From Endurance to Dressage
I just finished the book American Dirt. It was fabulous. At the end, I wondered why I had bought it as it wasn't the type of book I typically read, so I did a quick search on Google to see what the reviews said. I never buy a book without a solid 4.5 rating, and it has to have an 80% or higher combination of four and five star reviews. If I am going to spend hours and hours on a book, it needs to be worth my time. I have so many books queued up in my Kindle that it might be months or longer before I get to one, so by the time I get to it, I usually can't remember what it's even about. Since I know that I only buy books that are highly reviewed, it doesn't mater; I read it anyway.
I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction though. I tend towards "classics" and things written in the mid-twentieth century. Don't ask me why because half that stuff was written by druggies, fruit loops, and authors exploring either transcendentalism or intellectualism. Not really, I made that stuff up, but it's kind of true. Albert Camus's, The Stranger, was a book I read very recently, and apparently the first three words (translated from the French), Mother died today, have created a controversy that has lasted almost a hundred years. See what I mean?
So what did I find when I looked up American Dirt? This article. Holy cow has this book created a shit storm of controversy - pardon the language, but it expresses my sentiments better than any other phrase. Before even contemplating the article, you should first know what the book is about, so here goes:
A Mexican woman's husband is a journalist who writes about the drug cartels in Mexico. The woman owns a book shop where a new customer becomes a dear friend. Her husband ultimately reveals that said friend is the new cartel's leader. Husband publishes an article, and in retribution, the drug lord murders her entire family, but she and her young son manage to escape. For the rest of the book, she and her son become migrants fleeing the drug lord. Knowing that he is powerful, she flees with their life savings, avoiding all transportation requiring identification and possible roadblocks. Along the way, she and her son are robbed and kidnapped. They also meet and travel with other migrants whose experiences are often times worse than their own. Eventually, she arranges with a coyote for passage across the border where she and the others in her group experience an arduous and terrifying trek through the desert in an effort to get to the USA.
What could be so controversial about that? Read the above article if you're interested, but it boils down to this: the author took incredible criticism for daring to write from the perspective of a culture that is not her own. This article delves deeper into that idea. Essentially, writing about a viewpoint that is not your own is being called appropriation. If you're white, you don't have permission to write a non-white woman's story. If you're straight, you don't have permission to write about a gay person's story. If you're a man, you can't write about a woman.
I can't even tell you how angry that idea makes me. Just this week, my class started writing a narrative based on a fictional story we had read about the Berlin Wall. In preparation, we also learned about the Great Wall of China and Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain. I instructed my students to write a story where one of those walls provided the setting. The kids were supposed to choose characters from that time who were either escaping the wall (East Berlin), building the wall (China), or guarding the wall (Roman Empire). Of course they could choose a different scenario, but it needed to work in that setting and time.
Are my students "appropriating" cold war culture or Chinese culture or Roman culture because they're not from East Berlin or China or Scotland? Isn't that what makes fiction, fiction? Are we no longer permitted to imagine what it's like to be someone else? Are we no longer allowed to walk in someone else's shoes even if only metaphorically? How are we to develop empathy if we don't try to see the world through someone else's eyes? When my class discussed this yesterday, one of my students remarked, "it's like saying we can't write about furniture because we're NOT furniture."
From the mouths of babes comes truth or wisdom.
I've mentioned this quite a few times over the years, but I am a NASCAR fan. I don't know that I fall into the typical demographic of what most NASCAR fans look like, but I enjoy the sport. Jimmie Johnson, who retired at the end of last season, was my driver for at least a decade. I admired his on track performance of course - he's a seven time champion and destined for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but I especially liked his character off the track. I'll miss rooting for him now that he's retired.
In 2018, Bubba Wallace got a full time seat in the Cup Series racing for Richard Petty Motorsports. He immediately became my "back up" favorite driver. I liked his on track personality which was the same reason Jimmie Johnson was my driver - personality and character. Last year, Bubba dealt with a lot of controversy both in the garage and in real life. He's not the first African American driver in the sport, but he is the highest finishing black driver with a second place finish at the Daytona 500 in 2018. I wore a t-shirt that day with his name and car number. He's now on a new team, 23XI, owned by Michael Jordan and NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin.
While watching this Sunday's Daytona 500, another car and driver team caught my eye. Quinn Houff, driver of the number 00, isn't a big name driver, nor is his team particularly well funded, a requisite for wins or top ten finishes. What caught my eye was his car's paint scheme. Fans choose to root for teams for a variety of reasons - the driver himself, the team owner, and even because of the sponsor. Mane 'n Tail have been NASCAR sponsors for 50 years!
With Jimmie Johnson retired, Bubba Wallace is my new number one driver, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22, has become my back up driver. Logano shouldn't be anyone's back up favorite as he's a big name on a very well funded team, but I can't help it. I like the guy. With Mane 'n Tail on board the 00 for at least a few races, the 00 is now my "back up, back up" car to roof for. I am excited for Quin Houff and StarCom racing.
Here's to hoping that added horse power gets them some good finishes this year.
The California Dressage Society, my USDF Group Member Organization, does an amazing job recognizing its members with a bevy of awards and recognition opportunities. Normally, there is an annual meeting which all members can attend. The chapter chairs participate in round table discussions, there is a silent auction, educational seminars and clinics, and an awards gala.
In 2019, a group of us went to the CDS annual meeting where several of us earned our 2018 Ruby Gem Awards and Horse Performance Awards. It was thrilling for me to step up on that stage to receive the Ruby Rider Award (scores earned at Training, First, and Second Levels) and Speedy's Second Level Horse Performance Award. It was more than I ever thought we might earn. I was grateful we had gotten that far. Little did I know that two years later we'd eventually earn a USDF Bronze Medal and a Third Level Horse Performance Award.
Due to COVID - aren't you sick of hearing that expression?, this year's annual meeting was held virtually. CDS did a great job putting this thing together. All CDS members were allowed to join in by watching the events on the members only Facebook page. The round table discussions were broadcast live and available to watch later. On Friday, there was a lecture by Kristi Wysocki, a Federation Equestre Internationale FEI 4* Dressage and FEI 5* Para Dressage Judge.
On Saturday evening, there was a Kahoot game in which I came in second place! Apparently I won a dressage book which is being shipped to me. I felt like I cheated a bit as I use Kahoot in my classroom, so I am fast at clicking on the answers. It was a legitimate win though, so I'll take it! On Sunday, there was an Educational Session with
Technical Delegate, Doris North. where she spoke about understanding the rules; I missed that session. Shortly after, there was second educational Zoom meeting with "S" Judge Axel Steiner where riders were able to ask Steiner about different movements on the dressage tests. His explanations were very practical and sometimes, downright funny!
On Saturday evening, all of the CDS annual awards were presented live on the members only Facebook page. While I would have loved to have walked cross the stage to receive Speedy's Third Level Horse Performance Award, CDS made it pretty special even though it was virtual. I knew we were getting the award, but to make it more meaningful, CDS sent all of the recipients a letter asking us to submit a photo for the awards night presentation.
Most years, the list of recipients is pretty long. Because of COVID, so many shows were cancelled in 2020 that it made it very difficult for riders to earn the scores necessary for the Horse Performance Awards and Gem Rider Awards. This year, only five riders from the entire state had horses who were able to earn a Horse Performance Award. One rider's horse earned the award at PSG, three riders' horses earned the award at Training Level, and then there was Speedy G. He earned the award at Third Level.
As I eagerly listened to each horse's name being called, I was stunned to feel tears threatening to fall when Speedy's name was announced. My heart swelled with love and pride and gratitude. Each time we've won something, I've cherished it knowing that it was probably the last one we would earn. And yet, year after year there was always one more, something else to hang on our wall. Somehow, I am sure that this will truly be the last one.
When the ceremony was over, I replayed the video, pausing it just before the Horse Performance Awards were given. My husband watched it with me, giving my leg a gentle squeeze when I teared up for the second time. He doesn't quite get the horse thing, but Speedy is part of our family, and I think my husband felt proud to see Speedy recognized so publicly.
I don't know why I was so blessed to have this horse in my life, but I will be forever grateful. He has given me so much, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to repay him. He of course has a home for life doing as much or as little as he'd like. Right now, he seems to love being a school master, cheerfully carrying his ladies around the dressage court. When he's done being a schoolmaster, I'll try to find him an even less demanding job, or he can doze in the sun doing nothing if he likes.
He has more than earned whatever he feels like doing in his retirement.
Dressage is a daunting sport. First of all, we're all aiming for a level of perfection that can never be achieved. Two or three of the world's very best are getting close, but for the rest of us mere mortals, a 70% is our lifelong dream. Just when you do start to feel as though you "know" something, you move up a level and essentially start over, or you get a new horse and you start over. Either way, there's a whole lot of what feels like starting over.
For so long I've felt like a complete know nothing. I know just enough to mostly not look like a total moron, but that's about it. Recently, like this past week recently, I discovered that I actually know more than I've given myself credit for. That doesn't mean I know much, mind you, but I think it's important to own what we do know and understand. Dressage is a sport where confidence can really help you.
As "J" and "T" continue riding with me, they are testing me like crazy. J in particular asks very specific questions. She and I are a lot alike. We both like to talk through what we're learning, and we want confirmation that we're feeling the right things. When J asks me those questions, I have to listen hard to make sure that I understand what she's thinking, so that I can give her correct feedback. Most of the time her understanding is right in line with mine which is either great, or we're both wrong, and that would be my fault only.
Acting in the role of "trainer" is giving me a whole new way of looking at dressage; a new perspective if you will. Teaching J has been especially interesting because she approaches her learning very analytically. She seems to respond well to what we educators call front loading, the pre-teaching of any background knowledge that students need in order to engage in a successful first-attempt.
As a classroom teacher, I am very accustomed to creating lesson plans and assessments, except we typically do those in the reverse order. First we create the assessment, and then we design lessons that lead to mastery of the concept. We call this backwards mapping; know your destination before you start the journey. If we visualize the end goal, we can figure out how to get our students there.
Fortunately for me, the "assessment" portion of a dressage lesson has already been created. That's what a dressage test is, an assessment of what skills have been mastered and which have not. Each level's Purpose serves as a backwards map, and each test shows what is Introduced; that's the front loading part. The lessons that the student works on are in the test's Directives. I only wish every textbook's teacher's edition came as well crafted as a dressage test.
Switching back and forth between being a student or a teacher is giving me a peek at both sides of the coin. I imagine that this is why so many riders participate in USDF's L Education Program. The insight those participants gain must certainly help them with their own riding. When we know the why, our understanding can only deepen and broaden. That's how I am beginning to feel about teaching. It's as though I finally realized there is a door number two, and I've pulled back the curtain to see what is behind it. imagine my surprise to discover there is even more to learn.
J gave me the best compliment this weekend. She said that she'll move on to a real dressage trainer when I thinks she ready, but until then, she feels really comfortable learning with me and hopes she can stay a while. While that was really kind, I keep thinking, you get what you pay for. But there I go again, feeling like a know nothing. While I still have so much to learn, I need to remember how far I've come. Forgetting to acknowledge that only robs my own trainer of the credit she deserves for teaching so well.
So thank you, Chemaine, for being such a great teacher! I'm doing my best to pay it forward.
Or at least I hope so ...
Izzy first showed some soreness two weeks ago today. I couldn't pinpoint its cause right away, but by Tuesday, I knew it was a lameness issue. By Wednesday I knew it was an abscess. I am normally pretty good at detecting where the abscess is, but this one threw me for a loop. I knew where he tested positive with the hoof testers, but it must have been deep because I simply couldn't find it with the hoof knife.
My options were to poultice until it popped out or went away, or I could have hauled him to the vet. After a week of agonizingly slow improvement, I did call the vet only to be told to press on and keep doing what I was doing. That wasn't necessarily what I wanted to hear, but why ask if you're not going to follow the advice you're given? I continued poulticing.
I changed the poultice every other day. For each change, I scraped the hoof clean, reapplied the hoof testers, and poked around with the knife. First Izzy was lame at the walk, then he was less lame at the walk, until finally, he was sound at the walk. Then he was lame at the trot, less lame at the trot, finally sound at the trot; on a straight line. Then he was lame at the trot on the lunge line, less lame on the lunge, until finally, he looked normal on the lunge which is never all that pretty anyway.
On Saturday, twelve days after first feeling something was off, I was finally able to saddle up for a short let's see how you feel ride. To my relief, Izzy felt great! On Sunday, he was a rocket; no surprise since he had done nothing for two weeks. Would the abscess have cleared up sooner had the vet dug it out? I don't think so because then I would have had to wait for the hole to fill in. He now appears sound, and there is nothing left to wrap or bandage.
Either way, hauling Izzy to the vet hospital or poulticing day after day, wasn't cheap. While I keep my medical kit very well stocked, nearly two weeks of poulticing made a big dent in my abscess kit. I hate that I even need an abscess kit, but Speedy's PPID (Cushing's Disease) has shown me the value of keeping the right supplies on hand.
I was on my final roll of duct tape, my Numotizine was getting down to the bottom third of the container, and my mountain of elastic bandages had turned into a glorified hill. Running out of bandaging and/or poulticing material is a sure-fire way to induce another abscess or worse. I restocked everything.
Hopefully the abscess is really and truly gone. In my experience, they can appear to be resolved, but once the horse is put back to work, the inflammation returns, and you're stuck doing it all over again.
If that does happen, at least my materials have been restocked, and I'll be well prepared.
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 …
3/27-28 SCEC (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
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