in a hurry, so when the car in front of us stopped, we did too. With so many displays moving, the only way to see the "show" was to stop the truck and watch.
With four of us looking out each window, someone was constantly exclaiming over the next display. Did you see the zebra? Look, at the dolphin leaping in the water! That monkey is swinging in the tree!
As we drove from world to world, something new met us around every corner. The displays were vibrant and packed with animated characters. Wendy's cell phone photos just don't do the display justice.
In the middle of the journey we passed through the lighted tunnel above. The lights flashed on and off, raced ahead of us and back again, all the while dazzling us with their brilliance.
We didn't measure how long the route was, but it took a solid thirty minutes to wend our way through. We were never bored or stuck staring at any one display. If anything, we would have liked to have gone even slower to really take it all in.
If you live within an hour or two, the experience is totally worth it. The fee to enter is $30 per carload plus however much you'd like to donate on top of that. After we exited CALM, we made the short drive back to my house where my husband was just pulling some Papa Murphy's Pizzas out of the oven. He's definitely a keeper.
We ate dinner, laughing and telling stories until we were stuffed. But since it was a girls night out, we topped off dinner with brownies, ice cream, and chocolate sauce. My husband cleaned up and left us to laugh and solve the world's problems. The conversation was even better than dinner.
You know, the world is in a pretty bad place right now which means it is even more important than ever to stay connected with friends. Our governor's attempt to mandate social isolation is creating an unhealthy situation for a lot of people. Spending the evening with such vibrant and energetic people gave me a much needed boost.
Thank you, ladies! I am looking forward to a next time.
I am saying this with both fingers crossed; it looks like we might get to start showing in June. Last week, instead of extending the ban on showing, USEF released a Tool Kit for show managers. It's a lengthy read with lots of embedded links and a few things that made me wrinkle my nose in disgust/frustration/aggravation?, but at least we are headed in the right direction.
My own chapter of CDS has five shows on hold, two of which we've already rescheduled for the fall. We haven't heard anything from CDS yet as to how many of USEF's rules we need to adhere to, especially since a lot of the rules just don't make sense for teeny tiny shows like ours.
Like this one, Create an Emergency Response Plan specific to a COVID-19 incident or outbreak that includes local medical resources and addresses outbreak protocols including medical evaluation, isolation and quarantine, and reporting. I am sorry, but how is an "outbreak" going to occur at a horse show, and how in holy f--- would we KNOW that an outbreak has occurred? Will people become infected immediately and begin foaming at the mouth? I certainly hope not, but I've seen a lot of movies where that happens.
Here's even more: Require a facemask or face covering for all staff, officials, volunteers, service providers and participants when not mounted on a horse. My one problem with this is what do I do as a competitor if I must lead my horse to a mounting block that is not positioned at my trailer or my stall? Do I wear the mask until I mount and then lower it so it can then serve as my stock tie? If I don't wish it to serve as my stock tie, do I shove it in a pocket? If I don't have a pocket, do I drop it on the ground? I won't have a groom or family member with me, so I won't have anyone "safe" to hand it to, and why would anyone want to touch it anyway? So I guess I am back to dropping it on the ground.
Need more? How about these three:
1. Prohibit the public, spectators, and non-essential personnel such as guests from being on the competition grounds until further notice. What about our small summer show series that's held at an equestrian center? How do we prohibit paying boarders from coming to the barn? I am not sure how we can kick them out for spectating or grooming or riding their own horses. We already can't prohibit them from using the warm up arena during the show. Now USEF wants us to prohibit them from showing up at their barn, the one they're paying to use. We can "prohibit" all we want, but we have no way of enforcing this rule.
2. Organize horse arrivals and departures to limit contact between people. I already get to a show a little before my scheduled ride time and leave when I am done. Are we now going to wait in a line on the side of a road as each person unloads her horses and stuff so that we're doing things in isolation? Funny how 400 people can be in Costco, but 20 ladies can't show up at the show grounds throughout the day.
3. Arrange judges’ and other officials’ areas to comply with social distancing requirements. I can't wait to see how they work this one out. I guess the judge can just shout out her scores and comments to her scribe. Maybe they'll buy walkie-talkies.
I get it. There need to be some guidelines, but USEF likes to offer solutions that are one-sized fits all. SafeSport showed us that. COVID-19 is only reinforcing how USEF likes to deal with problems. They want a solution that can be applied to everyone and at every show. But seriously, some of USEF's requirements are going to be really hard to police, especially since events like ours are held at equestrian centers with their own clients. Our shows, whether it's our little one-star CDS shows or our "bigger" three-star CDS/USDF/USEF shows are already lightly attended. Because our venues tend to be fairly spread out and wide open, we'll be practicing social distancing without even trying. As much as I want the world to reopen and get back to work, I am not sure USEF has thought this through all the way.
My friend Jen, who is the show manager for close to a dozen CDS/USDF/USEF shows each year, sent me an entry for the Summer Dressage II show at El Sueno in mid-June. I filled it out over the weekend. I want to go, I am planning on going, but I am just not sure how much fun it's going to be. And showing is, after all, supposed to be fun.
This past month or so has shown how divided we are as a nation. We have lost the ability to even pretend to listen or respond in a respectful manner. I know that many of you think I am cold hearted without any hint of sensitivity to the issues facing us. I would argue that the complete opposite is true. My heart is breaking for the millions and millions and millions of Americans who are today without jobs. Some of those people are in my own family. Yes, I care that 80,000 have died, but far more than half of them were elderly with preexisting conditions, many of whom would have no doubt died from something else this year.
Yes, that sucks. It really does, but I don't see a huge uproar about flu deaths or about deaths due to gun violence or suicide (more than 48,000 Americans took their own lives in 2018). Did you know that 655,381 other Americans died of heart disease in 2018? How many of those deaths would have been prevented if people hadn't smoked or had exercised or eaten better? Why are we not upset about that? (source)
Bakersfield is California's 9th largest city by population, and Kern County ranks as the 11th largest county by population (3rd largest by area). Out of all of those many, many people - nearly 900,000 here in Kern County, 15 people have died from COVID-19. FIFTEEN. And for that, my county now has a jobless rate of more than 15% as of April. California's population is nearly 40,000,000. Forty million. Do you know how many have died? 2,678.
Do I want to go to a dressage show without having to wear a mask? Yes, I do, but not because I am selfish. It's because I am desperate to see my city, my county, and my state get people back to work. I want kids to go back to school, and I want us to think about what we have lost and given away for 15 people.
In my mind, It hasn't been worth it.
On Monday, I was tasked with the job of closing down my classroom for the rest of the year. The governor had already said we were done for the year, and my district's superintendent had said we were finished, but until things were actually dismantled, there was still a chance we'd go back.
Since we're still concerned with social distancing, closing down our classrooms took two weeks. One fourth of the staff came last Monday and Tuesday while another quarter went last Wednesday and Thursday. A handful of other teachers and myself cleaned up our rooms on Monday and Tuesday while the final quarter of the staff had yesterday and today to pack up everything.
Our primary task was to gather and bag all student belongings so that the kids can pick everything up one day next week. I've never before cleaned my room by myself. It's actually a task I love to do in the final weeks of school because my kiddos and I do it together, planning for next year as w go. It's a job they love. Tossing out the old and worn is very cathartic and gives the kids a sense of closure. They also love to clean up the reusables, like scissors and caddies, in preparation for the class coming up behind them. It gives the kids a sense of power and responsibility.
I always select and then train my most responsible kids for a long list of jobs. Some kids are in charge of stripping the bulletin boards while others reorganize the cupboards. My most responsible kids get to clean out my desk and teacher supplies. Once trained, I let my little managers select their own "staff" who they then direct to complete whichever tasks they want to delegate.
While I love the "free labor," what I most enjoy about it is how careful and industrious the kids are. They love stripping down the room, and they do a really good job - better than the job I did. I just tossed stuff in the cupboards without my usual process of evaluating its condition for future use. The truth is, my heart just wasn't in it.
We worked so hard this year only to have the carpet yanked out from under our feet. In January/February, my district was brutally hit with a ransomware attack. For nearly a month we were without internet, laptops, or technology of any kind. Just about the time we found ourselves recovering from that, COVID-19 reared its ugly head. After all of our hard work, we never got to complete state testing. I was really looking forward to seeing how much my kiddos had learned this year. Now, all of our work feels as though it were for nought.
It's frustrating because the fourth quarter is when we get to celebrate after working so hard. We do state reports which include oral reports and building state floats out of shoeboxes for our "stately parade," a fifth grade tradition. We won't get to play in our fifth grade softball tournament, another tradition the kids look forward to. We're going to miss out on Game Day and our Chip Chow Down, one of my all time favorite days. Every student brings a family-sized bag of chips and we CHOW DOWN while playing Hedbanz, Clue, and other board games. There's nothing like wearing a whale on your forehead as you plunge your arm into a massive bag of Lay's potato chips.
We're also missing Open House, an evening where families come and see all of the projects their kids have worked on all year. Our carnival was also cancelled as was Battle of the Books, a county-wide competition that my team was really looking forward to. All in all, it just sucks. Yes, we're still "Distance Learning" while having Zoom meetings and working on things in the Google Classroom, but it's not even remotely as rewarding as finishing the year with friends and favorite teachers.
When my kiddos come to pick up their stuff next week, I won't even be able to hug them and wish them a happy summer. I'll wave from behind my barricade and smile under my face mask. If I am this disappointed, how must they feel?
I sure hope all of this was worth it.
We have followed the social distancing rules to the letter. We wear a mask when we go out which has been limited to the grocery store, bank, pharmacy, and gas station. Same thing for going to work, the feed store, and the post office. We keep six feet apart. I haven't touched another human being besides my husband since mid-March. I may not agree with every decision that's being made, but we're doing our part to limit our social interactions.
So this past weekend, when Wendy and I found that our schedules had finally lined up, we decided to get together for a trail ride. We knew it would be easy to maintain social distance while still interacting safely. I also invited my friend Edyta to come and ride Speedy. It was the most fun I have had in a really long time.
My friend Wendy lives on the other side of the Tehachapi Mountains in Rosamond, a small town on the very western edge of the Mojave Desert. She brought her mare, Beanie, who was an absolute rockstar of a three-year old.
Edyta is an old friend who has ridden all of her life but who now finds herself horseless as she raises her two girls. When I asked her if she wanted to join us, she was hesitant about riding Speedy. She's known him since his endurance days and has heard plenty about his shenanigans. I laughed and told her that he's only difficult for me. She agreed that it would be fun and met us at the park.
Because it's a trail I like and know well, we repeated the same loop I had done a few days before. Beanie is only three and Edyta hadn't ridden in nearly two years, so I wanted the trail to be fun and easy for everyone, and that included Izzy. This time I remembered to start my activity app as we headed out, but then I forgot to turn it off until we were well into lunch - sheesh. The mileage, at nearly eight miles, was actually a wee bit farther than I had thought.
We averaged four miles an hour more or less - mostly because we stopped a lot, but the last nine tenths of a mile really lowered our average as I had forgotten to end the workout. The whole loop took us a little less than two and a half hours. I think we spent that long eating lunch in the shade.
Our mile split times times weren't helped by the numerous places we stopped to take pictures. It was such a perfect day though that all of us wanted to take photos, especially once we got to my favorite lookout point over Lake Ming. I have a million shots of that view from between Izzy's ears, but this time, Edyta got a shot of his whole body!
Throughout the ride, we laughed, told stories, and just generally took a few hours to relax and let go of all of the stress and anxiety that is plaguing all of us. When we got back to the trailers, we hosed the horses off, made sure they had hay and water, and then we dragged out some chairs and the cooler.
We feasted on pasta salads, guacamole and chips, salami and cheese, flavored mineral water, and some delicious custom made desserts that Edyta thoughtfully brought with her. (We sat at a distance from one another, used Clorox wipes, plastic silverware, paper plates, and avoided touching anything that someone else might touch.)
For many people, including myself, the social distancing is causing its own set of mental and health issues. Connecting with friends face-to-face really helped me feel more balanced and centered. I missed the goodbye hugs that we would have given each other under other circumstances, but we made sure to give air hugs.
Of all the societal norms that may be abandoned when this passes, I sure hope that hugs amongst friends isn't one of them.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
3/6-7 El Sueño (***)
4/17-18 El Sueño (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read