"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Flying, Horses and the State of the Now

I trot Lily halfway down the path and bring her to a halt.

"Are we galloping back home?" she asks excitedly, bouncing around expectantly. She knows I am about to unleash her.

"No, we don't gallop back home," I say to her, swinging her around in the opposite direction. "We're galloping this way."

She waits expectantly, rocking her weight onto her hind legs with no cue from me.

All it takes is one cluck and we surge forward together. This time it is not a dream, it is real, and of course Carlos is there to document it with photos.

Afterwards Lily prances proudly back to the barn.

Why? Because it was fun. We did 5 miles in an hour and a half, with equal parts trotting and meandering while just talking and catching up, with a couple of canters/gallops thrown in.

And so this has been life lately. We have been riding, but not very frequently. There was one long ride at North Tract that I wanted to write about, but time went by and I didn't get around to it.

I think we did 12 miles this day?
There was another ride at Little Bennett that I also meant to write about, but the draft has all of one sentence.

Pretty sure we did 10 miles on this day.
I don't care how long we went. Because we had fun.

There was the Fire in Ice Festival in downtown Frederick that Carlos and I went to with Dom & Mike, Shanna, Jess, and Meggan. Dom wrote about it here, and I'm going to let hers be the only version of the story on the internet. She did a great write-up. Though after seeing the comments on her post, I want to clarify: Frederick is not a big city! It might be 50 miles from DC but it is considered a country town. Locals are called "Frednecks" for a reason. It gets packed all of once a year: for Fire in Ice! The population is all of 68,000 residents for the "city" area, as of this year. By comparison, my family's country-ish hometown of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, has 97,000. Hence why I laugh when people call Frederick a "big city." Oh man, it is not. DC has a population of 560,000. :)

Ice queens. That's Dom in the blue jacket, Jess in the purple argyle hat, Meggan with the fuschia scarf, and yours truly in the dark jacket with the fuzzy hood.
Meggan OWNED that throne! Hers was my favorite photo of this series!

A whiskey toast between Carlos and Shanna from the free tasting being offered at one of the local refinery booths!
People always make assumptions about two girls that always hang out together, so let's just play along with those assumptions because why not.
I TOTALLY photobombed this one with Jess and Meggan.
Too much fun in the bathroom at Starbucks.
Don't ask. Lol
Carlos and I kissing over the Lady & the Tramp ice sculpture later that night.
We were going to go to the Blackwater Swamp Stomp in Virginia the first weekend of March, so I could do the 50 miler with Gracie, but we scratched. With the impending ACA repeal with nothing else to take its place, all of our region's hospitals are cutting back on their staff and on their staff's hours. Carlos was laid off from his full-time job and currently has two part-times with the most unpredictable schedules. One of them keeps sending him home early or telling him he can come in later in the day. He works with other agency and travel nurses that bounce around the different hospitals in the VA/MD/DC area, and it is the same situation everywhere. Veterinary hospitals have been cutting back on hours too. So finances have been tight and stress has been high. Carlos continues to look for a full-time job but we are currently going into month 3 of his search.

We are both US citizens: I was born here on the mainland. (Thank you Dad for being an Army Colonel, which is how we came to be stationed in Oklahoma at the time of my birth. And thank you Juan Torrech for leaving Spain for the New World when Sir Francis Drake commissioned you in the late 1500s to come design and build that bridge in Puerto Rico...My mother's family has lived in the Americas for five centuries.)

Despite Carlos being born in PR, neither him nor I are immigrants. We are as immigrant as Hawaiians moving to the mainland. Which is Not Immigrant, by the way. Now tell that to the average American that assumes all Hispanics share the same traditions with Mexicans. (No, Puerto Ricans don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo...neither do Guatemalans, Argentineans, Brazilians, Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Dominicans...I can go on.) Having been lumped in with Hispanic immigrant groups time and time again, and having had to prove my citizenship before thanks to my last name and an initial work history that took place in Puerto Rico, my fears over racial profiling under the new administration are actually very valid. Because it's already happened in the past, under Dubya, who was nowhere near as...special...as 45. Back we go to pretending we aren't Hispanic, to speaking only English in public.

Do you know what that feels like? Especially when you were born here...It makes me furiously, rabidly angry that last year I finally felt like I could be outwardly as Latina as I wanted to be, and now here we are again, back to hiding it as desperately as possible so as not to stand out. Do you know what it feels like to be hated by an establishment because you are singled out as an "other" because of your cultural heritage, despite being from here?

So right now we are surviving. The gym has taken priority over riding because it's something I can do every day, rain or shine. The transformation continues and that is motivating in and of itself.

Sissy squats with a 45 lb plate
This..."mierda cabrona" as I call it in Spanish...is Jacob's Ladder. It is a piece of torture with whom I have a love/hate relationship. If you can do 4 minutes on this thing, you're doing fantastic, and I really do mean that.
On this day I was aiming for 12 minutes. Carlos gets a huge kick out of watching me struggle at the gym, hence the snarl.  Sidenote: 12 minutes accomplished.

Flipping tires with Carlos during a session with Tony.
Yup, try not to die..
Leg day; working on deadlifts.
In Maryland we have had some weird, unseasonably warm days, followed by more seasonable cold days. There has been so much rain that trail riding has been downright treacherous 3/4 of the time because the clay footing is so slippery. Everything is whacked. The other day I saw a caterpillar at the barn, our seasonal allergies have been acting up, the grass keeps trying to get greener and the horses keep trying to eat it, and as you can see in the top photos, I rode outdoors in a tank top. Then we'll have a random freeze and I'll be back to throwing midweights on the girls and giving them electrolyte mashes because 50-degree drops overnight are a recipe for colic.

The caterpillar.
Dressagey ride on Lily. Yes I have piano hands. Whatever.
From a day that was warm enough to ride both girls. In a tank top.
I love this photo. Bareback ride on Gracie in the barn parking lot. Taken by Carlos, of course.
Bareback ride at sunset before heading out to one of our favorite bars.
Shanna goofing around with Gracie: she was trying to channel the mare's inner diva.  Hence the hand on the hip!
I hadn't laughed this hard in a while. 
Jumping over a fallen log on trail. My position isn't stellar but I don't care. Again: we were having fun.
Also: tank top in February.

I think my leg is commendable in this photo given that I'm in a dressage saddle with giant knee blocks.

Shanna. We had so much fun on this day.

From a snowy ride with Shanna at the end of January.
Ever since Astarte passed away last July, Aengus has taken his role as My #1 Cat very seriously. He assigned this role to himself the day he decided I was his person, not Carlos (he was originally supposed to be Carlos's kitty.) Aengus has an incredible knack for knowing when I'm upset. I'll find him sitting next to me, watching me closely. I'll look down at him and he'll chirp, "Are you okay? Can I help you?" "Yes you can. Come here so I can love on you," and he'll jump onto my lap, where he will chirp and purr and rub against my face until I'm giggling.

I adore this dork. He is my dork and there is no other like him.
This is how I get woken up in the mornings. With a back massage, face rubs, chirps, and requests for pets.
And then there is the eternally squishy Zombie Cat. Who would have thought that an undead cat would love to be loved this much?

My living plushie
He was quite literally grooming my hair.
There are many days when my emotions flip back and forth between anger and fear, with some moments of brilliant happiness splattered throughout.

The song is Ed Sheeran's "The Shape of You." 
We had a lot of fun rehearsing this one in advance for once.

From a day I was able to run outside in a tank top.
We love this town so much.
We wanted to set roots here so very badly, and now we're slowly ripping those roots back out one by one.
We are so tired of being nomads.
I am grieving. I just want the moments of happiness back for good again. I want to be able to be us in public without fear of someone going, "Hey, they speak Spanish! They might be illegal aliens!" and hoping that pulling out passports is enough proof of our citizenship.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 21, 2017

I lead Lily up to my little blue and green Ikea stepstool that doubles as our mounting block, swing up into the saddle and lean down to give Carlos a kiss good-bye.

Lily is antsy and I let her trot up to the ride start. I call my rider number to the person taking our numbers, just as the trail opens. Lily and I head on out...and I realize that we are the first to leave camp. There is a group of people I am familiar with riding behind me, though. Lily asks to pick up a canter as we hit the trail and since she is relaxed in her request, I rise into a half-seat and let her swing up into her all-day canter. The riders behind me follow suit.

That's when it hits me.

I am at the front. Of an endurance ride. On my non-Arab mare that has never been tested in this position before. I have lost my mind.

I turn around to look and tell the group that wants to pace with me, "We should let the front runners pass." I hear other hooves cantering up behind us and wave to let them pass, but they choose not to.

So onwards we canter, this huge group of riders with Lily and me in the lead, all cantering down this wide double-track trail of fine gravel as it winds through Virginia fields and forests.

I keep Lily on the left of the trail in case anyone from the back decides to pass, and when that doesn't happen, I stop worrying about the riders behind us and simply let her fly along, her hooves ringing out across the valleys, "praca-pa-praca-pa-praca-pa..."

And it's just Lily and me and her dark brown ears in front of me and the wide open trail ahead of us. I am grinning from ear to ear: this is why we condition, both my horse and I. So that we can feel like we can ride forever. Just like this, like right now.

I wake up with a start, still grinning, still hearing Lily's shod hooves on the gravel in my ears.

It is the Women's March on DC today. Carlos is still sleeping beside me. I reach up above my head to grab my phone. Shanna is going to be at the March and had promised updates.

I had wanted to go SO BAD. I had wanted to go since the March was first announced back in November. I had grieved when it had been cancelled, and then celebrated when it was a "go" once again. In fact, I had been the one to bring up the idea of going to Shanna, and was super excited when she chose to go despite our cancelling at the last minute due to several different factors: my Friday had been nightmarishly busy, one of those days where I got out so mentally exhausted that I couldn't utter a sentence in English without stumbling over the words (I start thinking in Spanish when fatigued and my accent also gets stronger as a result), which meant we would have had to leave very, very early Saturday morning for DC and take the Metro in, since there most of the roads were going to be closed in downtown. I had been okay with this until hearing about the riots on Inauguration Day. When the Metro is full, it looks like this:

Cherry Blossom Festival in 2013.
There was the Cherry Blossom Festival going on on a weekend (so maximum crowds for it), in addition to two marches/rallies/festivals going on at the same time. This was just trying to get down the escalators to the train! This was maybe 1/4 of the amount of people expected for the March. 
If something happens within the Metro to cause a human stampede when it is that full...I have a problem with crowds to begin with. I have gotten much better about it in open spaces, but in enclosed spaces, I find myself battling panic attacks. 

To do the March right as a local, ideally one would do like Shanna did: drive down late Friday afternoon and walk to the March on Saturday morning from where you were staying at in order to avoid the Metro altogether. Being new at my current job (I couldn't request the day off) and having such a busy Friday to boot made it impossible for me to leave early so we ultimately chose to stay. And then the news of the riots in DC on Friday during Inauguration put a final damper on my remaining desire to attempt it. My heart still went to the March though.

And Shanna kept her word: it was 7:00 am when I woke up but there were updates already waiting for me!

I scrolled through her messages, then went on Facebook and checked for more updates from the huge number of people I knew were going, and also checked the news reports for good measure. I was still at this when Carlos woke up. I made coffee and we had toast with peanut butter. We were supposed to meet Tony at his new gym (he opened up his own place!) for training at 10:30 am, but we had plenty of time to kill. So Carlos looked up the March on YouTube on TV and we spent the next hour watching. 

I wanted to burst with joy with what I was seeing. So, so, so many people. 

Photos from the internet
That banner right there.
Many incorrectly think that this march was only about being pro-choice. While yes, that was a factor (and yes, openly anti-choice groups were excluded, but I can see why they would do that, given how combative both sides can get over the issue) it was about SOOOOOO much more than just that. It was about so many, many other rights than just that. It wasn't even just about women's rights. It was about everything that is good about humanity.
And that is why we had wanted to go.



If you've never heard the Carly Simon song, you're missing out.
Listen to it here. I love that song. And I love this poster!!!
It was basically the 1972 version of today's Justin Bieber's Love Yourself.

This was my ABSOLUTE FAVE.
Shanna had sent photos and video already, but I was seeing it streaming live on television: I could see what she was seeing in person on stage. We were able to watch one of the speeches before we realized what time it was and scrambled to get ready to head for the gym. 

The day was chilly, foggy and misting rain. I pulled up the news on the Women's March on my phone and read aloud to Carlos on the drive. I squeed in excitement when I stumbled upon this gem. <- That right there made it official: there were marches happening around the world in ALL SEVEN CONTINENTS.

This was our first time seeing Tony's new gym. It reminded me a lot of a Crossfit box and I loved it. We'll still be keeping our membership at our regular gym; we'll just be doing our personal training here, on a per-session basis.

Photo from the internet of a Crossfit box. Tony's gym looks a lot like this.  I'd say it's about this long and wide, too, with the Astroturf-like strip as well.
Our workout session on this day focused on Tabata training. If you've never heard of Tabata, you can read about it here. It is basically a brutal form of HIIT in the form of circuits, where you do 8 rounds of exercises, 20 seconds working at ultra-high intensity, with 10 seconds of rest. Sometimes it only takes you 4 minutes to finish a Tabata session, but your body will have been pushed to its absolute limit. I've seen an enormous amount of variation in this though, and Tony's version was also a variation. It was nonetheless brutal.

We started out with one set of clean and press, followed by walking lunges down the length of the gym, where we then did a set of medicine ball slams, side-shuffled back across the gym to our respective barbells, and started the circuit again. No breaks.

Halfway through the second circuit, Tony shouts at me, "I don't hear your heart rate monitor beeping!"
"I'm at 155 bpm!" I snap back, "It's been at that since we started!"

Tony laughs. Evil, evil man.

Carlos did spectacularly throughout this. I loved this session because of getting to watch Carlos dominate a new-to-him exercise, the clean and press, and own it like he'd done it all his life. I was kicking myself afterwards for not snapping a photo, but that's what happens when your hands are also full of barbell.

We then moved on to other exercises, with long pauses for talking. It was just the three of us in the entire gym,  so it should be no surprise that the conversation between the two Hispanics and the African American veered towards politics and the events happening on this day. It is also no surprise that what was supposed to be a half hour session extended to an hour because the conversation was just too good to stop. It is probably a good thing that we stopped to talk as much as we did, because I am STILL sore three days later, despite continued workouts in-between to try to flush the lactic acid out!

Carlos and I drove back home afterwards, where we showered and dressed up to go ride. Carlos put the March back up on the TV and we got sidetracked. We sat for another two hours listening to the speakers and watching the crowds with their signs, at peace. And I wished so much that we had gone.

"Why was it again that we didn't go?" I said to Carlos.
"Because of the crowds in the Metro. And if something catastrophic happens, only one of us has health insurance." The reasons as to why this is so at the moment are not blog material.
And then the reason seemed valid again.

I finally looked at the clock. It was 1:00 pm.

"If we're doing this, we should go now. The park closes at sundown," I said to Carlos.
"Where are we going?" He knew I wanted to haul out but we had been all over the place with deciding where to go.
"To the C&O at Point of Rocks." We had not been there since my accident in July.
"Yes. The weather is crappy and it is winter, so we should have it all to ourselves. And I want to haul ass." I wanted to set Lily free on that endless flat trail.

If I couldn't be brave by going to the Women's March, I was going to be brave by doing something else entirely.

The girls took off galloping around the field when they saw us pull up with the horse trailer, but very happily let Carlos catch them when they saw I was setting up warm mashes for them at the hitching post. They ate calmly while we loaded up the trailer with their tack, they happily loaded up and off we went.

It was a hideous day weather-wise, except for the fact that it wasn't actually raining. It had been misting rain on and off in the morning but that had stopped. It was still foggy, overcast, and chilly.

Fog over the treeline on the other side of the Potomac.
We pulled into the Point of Rocks parking lot at 2:00 pm. I was still acting and feeling like this was any other haul-out ride. We tacked up while letting Lily and Gracie munch on their haynets in the parking lot. There were other people there, but nowhere near as many as would have normally been there on a fair weather weekend. A group of 20-somethings came over, beaming over the fact that these were horses, and asked for permission to take their photos with our mares. I happily said yes. Lily and Gracie are professionals, and I like being an ambassador for trail riders with well-behaved horses. Lily and Gracie continued munching on their hay like nothing was happening.

It wasn't until I went to tighten Lily's girth that I realized my hands were trembling and my heart was pounding hard at the base of my throat. Adrenaline. We were at the Point of Rocks parking lot instead of New Brunswick (we had parked at New Brunswick when the Potomac River tried to kill Lily and me) and the scenery was completely different in the wintertime, but it made no difference.

"My heart is racing," I said to Carlos with a sarcastic grin.
"That is to be expected," he said.

I was very careful to continue to breathe in a slow, controlled fashion around Lily, and once I was up in the saddle, the adrenaline vanished. It was just another day at the office for both of us.

The few hikers in the parking lot had been heading north on the C&O trail, so Carlos and I headed south to avoid the majority of people.

Going to Point of Rocks was the correct choice. We had a glorious ride. (And we didn't try to go into the water of the river at any point...lesson learned...)

The train went past us at the beginning of our ride, and the girls continued trotting on as if nothing was happening.

My goal was simple: ride out 5-6 miles depending on our time, and then turn around and come back to the trailer.

We trotted for the first two miles, then alternately cantered and trotted for the next four, slowing down to a walk when we would come upon people jogging or walking on trail, which were few and far between.

We turned around at mile six, which coincided with a concrete bridge over the Potomac River.

A man walking on the other side of the bridge commented about how nonchalant both horses were. "They're pros!" I said with a grin, as we trotted on.

Dusk was coming rapidly, but once pointed towards home, the girls picked up the pace significantly. We completed 8 miles in one hour! O_o They were happy to pick up the canter more often on the way back to the trailer.

Lily didn't do her all-day canter because she was super-looky on this particular ride, which she had not been in some time. I suspected that she was in heat with the warmer temps we have been having this past week, but she still did her best to oblige with my requests. 

We had a BLAST regardless.

Coming upon one of the many lockhouses.
We made it back to the parking lot in an hour and a half. We literally covered 12 miles in 1.5 hours, which is AMAZING for these horses: both mares' averages used to be 10 miles in 1.5 hours!

We untacked and loaded up the girls for the return trip home, where I continued reading Carlos updates on the march. Shanna finally had phone signal again (no one had signal during the march, something that the organizers had warned might be a possibility in advance) and texted as well.

Lily and Gracie had mashes once back at the barn while we unloaded the trailer, and were set free back out in their field.

It was a fantastic day on every level. On every.single.level. It was like the love that was felt at all of these marches around the world simultaneously had such a force that it permeated everything, even at a distance. Maybe it was because I was so hyper-aware of it, but I could feel it while we were out riding.

It was a welcome respite from the current constant fear of waking up every day to discover something else that has been deliberately changed in our world, another right that an establishment is trying to take away or something important that is now going to be demolished or destroyed.

It made me wish every day was like this past Saturday. Not at the personal level, but at the world-wide level. That is how the world should be. It should be about love bringing people together.

*Note: This has been a trend for the past few months but as of this year, I will officially be expanding the subjects I write about. The blog's title was chosen with that purpose, because "wait for the jump" applies to a whole bunch of other things in life other than just jumping. When I chose the title, I wanted to leave the door open for writing about things that are important to me, including but not exclusively limited to the horses.