Friday, February 26, 2010

We cantered!

So this blogging venture is still a novelty to me, and I think about things to post about on the daily (sometimes a few times daily). Obviously, a post about riding is due, and I imagine many a posts will be all about Caesar and our little adventures. I am, as most of you know, obsessed with him and anything horsey these days. As a kid I was horse crazy and was fortunate enough to always have a horse. We had a giant Quarter Horse/TB cross that was ever patient, albeit green (read, trained only to walk, trot, canter and halt, sometimes). When I was 6, I got my own little mare, a crazy Arab who carried me to teendom at which point driving, shopping, and hanging out became my new obsessions.

Growing up, I never had any formal training, but I pieced together the basics through reading horse mags and books. From 15-25 I carried a lot of regret for "giving up" on riding and I daydreamed about riding again, but I never really thought I would get back into. I started taking lessons at a hunter/jumper barn in the fall of 2007, leased a horse for 2 months and then, in my ever-impulsive fashion, bought Caesar in February of 2008. His original career was racing and he was successful enough to keep his job till he was 8 at which point he was trained to be an eventer. I'll fill you in on our first year together another time...

After a successful move to a new barn last May and a very good summer during which I feel we really made progress, Caesar and I hit a low point in the fall. Mysterious lameness issues plagued us in September and October(maybe laminitis, maybe just abscesses, hard to say). When we got back to training in November, we were a mess; well, I was a mess and Caesar followed suit. Suddenly turning was impossible without falling in or falling out, moving forward was a struggle--either we moseyed or rushed. I was incredibly bummed; no matter what I did, I couldn't seem to fix the issues. I was riding 6 days a week, reading as many "self-help" training manuals, but nothing really helped. Our lessons went from productive to painful. The only high points seemed to be when we were able to get out of the indoor (hard with the weather and footing being so unpredictable) and just ride out without any thought of training. January was a little better, but we still had big issues.

At the beginning of February I inadvertently gave Caesar almost a week off. When I got back on, we had a pretty decent ride; later that same week, we had another decent ride. And last week, I cantered him for the first time in weeks (we had gotten to a point where our canter transitions were a disastrous rush--a speedy trot into something canter-like. ICK!) Well, that first canter after the break was much improved. And last night I had my first lesson in 3 and half weeks, and to my delight (and my trainer's) it was rather good! The canter transitions weren't great but there was no rushing into it, and once we got going I balanced him into a nice rocking-horse canter (I love his canter; I had missed it so much!). Now, I'm hesitant to claim victory just yet, but last night was enough of a high to keep me hopeful for a while. I honestly think a huge problem was that I got so mentally stuck, and I was so hard on myself whenever I rode. Riding is supposed to be about having fun, and I had forgotten that. In the end, having Caesar is as much about the partnership as it is about the sport. Whatever time I have with him, whether in the saddle or on the ground, is precious indeed.

Riding horses is surely one of the most time-consuming and unpredictable hobbies around. Horses tend to be accident and injury-prone so you never know when you might go from riding daily to stall rest. Not to mention that partnering with a 1200 pound mammal presents many a communication challenge. Progress can be very slow, but those ah-ha moments are priceless. I was so happy to have a few last night.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oyster Thursday

Today was a really nice day; I expected to wake up to 3 inches of snow and crazy wind and have to reschedule the myriad work items on my bill, but there was no such snow. Or wind. I had 4 nice observations with 4 burgeoning teachers, and I got to take three of our 4th graders on a mini-field trip. Most of you know a lot about my school already because, like everything in my life, I talk about it A LOT! But, to recap, I work at a petite charter school started by a group of city teachers with a hope for developing a place where city students, of every economic level, could experience an deeply meaningful, hands-on, well-rounded educational career. We have a special focus on environmental science, and we work closely with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on many conservation projects. One such project is oyster restoration which our fourth grade class champions each year. I have the opportunity this year to work closely with our fourth grade teacher to further develop our curriculum around this project; it's special for me because I love working with intermediate grades, especially this group of kids. I taught them in first grade and again in 3rd grade, so they are very close to my heart.

The fourth graders are raising oyster spat (juvenile oysters) which are currently living in the Baltimore Harbor off a dock owned by Under Armour (who have been so generous to let us use their water-estate). Oysters are interesting little creatures; they are bivalve mollusks, similar to clams and mussels. However, unlike many other mollusks, oysters are sessile. Weeks after the larvae are spawned, they attach to an oyster rock (also called a reef or bar), and remain there for the rest of their lives. As one student said "that's boring and kind of sad". True, perhaps, but oysters have a tremendous task--they filter the bay, removing harmful sediment and toxins. Without them, bay grasses and the creatures that live in the grasses (crabs, rockfish, terrapins...) would die. The current oyster population is at about 3% of what it was 200 years ago, when the waters of the bay were pristine and accounts report that you could dip your hands in the water and pull up several oysters. Obviously the habitat of the Bay is incredibly fragile and all the species are important, but oysters are considered a keystone species. Oyster dredging has always been vital to MD and VA's economy; watermen harvest oysters from the fall-spring and crabs from the spring-fall. The drastic decline in the oyster population has brought about much needed (though highly debated) restrictions to oyster harvesting. But the Eastern Oyster is making a comeback, in part due to tiny little restoration projects like the one our 4th graders carry out each year.

Sorry for the diatribe; I'm fascinated by the Bay and love talking about it :) Every few weeks, I take a group of three students down to Locust Point to check on our oyster spat. Oyster spat grow very slowly, only about an inch a year; our spat are housed in baskets that bob in the (dirty) waters of the harbor. The spat are attached to adult oyster shells, on which they will form a new colony. On our checks, we take a count of how many spat are living and dead and measure a small sample of the spat. Today they ranged from 5mm to 26mm--quite a difference. I snapped a photo that shows the difference in size among the spat:

The kids thought this shell looked like a foot and the spat like toenails!

Unfortunately, I made a grave mistake, though whether it was avoidable could be debated. When pulling up the first of 4 baskets (which are tied to the docks), I realized the latch wasn't closed; all too quickly the 80 or so oyster shells tumbled into the open waters. Ack! Each shell was home to anywhere between 10 and 20 spat meaning I released over 1,000 potential oysters into the harbor; now I am not sure if that means certain death for the little guys. Some might survive the frenzy feeding of little predators. Well, probably not :( It's not the end of the world; at least 20 of the shells landed on a nearby basket, and I was able to put them back into the empty basket. The moral here is that more projects like ours should be spearheaded because surely there are many amateur conservationists like myself who make these sorts of mistakes :) Oh, man.

Be free...ish!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The hubcap and the horseshoe

The past week has been a blur; we were out of school on Monday for the holiday and then again Tuesday as area schools were not nearly ready for school to resume. For the remainder of the week, our schools operated on a two-hour delay which threw off my observations with the teachers I support. I came to the end of Friday vaguely tired and feeling ready for a break; I know, know, sheesh, right? I barely worked 2 days; however after a week of being snowed in, the return to life as usual comes with some bumps.

Speaking of bumps, Mike lost a hubcap Saturday to a pothole; anyone living in our near Baltimore knows that the two blizzards have left our city's already ragged streets all the more decimated. We were leaving the city on our way to the barn when we hit 3 huge potholes in a row within a 300 foot stretch of road. At one point Mike said "I hope that's not my hubcap." Indeed it was. When we went back to look for it, we found a hubcap graveyard--nearly a dozen all in the same short stretch--crazy! Despite the newfangled ugliness of Mike's car, we had a good laugh.

And upon removing my horse from his field I discovered that he'd lost his front left shoe (his second lost shoe of the week); ironic that we lost the front left hubcap. For the first time since he was a young babe, he's completely barefoot. We'll see if he can hold up a few more days before affixing new shoes on his front feet...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Red Rider and Ron Burgundy

I get very tickled when life sends little coincidences my way, when seemingly inconsequential elements of my life line up nicely.

Yesterday I hopped over to the Writer's Almanac and read a sweet little love sigh of a poem by Norah Pollard. I wasn't familiar with her work so I googled her name and was intrigued to find the first link was to a Thoroughbred rescue organization (Ooooo, I said). A few more clicks, and I learned that she is the son of Red Pollard, Seabiscuit's jockey; only hours before I had walked over to the video store and picked up Seabiscuit to pass the time. Sweet! Not to mention I found a new poet to admire; here's a poem I especially like "Questions I Never Asked My Father".

In other news, Anchorman is currently playing on ABC. It took me a while to appreciate this film, but I enjoy the ridiculous humor now. Scotch, scotch, scotch...the arsonist has ugly shaped feet..I might be wrong, but I believe that Diversity was an old, old ship used during the Civil War period. HA!

Friday, February 12, 2010


As you all know by now, the Mid-Atlantic has been blanketed by over 3 feet of snow from two blizzards. In Baltimore the total accumulation is said to be between 45 and 55 inches. Last Friday, the prediction was 20-30 inches over the weekend with a chance of snow on Tuesday, February 9. That chance became a second blizzard, this time bringing much more powerful winds. There were several moments on Tuesday when I looked over from my reading/knitting/napping (cabin fever) to see only a blur of white outside. Baltimore issued a no-driving policy that, at least from what we could tell in Charles Village, people adhered to.

All this snow meant school was canceled all week so Mike and I had a surprise snow vacation. We actually house/barn sat for my trainer Friday through Monday with Megan, fellow boarder and weekend barn warrior. The work was grueling at times--it took the three of us a total of 7 hours each day to get through the twice daily feedings and turnout. But the opportunity to be on a beautiful farm during a huge snow storm was amazing. Plus, I got to check on Caesar whenever I wanted and ride, which many of my fellow horse-owning pals were unable to do Friday-Monday.

We captured a few nice shots on Saturday:

We were totally unprepared for the chaos that greeted us when we arrived back in Baltimore on Monday. Only the major N/S thoroughfares had been plowed leaving most streets a single lane of slushy mess. Mike's car got stuck only a few blocks from the apartment; luckily two kind strangers were able to give it the push needed. We spent a few hours digging out my parking pad and the adjacent alley. Yikes indeed. After staying indoors for most of the ensuing blizzard that began Tuesday afternoon and ended Wednesday evening, we ventured out. The streets of Charles Village felt like a ski town, everyone milling about on foot, boisterous and at least slightly in awe. There was grand evidence of sledding in the Dell and even a superbly executed igloo. On Thursday we found a sled in our basement and joined a family from the neighborhood to go sledding in the Dell. I have never actually been sledding. Growing up in Mississippi, a 2-inch snowfall is considered a big snow and typically only last 5 hours before the melt. The few attempts I made at sledding were on cardboard boxes on small sloping terraces, always ending with a too-soon halt. So the sledding in the Dell was, for me at least, phenomenal. I am not much for going fast downhill on snow or ice (ha) so the bunny slope was fine for me. Here are a few photos:

We got word early this afternoon that the driveway to the barn was at last passable so we made our way out to visit Caesar and see what the storm left behind. I had gotten word that Caesar was struggling with the snow, refusing to push through the drifts to go inside and needing "encouragement" from a lunge whip. Also, he was limping for no apparent reason other than a little cut on his heel. My horse is a wonderful guy, but he's a wimp. While the draft crosses were gallivanting around, Caesar was pining for spring. We arrived to find him decently sound, seemingly happy to trot around on the lunge line in the indoor. We'll see how he does when I put him in the tack tomorrow. The barn was ridiculous--5 foot walls of snow where the plow had made paths. Whereas this weekend we could create new pathways on foot with only some difficulty (wading through 2 feet of snow is a good workout), today it was nearly impossible to walk through the drifts that exceeded 3 feet. And the snow isn't going anywhere. I am hoping that Caesar will be fine taking a little snow trek tomorrow; we'll follow behind his best friend/superhorse, Wyatt.

While I have enjoyed the snow, I know it has been quite difficult for so many people throughout the area. Let's hope some spring-like temps arrive soon so we can get on with life as normal!

Enjoy the photos!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Post 1

I begin this blog with much hesitancy. Blogging is essentially journaling in public and both of those elements, journaling and sharing, make me a little uneasy. The journaling bit because I used to be such an avid journaler, dedicating time everyday to journal; sure, many of the entries were laden with anxiety and self-loathing, such easy fodder for a young adult to write about, but I was consistent. And the journaling cleared my head, helped me get on with the day. So perhaps that’s why my head never feels quite clear these days; I’ve too many worries, realistic and silly both, and ideas that aren’t being stored somewhere. It’s akin to allowing one’s closet to go from order to chaos. Where do I begin to sort through all the sweaters and pants, the memories and hopes? Writing has done that for me for so much of my life. But in the past three years, I’ve let the big changes in my life—being married, becoming a horse owner, usurp that time I once used to write, to unload. Blurg.

And as for sharing publicly…I am far too self-aware (okay, maybe insecure?) to just write with abandon about the bits of my life. I worry that I’ve nothing interesting to share, that no one will really care to read, or, worse, that those who do will find me boring, selfish, na├»ve, something terrible, you know. Surely many a blogger feels this way. The question becomes “Do I share my writing on a public forum because I care what others think or in spite of what others think?” What the public forum does is help us to be responsible to this duty of writing, of sharing. So in a sense the audience is necessary to keep us accountable. Yet at the same time, for me at least, the audience is a dreaded entity indeed— the worries of adolescence still haunt me as I approach 30: what will they think? Ha. But then again, whatever.

Worrying if I’m “good enough” to be part of the blogosphere is no different then the worry I feel in so many areas of my life—about work, about riding, about the future, etc. And so I am hoping that maybe this blog will help with these anxieties; in the past, journaling always gave me some confidence. It was a dialogue of self talk, really; I would vent on those pages and then sort through the emotions and put them to bed if need be. Close the book. Done. At the very least, the blog is a chance to be accountable to my own goal of writing more. I promise to post frequently, about riding, about teaching, about my miscellaneous experiences and adventures. With that said, on to do some living fit for print!