See Sam Drive, Horse and Cart Edition

Sam started driving lessons about two years ago. Sam would watch other riders at Born 2 Be dress up in costumes and drive their carts in exhibition drills that he enjoyed watching. I mentioned he didn’t have to resign himself to watching, he could participate and he finally decided to give it a try.

Today wasn’t his first competition, but it was the first time I was able to go and get video for you, dear internet readers. We got to the stables (near Terrell) about 9 this morning, in time for Sam to watch his instructor and many of the other competitors. His class was the last of the day to compete, and he was the last competitor. (You will see that he is joined in the cart by his instructor as a safety measure. Also, we very grateful that it was all done by noon. We both napped after we got home. It’s going to be a long and very hot summer this year.)

He said that he planned to trot the “Fault and Out” course. He’d seen a few people scratch over the course of the morning, but he was confident in his ability, along with Doc’s, to weave the cones. You can hear the whistle after the sixth set. In the stands, we were all surprised to hear the whistle because it looked like they were through, but Sam knew. He had to stop because he and Doc had knocked a tennis ball off the top of the cone. That’s the Fault. So they were Out.

Things went better for the Gambler’s Choice obstacle course. I learned that this, too, is a timed event, unlike trail patterns for riders. The more times he and Doc completed one of the obstacles, the more points they got. You will see that Sam started to try to back Doc and the cart into the U and bump out the back, but when things slowed down too much, he wisely gave up. I learned later that it’s quite difficult for a horse to back a four-wheel cart without jackknifing it.

After the events were over, one of the technical judges came by to encourage Sam and tell him what all went right. Sam told her he just wanted to finish the course anyways, because it was fun.

Racing alone. That’s the spirit.

 

Look for the Paul Hollywood handshake

For the first time in three years (thanks, pandemic), equestrians gathered for the statewide Special Olympics in Bryan last weekend. Sometimes, it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat (showmanship classes rolled like clockwork Sunday morning even though we were tired from the dance the night before) and other times, the grief over the lost time hit hard (hello, friend I haven’t hugged in five years).

I have to tip my hat at the organizers that recognized the athletes would benefit from an icebreaker after all these years. They outfitted each athlete with four of the same pins for their region. They had to meet riders from all the other regions in order to exchange pins and collect a full set: North, South, East, West.

Pins from four regions represented at Texas State Special Olympics 2022

It was fun to watch Sam and all the other athletes not only reach out to one another, but help one another complete their sets. God bless those who came all the way from out west to Bryan, which is in south central Texas.

Sam competed in five events in all. Many athletes in his classes are like Sam and have been riding for years. They are skilled and consistent riders. Some have their own horses. Some compete in able-bodied shows. Every once in while, though, it’s just Zen and the Art of Horsemanship and as it unfolds in front of you, it’s pure joy. I’ve posted video from all five of his events, but it was Working Trail where I wondered whether the roof would open and sun rays would shine down on Sam and Madrid, like in the movies. It was magical.

There are two moments you’ll want to savor. First, when Sam and Madrid are at the gate and you can see he knows how tell Madrid to sidle in closer so that he can easily remove and re-attach the rope. Then, the judge stands up, says “wow” and comes over to shake Sam’s hand.

 

 

 

A photo from the awards ceremony, courtesy of Yolanda Taylor, parent of one of the other athletes in this event:

A state trooper and volunteer with Law Enforcement Torch Run shakes Sam’s hand after he wins gold in working trail.

Like the old days

Last week, Sam competed in the Chisholm Challenge, which has been part of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo for 18 years, (and Sam has competed every year.) The entire event was canceled last year, so simply returning to the arena felt like a victory. Plus, Sam got bucked off in practice last week, so getting back on the horse was a victory, too. Although, to be honest, I don’t think he would have considered any other option. Here are three short videos from speed events.

Ranch Riding. Sam came in first place.

Barrel Racing. Sam’s time came in second place.

Pole Bending. Sam’s time came in fourth place.

 

Pandemic and the after times

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.

 

Racing alone

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.

Horsemanship as culture

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.

Making some dust

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.