Last week, I developed another eye infection. I am rather prone to them but with good eye-hygiene, yes, that's a thing, I've kept them at bay for the last few years. For this particular round, I followed all of my doctor's recommendations - fish oil supplements, hot compresses, moisturizing drops, and daily washing with baby shampoo.The affected eye was getting better, but then I got another one in the same eye. Well that just wasn't going to stand, so Monday morning I headed out to Accelerated Urgent Care to have it looked at.
After a quick exam where we tried to maintain social distancing - he was masked, gloved, and smocked to the neck, he prescribed antibiotics and drops for the eye. Great. Even though the weather was unseasonably wet, I headed straight to the barn from the clinic in hopes that the weather would let up. It didn't.
I changed into breeches, determined to get a ride in. As I was carrying my grooming bucket out to Speedy's small field, the drops got bigger and more frequent. It wasn't exactly RAINING, but I was already in a funk because of some COVID-19 punches to my life. I stopped in my tracks, did a u-turn, and put my grooming bucket away.
Sometimes, it's okay to just walk away. Neither of my horses was upset about getting a day off.
I am certain that every profession has its share of jargon and acronyms, but educators have to reign supreme in that contest. We have a name or list of letters for everything. Most of the time, the letters just get rearranged - English as a Second Language (ESL) became English Language Development (ELD) which then became English Language Learners (ELL). Student Study Teams (SST) became Student Success Teams (SST) - the letters never even changed. Often times ideas just get rebranded. I've been a teacher for so many decades that what I learned in college just keeps getting recycled and spit out as something new.
Occasionally, a new buzzword will actually resonate and convey an idea that maybe didn't already have a name. One word we've been using in recent years is Backward Mapping. In backward mapping, we look at what we want our students to achieve, and then we plan the steps necessary to achieve that goal. Backward mapping is always applied to the entire year, but we also use it for specific units, like those lasting for several weeks. We also use the idea in a single lesson: I want my kiddos to understand the Order of Operations, so what do I need to teach today to make that happen?
This is related to horses and riding, I swear. While it's not only applicable to dressage, it's certainly a core process in developing a dressage horse. Think about the Pyramid of Training: we know what we ultimately want - a horse that can do the movements at the Grand Prix. In order to achieve piaffe, passage, and one-tempis, we know we must first start with the basics.
I've been spending so much time in the half passes lately that I had left the flying changes alone. Speedy's changes are confirmed. He can do them. He knows the aid, and he knows when he should and should not change the lead. But since I hadn't done them in a while, I decided to throw some in the other day. The right to left change was still there, but the left to right change was really sticky.
For our next ride, I did some backward mapping. My sole goal for the ride was to clean up the change from left to right. I called Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, for some quick advice, but she was in the middle of a lesson. Instead of hearing what she might suggest, I thought about what she would probably have told me to do: get him on your new outside rein.
Changing the rein means getting more bend to the right, something Speedy and I have struggled with since the very beginning. So that was "the lesson" that I intended to teach that day. My "test" to see if he had learned what I taught was a flying change from left to right. But what could I do to achieve a more supple bend to the right?
Actually, it was all pretty simple. I started with flexing left to right at the walk. We then moved on to shoulder in, walk pirouettes, and half passes that were super collected and bent. By the time I asked for the flying change, Speedy was dying to give it to me. The lesson took all of twenty minutes, and I got a crisp, correct change the first time I asked.
Backward mapping as it was meant to be used - developing dressage horses!
"Be a light." - Thomas Rhett
I read a Facebook comment from someone the other day that really struck me. This particular person is not someone I consider a friend or even someone with whom I am friendly, so her comment was even more appreciated than if someone else had said it. While she said more, her final sentence was this, "So I'm not ready to lecture anyone on this."
She was talking about COVID-19 of course, but specifically about whether or not we should leave our houses to ride our horses, ride our bikes, take a drive, and so on. Those words struck me as one of the most respectful things I've heard yet.
Yesterday, I heard Thomas Rhett's song, Be a Light, and it felt like he was singing about the situation we're in today. Right now, our world feels as though it's being ripped apart. We're shouting and screaming at one another with the absolute certainty that we're in the right. Our media source is right. Our political voice is right. Everyone else is not only wrong, but stupid, and their choices are threatening our very lives.
Before calling someone an asshole, sociopath, or a covidiot, can we first stop and consider, just for a moment, that that person feels like they're making the best choice they can for their own situation? None of us know why someone is making the choices they're making. Would it be possible to give them the benefit of the doubt? While they aren't behaving in the same way you or I would, does that make them wrong and us right? Surely someone else sees our choices as wrong and theirs as right.
The last stanza of Rhett's song speaks a truth that's hard to deny.
Yeah, it's hard to live in color
When you just see black and white
In a world full of hate, be a light.
Here's the song if you haven't heard it yet. The lyrics follow.
Be a Light
In a time full of war, be peace
Yeah. In a world full of hate, be a light.
I have rarely done this, but I have edited the final paragraph in an attempt to say what I meant to say ...
These are certainly sad and trying times for sure. This certainly isn't the world's first pandemic though. Wikipedia gives that honor to the plague of Athens which in the 400s BC killed 75,000 - 100,000. In the 1520 Smallpox Epidemic, nearly 8 million died in Mexico. The Italian Plague of 1629 killed 280,000. And of course, there was the Black Death in the 1300s which killed 75 - 200 million Europeans, as much as 60% of the population. Don't they wish they would have had a Twitter account.
Before last week, no one in Kern County was paying much attention to the Corona Virus except on Facebook. We though the toilet paper debacle was quite hilarious. In all honesty, I think we thought it was a greatly exaggerated joke. Turns out it wasn't. On Saturday, there was no TP at my local Albertsons.
It was only when LA Unified closed its door that I began to worry. LA Unified serves 600,000 students. When they shut their doors, people listen. San Diego Unified, the second largest school district in California, followed soon after; they serve more than 121,000 students. My own district, which serves pre-K through 8th grade, provides education to more than 18,000 students. Bakersfield's only high school district, the Kern High School District, provides education to more than 40,000 students.
As district after district closed their doors, the Kern High School District waited until the Governor essentially made it mandatory. Whatever Kern High does, the elementary schools follow suit. I was glad that we were the last of the 25 largest districts in the state to close our doors. Today is our first day of closure.
In times of crisis, stability keeps us sane. Following regular routines helps us to feel safe. As districts began closing their school's campuses before the virus had even reached their communities, I worried about our kids. Knowing that a closure was imminent, I started having round table discussions with my kiddos. We pushed our tables to the side and formed a talking circle.
For that first circle, I told them what our topic was, COVID-19, and I handed out a talking stick. It's really a plush pony that's easy to toss around the circle. I asked kids to share what they had heard, read on social media, or seen with their own eyes. That first day, the circle was 32 strong.
After talking, I asked each of my kids to visit the website Information Is Beautiful. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out, it is the most non-alarming thing you'll see on the internet today. Their COVID-19 #CoronaVirus Infographic Datapack is the best visual representation of the disease that I've seen.
The next day, we again met for a talking circle. Our circle was much smaller with only 21 of us. Again, we shared what we knew and had heard. We talked about our plans for a lengthy school closure and what that meant for their education. We also dug through the WHO website. We focused on two areas, the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation Dashboard and the Myth Busters page.
In my own classroom, we finished each day by using Clorox wipes to clean our table tops and frequently touched surfaces like door handles and light switches. This is a practice we've done since the first day of school. My classroom also has a wall mounted hand sanitizer unit that the kids use whenever they want.
My talk circle on Tuesday was much smaller. There were only 17 of us. Again we talked about the craziness we were seeing. We revisited the Information Is Beautiful website, the WHO website, and the CDC website. We also found out that there was at least one confirmed case of Corona Virus in Kern County. That individual was visiting from the San Fransisco Bay Area. That information tipped the scales for my district. Tuesday was both my kiddos' and my last day until at least April 14th.
In preparation for a closure that involves 13 school days, my district quickly assembled packets and supplies to be sent home with each student at the end of the day. Fortunately, most districts around California already have a spring break scheduled during this time, so the number of missed school days will be fewer than what a 4-week closure makes it sound. For students who were absent, their packets were labeled and placed in bins in front of the school. Parents were messaged and asked to come pick them up.
Besides providing packets of grade appropriate schoolwork for each child, my district is also providing portable breakfast and lunch packs for any child under the age of 18. Between the hours of 11:00 am and 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, a meal pack will be available at most of our schools in the drive through for any child in the car. The meal packs are being offered free of charge, Meals must be consumed off site to discourage large gatherings.
As a teacher, I feel strongly that it is my job to present the facts to my students. When I teach reading, I look for texts that don't have a hidden agenda, and when they do, we talk about it. For history, I strive to present both sides of an event. Just a week or so ago we discussed why the patriots of the American Revolution are viewed as heroes rather than the traitors they might have been had the colonists lost the war. In science, I present data that is known and accepted by the scientific community. And when it contradicts what religion says, we talk about that too, respectfully.
So when the world looked to be falling apart right in front of our eyes, my students and I examined the data from what seems like the most reliable sources available. Does the Corona Virus merit the social media attention, social distancing, and societal shut down that we're seeing? I let my students decide for themselves.
As for me, I fear this is really just political maneuvering by both the Democrats and the Republicans. Is the shutdown of businesses both large and small truly necessary? Is it worth the cost? People die every day from a a lot of other preventable causes, and no one is screaming about them. Look at how many people will die today of Tuberculosis. Already in 2020, there have been 8,247 known American deaths caused by gun violence (source). Out of 7.7 billion people worldwide, only 7,873 have lost their lives to COVID-19, fewer than the more than 8,000 American who have died from gun violence. Why are we not angry about those deaths? Is it simply because those deaths, the ones from Tuberculosis and gun violence, aren't part of our every day experiences? And yet, long after COVID-19 fades away, those deaths will continue to rise higher and higher, year after year.
Do I think pandemics in general are fake or contrived? Absolutely not, but I do worry that this one might cause us to become jaded toward the next one. A more deadly one. One like Smallpox but more contagious with a higher death rate.
I guess only time will tell.
I didn't really say a whole lot about it, but Speedy and I were supposed to go to a two-day USDF show this past weekend. We didn't go. The trailer was loaded. The truck was loaded. As I was pulling out of the driveway heading to the ranch to hook up, I saw a missed call from the ranch owner. Speedy was lame.
I am very much a glass half full, find the silver lining, make lemonade sort of girl. After hearing that Speedy was lame, I shrieked. I cursed. I cursed at God. I tried to cry, but the tears wouldn't fall. I thought I might vomit. I wanted to. Instead, the anger just burned and seethed in the very pit of my gut. There was no silver lining. The disappointment turned to a deep bitterness that enveloped me, squeezing me until I thought I would suffocate.
I tried to find a rational explanation for my anger. It was just a show. There will be others. There will always be others...
But what if there aren't'?
And that's when I understood my anger. Speedy isn't a machine. He won't be my partner forever. And in all likelihood, he won't be my partner for much longer. His Cushing's Disease, despite my best efforts, will progress. I will be faced with painful decisions. Decisions that I am already making in my head. I can't let my heart make them. I can't even open my heart because the second I try to, the tears fill my eyes, threatening to fall and fall and fall.
Speedy and I aren't done. There is so much more that I need from him. For him. This Bronze Medal that is so close, it's for him, not me. Speedy doesn't owe me a single thing; it's I who owe him.
Just one more show. Please.
A week or so ago I wrote about horse hair jewelry and how, initially, I found it creepy. After thinking about it, I decided that I liked the idea of a bracelet made while my horses are still alive. I am still waiting for it to arrive.
Lytha, from A Horse Crazy American in Germany, said something that really resonated with me. When she finds horse hair from her heart horse, Baasha, she feels a sense of nostalgia. I had a nice nostalgic moment myself the other week.
Ten years ago this week, I lost Montoya DSA, the best horse I will ever own. She was spectacular. Not only was she gorgeous, but that mare could do it all. She ate up the endurance trail with an appetite that knew no end. If you needed more, all you had to do was ask. I never found her maximum. I remember crossing the finish line at the Manzanita 75 miler to find a vet waiting for us. Her pulse, after riding 75 hard miles, was 36 beats per minute. Riding her was an absolute privilege.
Losing her to colic was hard. To this day it remains the most painful loss that I have experienced. I cried in bed for three days. But life goes on. I already had Speedy, whom I really hadn't connected with, but as soon as Montoya was gone, Speedy filled the hole. The very same day that we put her down, Speedy came up to me and rested his head on mine. He knew she was gone. I am not sure who was comforting whom.
It was really cold last week. Too cold for my regular long sleeved shirts and a vest. It wasn't quite cold enough to ride in a jacket, so I opted for a sweatshirt. If you're anything like me, you probably have of a big pile of sweatshirts from which to choose. I reached down to the bottom of the pile and pulled out one I haven't worn in at least 7 years, maybe more.
When I shook it out, I smiled. I had forgotten about this sweatshirt which surprises me because it was hard earned. On the front, both of our names embroidered.
On the back, you can see the event where it was earned, the Death Valley Encounter, 200 Miles in 4 days. The race was held annually for many years. It began on the 28th of December, culminating with a big party on December 31st, Near Year's Eve. My husband and I spent 6 days with our 2 labs living in a 2-horse trailer with pretty small living quarters. It was an extraordinary experience.
I wore the sweatshirt every day for a week. It's still sitting on my closet floor; used riding clothes get recycled before they're washed. I can't quite clean it and put it away. I like seeing it there.
Reminders. This one made my heart swell with love.
Last week, a friend shared this article on Facebook. It's worth the read. I scored 94 points. Based on my score, I am among the very privileged.
I thought about that quiz the rest of the day. Do I think I am privileged? Yes, but more along the lines of it's an honor to be trusted by so magnificent a creature. Do I feel privileged in the sense that I have unearned or undue access to a lifestyle that others are denied? I don't.
I was raised by a single mom who came from a teenaged mom herself. My mom was a high school graduate with no skills who was married, divorced, and then the primary caregiver to two little girls by the time she was in her early twenties.
My mom dug deep. She got herself some training, worked a man's job, and did her damndest to avoid public assistance. As a little girl, I remember going with my mom to clean houses, pick fruit, and scrounge scrap metal to sell. My mom taught me to be a hard worker and to take responsibility for myself.
Neither my husband nor I feel a sense of entitlement. We're not owed anything. We don't "take." We don't expect the government to help us or fix things. We pay our taxes, go to work, and invest our money for retirement. While we are both of European descent, neither one of us gives a rat's ass what color you are or who you love. We won't judge you based on your color or gender, but we will judge you by your actions.
Before you criticize me for being insensitive or blind to the realities of the world we live in today, I get it. Not everyone has had the same "access" to the choices that I've had in front of me. By the same token, others have had more and better choices than me. I don't resent them for that.
My husband has expressed his frustration more than once about the recent movement that paints white men as oppressors who should feel guilty about their station in life. Should he donate his retirement to women who have been raped because it is men who perpetrate that crime? Should he be forced to give a portion of his salary to the NAACP because he makes more money than many black men?
Deep breath, Sweaney. I read the article. It made me think. Bigotry and racism have always made me angry. I am frustrated that there are assholes who force others to feel inferior or threatened or ashamed of who they are. But that's not me. That's not the man I married. I won't be made to feel guilty because of my European ancestry and gender.
I've been an elementary school teacher for nearly 30 years. I've seen more than one generation grow up, and I've seen a lot of changes over the past three decades. The one change that I am most excited about is the overwhelming diversity that I see in my classroom and my students' complete ignorance of racial lines. In fact, most of these kids have last names that don't seem to match their ethnicity.
All of these kids know that racism is "bad," that bullying is unacceptable, and that gender is becoming a fluid idea. That doesn't mean that this generation is going to solve the world's problems, because they won't. There are still kids who have parents who are blatant racists, homophobes, and bullies themselves. Those kids will struggle.
Is horse ownership a symbol of privilege? I never thought so, but I am not black, gay, mentally ill, or physically disabled. If I were one of those things, maybe I would feel differently. In the meantime, there are some who think that I don't get a say so because I am white, and in their view, white equals privilege. I am certain that many white kids do grow up with privilege, but so do many black and asian kids. I sure didn't feel privileged while I was picking walnuts and scrounging for scrap metal in a junker car. I felt poor and disadvantaged.
I was the first person in my extended family to graduate from college, but it wasn't easy. I worked part time jobs - sometimes several at a time, applied for and received a few grants and scholarships, and borrowed the rest to pay for college. My mom taught me that if I got an education and worked hard, I would be successful. She was right. Privilege wasn't any part of my growing up, but I wouldn't have turned my nose up at a college fund.
What about you? Did you take the quiz? What did you score? Do you feel "privileged?"
It's okay to have hopes and dreams, but for me, I've found that it's better if I don't say them out loud. The Universe is easily offended and quick to remind me that I am not in charge. Making a list of what I "want" is a quick way to ensure that things will quickly go to hell in a hand basket.
This is the time of year that I always start planning next year's show schedule, next year's goals, next year's budget. Invariably though, October is the month where crap starts falling apart. It's usually Speedy who suffers some malady or other, and if not him, then me. And of course, the big brown horse isn't invincible either.
So do I plan and budget and enjoy our progress, or do I sit back patiently and let things unfold how they will? Too much sitting back though doesn't get things done. On the other hand, when I've tempted Fate, I find that I am sidelined which also means not get anything done.
As hard as it is to rein in my exuberance, I am keeping a lid on things for now. Yes, I've got big plans, but something is telling me to be patient this fall and let things sort themselves out.
It's hard to be patient though when you want something, even if all you want is a few good scores. Slow down, Sweaney. All in good time.
I've been stirring the pot a lot around here lately. How about a little more?
A comment was made a few weeks back that sort of took a pot shot at my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. The person commenting stated that her students were all earning scores in the high 60s and low 70s at Third Level, which I clearly am not. She also went on to say that her students wouldn't use her name and website (these are my words ...) while being a sucky rider and sharing that fact with the world. She didn't put it exactly like that, but that's what she meant.
Virtually all of the criticism I get on social media rolls off me like water off a duck's back. Most of you understand that I am an adult amateur doing the best that I can; just like you are. I can't afford to have a horse in full training, and even if I could, there's not a trainer here in town anyway. Instead, I make do with a few lessons a month.
When I read the comment I'm referring to, my hackles went straight up. Number one, the woman commenting left only a first name, so it is very hard to confirm the veracity of her comment. Number two, it struck me as arrogant to state that her students are earning high 60s and low 70s. Is that every student every time? You mean they never get a 58% ever? If so, she must have a clientele loaded with very talented women who are clearly destined for bigger and better things.
There was more to the comment of course, but I took issue with the insinuation that my trainer isn't doing her job. Let me tell you a little bit about Chemaine's credentials. According to USDF records, there are currently 253 riders who have earned their Bronze Freestyle bars, 302 riders with their Silver Freestyle bars, and only 180 riders who have achieved their Gold Freestyle bars. Chemaine has earned all three of them. She has also earned all three of her medals, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. As an interesting note, there are only 1,556 riders who have a Gold Medal. That's an elite crowd for sure.
I share these statistics to substantiate my claim that Chemaine is a very talented rider. A quick glance at her scores on USDFScores.com confirms that she's not a one hit wonder. She knows what she's doing which is one of the reasons that I've chosen her to be my trainer. That's not the only reason though.
I hope that Chemaine is not unique as a trainer because first and foremost, she cares about your horse's well-being. She wants him to be happy and comfortable in his work. That means she's willing to try a lot of things, even some things that might seem "unorthodox." In my case, we put a lower level horse in the double bridle. Shocking I know, but she was looking for a way to help me communicate with him so that he could understand what was being asked of him. When it didn't work, she made a different suggestion. It turned out that Izzy actually really likes a ported bit and not a snaffle. I now switch between the ported bit and a legal dressage bit that doesn't break like a snaffle. The experiment with the double bridle gave us that information.
The second reason that I adore Chemaine as my trainer is that she also really, really cares about all of her students. While she would love for all of us to be earning scores in the high 60s and low 70s, she's proud of us even when we don't. Her mission is to help us achieve our goals, not hers. Sometimes those goals simply mean entering at A. Sometimes the goal is just not to get eliminated. Or in my case, earning a 60% on a horse that I am basically training myself. Of course I want to score higher, and of course I want to earn a Bronze Medal, but Chemaine recognizes that I need to be supported in the smaller stuff in order to get there.
I am always very concerned about embarrassing Chemaine. I can't stand to let her down, and I worry that other people will judge her based on my riding. (Gee, a little like what just happened). When we don't get an obedient change or Speedy gets behind the vertical, I fret that they'll think she doesn't know how to teach. Believe me, she does. But rather than tell me I can't show until ______________, she encourages me to get out there and try and see what happens. She knows that I enjoy showing and that I need the challenge of the show ring to really help me step up my game.
I don't want a trainer who is more concerned with how I am going to make her look than she is about helping me achieve my goals. Chemaine could probably have a retinue of high scoring ladies if she were less concerned about having fun and appreciating the process. But I don't think that's her. Enjoying the journey, laughing about the mistakes, and continuing to strive for the best that we can be is more her style.
I bet most of you have trainers like Chemaine. Trainers that know that your 59.8% was the best you could do at that given moment. They aren't worried that you're making them look bad. They care about you and your horse more than they care about how you're making them look.
To those hard working, compassionate trainers, we salute you!
Hey there! Long time no see! You have no idea how unbearable life can be without the internet. Seriously. Sometime over Monday night, our modem went kaput. A new one should arrive today, but you never know.
On top of no modem, my house is a fortress and gets really weak cellular service. I use wi-fi calling which means getting tech support was quite a challenge.
I am sitting in a junior high classroom right now, hijacking my district's wi-fi to get this post out. I have two days of classes to sit through as we launch the school year.
If all goes well, I'll be back tomorrow with a regular post. Tons has been happening, including a lesson, body work for me, and of course, Sunday's show. See you all tomorrow!