Hopefully, this week tips the balance between the number of people Sam and I know who got sick with COVID-19 (a lot) and the number who’ve been immunized (only a handful). Texas has lagged the rest of the country in delivering vaccine, and our county has lagged even further, at least until they organized this week’s 10K-per-day, multi-day, drive-through shot clinic at the speedway.

Photo by Dallas Morning News

The pandemic forced Sam and me to reshape our lives quite a bit over the past year, and the routine that evolved likely helped our mental health. We took a few days at Christmas to visit Michael and Holly in Austin (combining our bubbles proved just fine) and found that, in coming back home, re-establishing the daily rhythm took a little effort. We thought our routine was a gentle one, but it was a routine nonetheless.

Now, we can see that the routine will change again as the pandemic recedes. Sam says he finds it hard to imagine that things will go back to the way they were, even though he would like to go dancing again and some horseback riding competitions could return. Those leisure activities mean taking time off work, something he’s done very little of in the past year.

In addition, we like much of what we’ve folded into our lives since the pandemic shut us in. We found time to learn calculus, which has become a small, joyful part of nearly every day now. We also look forward to bike riding on the weekend. (We signed up for a virtual challenge because, first, his sister suggested it, and second, because it seemed like a peak pandemic-y thing to do.) And Saturday night has become movie night for us in a way that Alamo Drafthouse couldn’t replicate, snacks and all: we set the schedule and we curate our own themes. Right now, we are watching films that explore civil rights and our country’s dark history of white supremacy.

Many new things we do may continue, including the favorite parts of our routine. Sam says he will continue wearing masks for allergy season or whenever he needs to protect himself from dust. I suspect we may don them in public other times, too. It’s kind of gobsmacking how, in the before times, we were expected to go to work with a cold, or otherwise be out and about and infecting each other. Egad.

In other words, I don’t think it’s just the family dog who’d rather we keep the current routine. Maybe that old routine from the before times wasn’t so free after all, subjecting us all to much more of a rigid and unhealthy grind than we remember.

 

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.

 

“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 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.

Enjoy.