Another year of equestrian Special Olympics has come and gone. Sam had an off year this year, I think in part because the regional competition had to be canceled for bad weather. He and his teammates missed some of the momentum needed in competition.
Sam remained a sportsman through the disappointments. I almost thought he wasn’t feeling it – until it was time to head back home. He was sad to leave, saying that we always have fun but the competition wasn’t what he’d hoped for. Then he added that maybe next year he would only do drill.
Sam’s been branching out as a horseman this year. For many years, he only rode English. A few years ago, he added Western events. That opened the door to barrel racing, which is a barrel of fun. This year, he added carriage driving and drill.
Sam picked out the drill music first, which brings its own kind of joy for him. He and Mal, his riding coach and drill partner, did well on their short routine, especially considering how little time they had to practice. Since no one else had a routine with such challenging moves, they were competing against themselves at state Special O. They got gold.
I understood what Sam was saying. He wanted to race alone.
There’s a moving passage in architect Nader Khalili’s memoir, Racing Alone, where he explains his internal transformation, leaving a successful practice as a high-rise architect to develop prototypes for sustainable earth architecture.
Khalili tells the story of watching his son play with his friends. They have a foot race and his son, who is smaller than the other boys, falls behind and loses. Crying, the boy tells his father that he only wants to race alone. Khalili takes his son to a quiet track and watches him, full of joy, run and run.
Our children can be such magical teachers.
When we first moved to Texas from California, I was struck by the fact that Fort Worth’s cultural district put world class arenas and art museums side by side. At the time, I thought we would be more frequent visitors of the latter. That was upside down.
Watching Sam’s ride in “working trail” events, you can see how many cultural conventions there are in horsemanship. Some of them I understand. Some of them I don’t. Sam learns what’s expected of him as a horseman without a lot of extra chatter, which in itself is a cultural convention.
He does well with this pattern, but his horse, Smut, resists him at the gate. He keeps at it until the judge times him out. I’ve watched him persist at the gate before. He shows unlimited persistence when there’s no time limit. When I start unraveling in front of a problem, I remember how he persisted as a baby, toddler, student — including college — and somehow all the frays just go away.
There aren’t many horseback riding events at Chisholm Challenge where the riders go as fast as they can. Sam hasn’t been barrel racing long, but he’s got the hang of it.
There were several other riders in other classes that raced before Sam’s class. (Riders completed the course at a walk, a jog or a lope. Sam was in the loping class.) I saw more than one rider come out of the gate and go straight into their trot, so I joked with one of Sam’s coaches that he should ‘haul ass’ when they opened the gate, just like the women who gallop through the pattern in 15 seconds in the professional rodeos. She thought that was pretty funny, so she grabbed her cellphone and called her husband, another of Sam’s coaches, and told him so.
I don’t talk to Sam that way, so we were all having a good laugh. But when they opened the gate, he went for it, too. The judges threw a flag because the volunteers with the stopwatches weren’t ready.
I worried that my joke got him disqualified, but they let him go again from the rail.
He won his class with an “official” time of 0:34. He’s riding Smut, representing Born2Be Therapeutic Equestrian Center. Enjoy.
Peggy: That box on the front seat of your car is all your old ribbons to take to Mary’s office next time you ride at Born2Be. They can reuse them.
Sam: Yeah, Mom, it takes more than a ribbon to prove your success.
Peggy: So how was horseback riding today? Were you back on Revenue?
Sam: Yep, back on Revenue.
Peggy: How was he?
Sam: Revenue is back to his usual misdemeanors.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” — The Special Olympics Athlete’s Oath
Before the Really Big Weather hit Bryan, we were there for Special Olympics last weekend.
Sam has been competing in equestrian Special O since he was 12 years old. Yet, each year his instructors find new ways to challenge him. He’s become an independent rider, first in English style. This year, he’s riding Western, too. Sam practiced competing in a few “able-bodied” shows earlier this year to help him get ready.
All that preparation is no guarantee for gold. Some riders are more experienced and consistent. Other riders have horses that are competitors, too. For example, the first clip in the video below shows Sam in barrel-racing. This is his first year to compete in this event. He is working on smoothing out his turns and keeping momentum. That got him a silver this year. But the gold medal winner rode a horse that understands The Need For Speed. I’m not sure I could watch Sam on a horse that spirited. I watch and wonder how it tolerates having a rider on its back at all.
I didn’t include the clip from trail. Sam and his horse couldn’t finish the event. There was Big Weather (just not Really Big Weather) when we were there. The horses didn’t like it. And, there were rain delays. Sam had the option to ride trail either English or Western. He chose English. But not because he felt more experienced, but because of the horse. The team saddled up Magic for English and Revenue for Western. In the week leading up to the event, he and Revenue weren’t clicking. He was concerned. Although it’s not the best video to see the difference in his two equitation events, Revenue was the more consistent performer at Special O.
On the way home, Sam remarked, “I don’t know why I was worried about Revenue. He was great this weekend.”
And then he added, “At least I kept the oath. I was brave in the attempt.”
Our prayers to the people of Bryan, the Brazos River Valley and others affected by this spring’s severe weather and flooding.
Sam says “well, that was fun.”
Sam competed for the first time in Western style horseback riding at the North Central Texas College stock show last weekend in Gainesville. He competes with “able-bodied” riders from time to time to challenge himself. This was great practice for next weekend. The regional equestrian Special Olympics are being hosted by the stables where he rides, Born 2 Be, in Aubrey.
His coaches have been encouraging Sam to ride Western for a while. Sometimes it takes Sam a little bit to warm up to an idea. He put jeans on for the first time in about 20 years when he tried on a new pair of Wranglers at Weldon’s Saddle Shop last week. (Like his great-grandfather, whom he was named for, Sam’s a khakis man.) Kippie helped him look good, although it’s a mystery where those most excellent chaps came from. Sam says they were, like lots of gear, donated to the stables.
Sam has a certain smile that really sings.
He’s such a deep thinker that we don’t get to see this smile very much. Like the smile-for-the-camera smile most of us have, his face looks posed in photographs, only more so. But when a happy moment comes — like that moment when sunlight makes it through the clouds and trees all the way down to the ground to light a patch of wildflowers — Sam’s smile just sparkles.
He lit up that way yesterday when I showed him the rain barrel I brought home from a workshop. “We’re bringing the farm,” he said.
Well, almost. This is the barrel.
This was the farm’s.
We are growing vegetables in beds on the other side of the fence. That 50-gallon barrel should go a long way toward keeping things watered.
I’ll be writing about the rainwater catchment class and the barrel for Monday’s paper.
We have settled into the new place here in town pretty well. We enjoy the many and varied offerings that come with city life. We’ve all got bicycles and ride them around town more and more. But it’s not the same as life on the farm.
We made a very intentional choice to look around at what was missing and bring it in. The rain barrels, and living life closer to the rhythm of the seasons is part of that.
When you see blue-eyed grass covering our front lawn in the spring, you’ll know we finally got it as close as we could.
Sam said he knew when he went into the ring, he was up against some stiff competition this year. He still had a great ride.