“That even as we grieved, we grew” ~ Amanda Gorman

Hello Friends!

Here I am, once again! I’m determined to make my writing a habit this year, even if I’m a little less certain that I have anything worthwhile to say. Heartfelt thanks for “tuning in” – just imagining a friend reading this makes it seem worthwhile.

“That even as we hurt, we hoped.”

“That even as we tired, we tried.”

Yep, I’m kind of obsessed with The Hill We Climb by the extraordinary Amanda Gorman. While I’ve missed a couple days of listening, I’ve tried to do so regularly. It’s a wonderful, uplifting “brain break” from the nonstop torrent words that fill my day via email and zoom (each of which fill my cup in their own way). Just to hear her cadence, her vocabulary, and to feel her vision for a brighter tomorrow… it lifts me up.

Writing the whole poem out in my journal is something I’m glad I took the time to do. I’ve always found that I process information better while speaking or writing – it wasn’t until I arrived at Oldfields that I learned some of the terms for each of our unique learning styles, and in so doing, became more aware of my own. In college and then later, in graduate school, I learned that I needed to be taking notes to really “absorb” the information presented by the professor. I took alot of notes (more like transcription), which made me pretty handy for my friends who were not similarly inclined, but I rarely found that I used them much once I’d taken them. The process of writing in itself is what enabled me to internalize the information. And, at 50+ years old, I continue to be who I am… and moreso. Since writing the poem out, different phrases from sunk in, and several seem to bubble up more often than others. “That even as we grieved, we grew.” This one most of all.

There is just so much grief in our world right now. While I’ve known this for months, while I’ve watched in horror as the numbers have climbed, supported friends through their losses, been moved by the flags planted in memorial in DC, and I’ve tried to feel it. In doing so, I think I’ve also learned that one can not feel grief, truly, until you have someone to grieve. And now, so many of us, do. It’s an experience that humbles us and unites us – always, in the past, and now more than ever (in my lifetime).

And so this phrase “as we grieved, we grew” is really stuck in my mind. It calls to me because I want to find the good out of the terrible, the lessons learned from this difficult and sad time, the call to action from all this pain. So, how do we do that?

When I think of the three lives lost from my life last month, representing the 100’s of thousands lost in the US alone over these long difficult months, I want to honor them by growing. It’s a course of action and an antidote to feeling “stuck” when all else seems so futile. I can’t comfort the families whose loved ones are gone, I can’t heal the wounded hearts and I can’t even fly to be with those I love to show them how much I care. I can’t do many things… but I can try to grow. It’s something!

And this brings me back to my admittedly self-centered plan for the blog this year. Or maybe it’s just another example of masterful rationalization, to make my focus on my “greatest impact” seem less selfish amidst such sorrowful times. I recognize that my ability to dedicate time, effort, thoughts and words to my achieving my personal “best” in 2021, is the ultimate luxury. It is the gift my friends can no longer enjoy. So I’m choosing to take each of their lives and their legacies as my inspiration. I’m going to stick to my knitting, my intentions and my goals and see what I can do with the time I’m given. There’s simply no time to waste.

Wishing you each a hopeful, healthy week ahead.


  1. CliftonStrengths 34 – Grateful to my friend and inspiration (and birthday girl this past week), Shari Goodwin of Jaeger2, for recommending this tool to me. I’ve always believed in the importance of leaning into the things we love, and leveraging the things we enjoy – because we’ll likely practice them and be better at them. This really fun, reasonably priced and time-efficient self-assessment resource has given me much to think about over the past year. I highly recommend doing it & keeping the report “handy” especially while choosing where and how to invest the gift we’re given with each precious day.


  1. Within my goal of maintaining a disciplined & balanced approach to the allocation of my energy – a couple of milestones to celebrate.
    • I am happy to say I’ve managed to securely plant reading & rowing in the routine in January. (Finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter today).
    • I also have two good examples of finding ways to not undertake, directly, a couple of tempting new volunteer projects. Instead, spent a little energy finding other terrific, willing and excited resources to “do the work”. Just a little “woo hoo” for momentarily resisting the urge to do it all myself and intentionally leaning into my #1 CliftonStrengths strength (I’ll share mine if you share yours!).
  2. To carry the message of the TRF (Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation) widely I was delighted to record my first 2 podcasts of 2021 (thank you Pete Fornatale, In the Money Podcast & Rick Thompson, Talk Saratoga), and to facilitate our first print media piece (anticipated in The Aiken Horse in last week of Feb).
  3. To help my Padre navigate and execute a move to live nearer to me  I am proud of us for completing our 3rd “virtual tour” this past week, and moving along toward making a timeline for next steps & decisions. Very thankful to Renee Birnbaum for her assistance (and if anyone is undertaking a similar journey, please let me know – Renee is a great resource with a national network of colleagues)

That’s it for now. Be well and keep on growing!



Adding Fuel to the Fire

Hello Friends!

It’s a sunny, but frosty 23 degrees Sunday afternoon here in Saratoga. The fireplace is on, the neighborhood kids are playing outdoors (they raise ’em tough up here), and I can hear the first sounds of football on TV in our living room. All is well, safe and peaceful for us… but it’s been a week of signs in all their splendor and severity. Hopeful heights and heartbreaking lows, and much to learn from all of them.

As I wrapped up last week, I felt ready to dive in to an admittedly self-serving presentation of my goals for the year as the focus of the Maven and Magpie blog in 2021. My intention: to burn brightly. And then, the week happened.

Hope is in the air

First, the joy and exhilaration of Wednesday’s Inauguration. For all the anxiety I felt in the lead up, and even through the vows and formalities as our new leaders sat so exposed on the steps of the Capitol, the day was magnificent. It was wonderful to see the blue skies, the flags, and the splendor of DC showing its best and most beautiful to the nation and the world. I loved Gaga’s glorious gown and rousing rendition of our National Anthem, I loved J. Lo’s over-the-top Chanel couture and her “let’s get loud” medley of feel good songs about our country. While I was much less impressed with Garth Brooks, I was utterly mesmerized and captivated by the absolutely extraordinary Amanda Gorman. Wow. What a gift for all of us to participate in the historic moment of her national debut and to receive her words, as a mantra to carry us through these challenging times.

I’ve written her poem by hand in my journal to help me absorb all the beauty in her words and I’ve decided to listen to her performance once a day for 30 days, like a tonic for a weary soul. (It surely can’t hurt.) I’d love to have you join me!

loss and Grief

Then, the blows of reality began to land. Three lives lost in my world, in rapid succession – from different chapters of my story – and all with the same, painfully poignant lesson: Tomorrow is Promised to No One.

While my blog is not the place to share the stories of each beloved individual, I feel the best way to honor them is to cherish each as a messenger for all of us. I am humbly and sorrowfully grateful for their role in making me feel the terrible un-fillable hole of loss that is left when someone is taken unfairly (to our human eyes), suddenly and seemingly too soon. The three losses I’ve experienced this week have pierced the walls of my cozy little cocoon, with a tiny sample of the painful reality faced by everyone who loved each of the 400,000 souls lost, so far, to a virus we knew nothing about one year ago today.

Each of these friends represented the very best of a “life well lived”. Theirs were lives that serve as inspiration for all of us. They truly and completely lived, in vibrant color and at full volume, until the last. Two of them, my peers from high school and from college respectively, were dealt the miserable hand of cancer diagnoses which they fought valiantly, although far too briefly. Their courage was their final gift to those who knew and loved them. The third, much older in years, but not in spirit, energy, passion or will to live each day fully and on his own terms – not bending to the expectations of someone “his age” in any way. Cruelly, for those left behind, this individual was gone with no warning and no chance to say goodbye – a peaceful escape from this earthly world, and a terrible shock to those whose future included so many plans with him at their center.

So, what to do with all of this? I am inclined to add my mourning of their passing and my awe in the way they lived each day to the kindling of my fire to “burn brightly” this year. It seems that the best way to celebrate all they were and all they demonstrated is to do great things as they would have done, given more time, and to remember them in so doing.

“To whom much is given, much is expected.”

This is a quote that has always driven me. It wakes me up in the middle of the night, it drives me to jump out of bed and to do my best Hamilton rendition of “not throwing away my shot”. My three friends are adding their voices to the chorus.

if only we’re brave enough to be it

So, I turn back to my intention for 2021: to “burn brightly” and make my greatest impact. This simple intent seems even more important and urgent than it did last week. I’m not sure my specific goals are meaningful enough to truly honor my friends, but I’m hoping they are clear enough to give me a chance to make a difference.

By sharing them, I’m inviting you to join me on my journey – both by following along the path with me and by suggesting new paths or doorways that might help me reach them more directly. And, of course, I’m counting on you to hold me accountable when I drift (and I’m sure to drift).

magpie goals for 2021:

1. To help my Padre navigate and execute a move to live nearer to me and to realize all the benefits of living in a supportive, active and engaged community. Objective: settling him and his loved ones into a new home in upstate NY by end of 2021.

2. To carry the message of the TRF (Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation) widely through dramatically expanded visibility and media coverage by specifically seeking out national and international audiences to whom I can deliver this message (speaking opportunities).

3. To secure at least one major gift ($5K or greater) for the TRF from a donor compelled entirely by the human impact of the TRF Second Chances (with only distant interest in the welfare of the horses).

4. To maintain a disciplined & balanced approach to the allocation of my energy including my calling (the TRF), my health (mental & physical), my community (family, friends and Saratoga), and an ample dose of time given to “unscheduled/unstructured” fun & rest too. Objectives: Run a 5K this summer & blog once a week – gulp.

5. To meet and exceed my annual Major Gifts fundraising goal. Objective: To enjoy a December similar to 2020 without anxiety.

This week’s recommended resources are:

  1. NY Times Podcast “1619 – 6 parts, beautifully done, impactful & important.
  2. The Hill We Climb Amanda Gorman (daily)
  3. “Dismantling QAnon” by TedX-MidAtlantic (Oct 2020)- challenging, shocking, eye-opening and scary. I’ve had my head in the sand about what this is for a long time, and this was super informative way to pull the wool away from my eyes.
  4. A Promised Land, Barak Obama – finished this engaging, informative and refreshing book this week… and can’t wait for the next one!

Much to Celebrate

  1. Lives well lived. May they Rest in Peace and their spirits inspire us Every Day.
  2. A new US President, Vice President, Administration and countless public servants dedicating and re-dedicating their lives in service to their communities and their country. (Shout out to our awesome re-elected New York Assemblywoman Carrier Woerner)
  3. The amazing volunteers who come together here in Saratoga to make the Rural Food Delivery Program happen. Wow! I may use my blog to capture the story of this incredible group. Over the past few months I’ve been observing them and documenting the system that keeps these trains running. Hats off to Saratoga LifeWorks (formerly EOC) and Presbyterian New England Congregationalist Church (PNECC) for all they do to make this happen.
  4. January is Mentorship Month. I’m hoping to become a mentor this year (two pending opportunities to make a direct impact), and I will look forward to sharing that journey too. If you have time and interest, spend a minute to google “mentorship programs near me” and see what you find!

And, that’s it for now. Looking forward to “raising a glass” with friends and family on zoom tonight and hoping to manage my time in the most impactful way possible over the week ahead. Thanks for listening!



Bloom where you’re planted

January 2021

Ponies – Jan 18, 2021

Good morning friends!

Well, here we are. Saratoga Springs, NY on January 18, 2021. Wow.

I just took a moment to look at the list of “published posts” on Maven and Magpie since that car-ride to the Hamptons 3+ years ago (71 of them). The first one written the Eve of our “Re-invention” (Dec 23, 2017). I know it’s painfully cliché, but I can’t help saying “So much has changed, and so much has stayed the same”. And for all of it, the changes and the sameness, I am just incredibly, profoundly grateful.

Some of you have been on this journey with us from the start and few may have just stumbled upon us along the way (and a handful of you were gently nudged to join by me). To each of you – thank you.

The concept of imagining an audience for my thoughts has been the inspiration for me to capture them in words. I find a murky mix of answers when I look down the rabbit hole of “why am I writing this?”. Truly, there have been different reasons at different seasons. Sometimes I’ve wanted to keep friends & family posted of our progress, sometimes I’ve needed a place to park the challenges and emotions of the journey, from time to time I’ve just wanted to capture a milestone, and most recently this summer, I wanted to share an experience that I found enriching, challenging and possibly somewhat interesting. Through it all, I’ve wanted to practice writing about something other than my work and I’ve nurtured the ember of hope that something in my musings might be helpful, comforting, encouraging or at the very least mildly entertaining for the reader – wherever you are, whoever you are, and whatever mountain you’re planning to climb.

So today, sitting here in our cozy home on Madison Street, just back from a mid-morning walk around “our loop” (it’s MLK Jr. Day, so I’m away from my desk), I thought I’d go read that first post. After launching from the car on Dec 23rd, my first “real post” was published on Christmas Eve from the Maven family’s lovely home in the Hamptons.

Here’s what I wrote about my “why”:

December 24, 2017

“And on to the blog, a couple simple goals I have in mind.

  1. Share my observations along the journey of everyday life – kicking off with the big move Bobby & I will be making this year.
  2. Share our adventures – largely along the Food & Travel lines, with a big dose of Thoroughbred Racing & Saratoga Lifestyle.  Somewhere in this goal lies the original inspiration for the Maven and the Magpie – Bobby’s maven-like talent for picking & finding great spots to eat, drink & enjoy and my Magpie-like desire to share our discoveries so they can enjoy them too!
  3. Promote places, people, causes, products, services, events, activities and organizations I believe in and think are worth the time & money for others to check out. A curated set of things this Magpie wants to support by spreading the word.”

Time to Reset, Re-focus & Re-commit

While I may spend a few minutes ruminating on how well (and not well) I stuck to those goals, I’m mostly focused today on the “what next? where do we go from here?” as I look ahead to 2021. Taking stock of the miles we’ve traveled over the past 3 years, especially the strange & special year of 2020, one thing is incredibly clear: the Maven and I have arrived at our destination. We are very, very fortunate to be exactly where we want to be, doing what we are each called to do and to be in a community we are happy to call home. We’ve “come a long way, baby” – no doubt about it. As my friend Rebecca’s Boy Band navigation system loves to say in its funny, British accent singsong voice “You Have Arrived”.

So that means it’s time do what we came here to dowhatever that is!

The words that have emerged for my 2021 Intentions center around a craving to make the most of the gifts and blessings we’ve received, while we can. Carpe Diem!

For me, I think it’s time to make my highest and best impact on the world around me. IMPACT is the word I keep hearing in my head. It is accompanied by a strong sense of BURNING BRIGHTLY, deep like a true flame and not disparate like sparkles and fireworks. Within this there’s a mandate to choose things carefully, and then to lean in “full-tilt”, and perhaps find ways to measure progress – to know if my energy is being converted to meaningful effect. This is what I plan to focus on this year and I think this is what I’m going to write about too. Fair enough? How about you?

A CAVEAT: Let’s be clear. I’m not writing this as an advice column (although I fear it may come across like that from time to time). The one thing I know is just how much I don’t know, but I am going to lean on lessons learned along the journey so far – and we’ll see where those take me.

If you’re game to join me, I’d love the company!

With that in mind, here’s my updated plan for the blog 2021:

  1. Set some goals (intentions, not resolutions) and share them publicly – then tell the story of my progress, so that you can help hold me accountable.
  2. Identify resources that help me realize my vision– with hopes they serve someone reading too.
  3. Celebrate milestones “wins” and examples of individuals and organizations who are inspiring to me – with hopes that they inspire you too!

Getting Started…

“The journey of a thousand miles, starts with one step”.. an oldie, but a goodie. And that’s what this post is – a start. I’ll be back soon to dig in and get rolling, but for now an appetizer:

  1. Goal: Write one blog post per week. (Eek. I was going to say month, but I’m going to stretch.)
  2. Resources: Reinventing Greatness by Shari Goodwin (and Lemon Squeezy) – I’ll share more on this over the days ahead for sure, but for now just go ahead and buy it, you’ll be glad you did! (And remember to always use AmazonSmile to be sure your favorite charity benefits from your purchase!)
  3. Celebrate: Today this is easy – it’s a day designed to remember him and be inspired by him. Here are two links that helped me start my day with MLK Jr’s words in my ears.
    1. 22 Inspirational Quotes from MLK Jr
    2. “I have a dream” speech in its entirety (17 min)

Time to start blooming!

Namaste. Stay safe, well and hopeful!



Saratoga Winter – Jan 2021

A Horse Show “unlike any other” – and the world is invited!

The TRF Blackburn 2020 Horse Show (10.20.2020)

Quick – look at your calendar! What do you have scheduled for 8pm (Eastern Time) on Tuesday, October 20th?

Well, whatever you were about to say, hold your breath – I have you covered! Tune in here: TRF Twitter, TRF Facebook or TRF YouTube (streaming live)

On Tuesday the 20th, I encourage you to settle in to you favorite seat, grab a drink, gather those around you (two or four legged) and settle in to watch a show that is guaranteed to give you a big dose of Hope, a healthy measure of Horses and an affirmation in your belief in the power of Second Chances. I’ve seen the ending, and (spoiler alert) you’re going to love it.

The backstory (1984 -2019)

In August 1984, a retired Thoroughbred racehorse named Promised Road stepped off a horse trailer at the Wallkill Correctional Facility in Wallkill, NY. His first hoof print was followed by thousands of retired racehorses who have found sanctuary in the care of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).

From the very start, the TRF has taken horses into its herd and placed them in the unusual setting of Correctional Facilities where the horses find their new careers as teachers, teaching the incarcerated men (and women) in the TRF Second Chances Program the vocational skills that give them more viable career options after prison. At the same time, by simply “being horses”, these aging equine athletes teach lessons that serve their caretakers in countless ways as returning citizens in society: patience, empathy, trust, confidence, calm, responsibility and caring for a creature beyond themselves.

In 1999, the TRF Second Chances Program began at the Blackburn Correctional Complex (BCC) in Lexington, KY. Over the past twenty years, the horses in the herd at Blackburn have been changing the lives of the men who care for them. Every day, 365, the horses work their magic and the men of Blackburn learn and grow.

Last year, the TRF and the team at Blackburn pulled out all the stops to “open the gates” of the Blackburn Correctional Complex to the Lexington Community. The TRF Blackburn “20th Anniversary” Horse Show took place on a beautiful, sunny and crisp Fall day and an audience of more than 140 individuals came through the gates at Blackburn to witness a demonstration of how the TRF Second Chances Program accomplishes its motto “Saving Horses. Saving Lives.” Click here to enjoy a short video recap of last year’s celebration (credit: KY Corrections)

Welcoming the World to Blackburn (2020)

2020 has proven to be a challenging year. (Ha!) All of us have been flexing our resiliency, creativity and technology skills and together we’ve had to “recalibrate” on a continuous basis. Say what you will about the situation our world is facing, this year has taught us all to focus on our priorities and to find new ways to get things done.

The TRF has one simple priority: “To save Thoroughbred racehorses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter.” This is our mission. This is our purpose. And this is why we weren’t about to let the chaos of COVID-19 deter us from sharing the story of our horses and the life-changing work they do. Instead of accepting that few (if any) guests would be able to come to Blackburn for the Horse Show this year, we decided to take the Horse Show to the World. Literally.

We have a simple goal: that every human on earth with a connected device take a seat, take a deep breath, go online and just watch, listen and feel the Horse Show “unlike any other” via livestream on October 20th (8pm ET). There is no ticket to purchase, no RSVP to send. There’s simply an invitation to take a few minutes to tune in and open your heart and your mind to a story of Hope, Horses and Second Chances. Over the course of the Horse Show, yTRFou’ll meet the men of Blackburn, the horses they love and a number of amazing individuals who enable this program to happen and flourish. Your task is simple: Mark your Calendar. Prepare to be Amazed.

Ready to learn more? Watch the 5 min Horse Show Preview and visit the TRF Blackburn 2020 Horse Show Website (sign up for a reminder or add it to your calendar)

TRF Blackburn 20th Anniversary Horse Show (Nov 6, 2019) – Photo Credit: Jennifer Stevens, TRF


For more info about TRF and TRF Second Chances (visit www.trfinc.org)

About the TRF Second Chances Program: The TRF Second Chances Program is the nationally-acclaimed, flagship undertaking of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).  This program, first launched in 1984 at the Wallkill Correctional Facility in Wallkill, NY, places retired Thoroughbred racehorses from the TRF herd in the care of the inmates within seven correctional facilities across the US.  Participating in a skills-oriented vocational training program, the offenders learn how to care for the aging equine athletes while gaining valuable life-skills that will equip them for success when they return to society.  Since its launch in 1999, the TRF Second Chances Program at the Blackburn Correctional Complex has provided lifelong sanctuary to hundreds of retired Thoroughbred racehorses after their racing careers have ended, while instilling vocational and life-skills in hundreds of men seeking a Second Chance in society after completing their terms at Blackburn. 

About TRF: Founded in 1983, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a national organization devoted to saving Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete at the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse, and slaughter. As the oldest Thoroughbred rescue in the country, the TRF provides sanctuary to retired Thoroughbreds throughout their lifetime.

Best known for its pioneering TRF Second Chances program, the organization provides incarcerated individuals with vocational training through its accredited equine care and stable management program. At seven correctional facilities across the country this program offers second careers to its horses and a second chance at life for inmates upon release from prison.  The TRF Second Chances Program at Blackburn Correctional Complex provides a home for as many as 60 retired Thoroughbred racehorses. The Program Manager is Mr. Tim Moore, the Acting Warden is Abby Mcintire, and there are 11 men currently participating in the TRF Second Chances curriculum.

TRF cares for 500+ rescued and retired Thoroughbreds at Second Chances prison farms and Sanctuary Farms across the country. The organization is funded entirely by private donations. The TRF is accredited by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and has a Platinum rating with Guide Star. 
For more information visit: http://www.trfinc.org/

And just like that….

Mission Accomplished

Back on August 4th, when this short but intense adventure began, I shared my definition of success: do not get hurt, do not lose a horse, do not get fired. Over the course of 20 days, I’m incredibly grateful to say that I was successful. Phew!

In fact, I thought I’d be working tomorrow (Labor Day) to complete my tenure, but learned via text while enjoying a special dinner with the Maven at Pennell’s that I’d “fully realized my utility” and my time is up. Hooray! Quite simply, I’m ready to return to my real life. I need all those extra cycles back to dive full-tilt into all the exciting and important work I have to do for the horses of the TRF over the remaining weeks of this month. The horses are counting on me, and let’s face it… I’m tired.

So much to chew on

While excited to share the news of my adventure’s completion, I’m still “up against” the fact that my body and brain will rapidly shut down over the next few minutes as we’re already into the 9pm hour. (NOTE: I took a nap and a shower before finishing up!) So, I’ll plan post some “delayed impressions” of some of the more vivid takeaways from this journey over the coming days.

Tonight, I’ll focus on what I was thinking of today as I walked what turned out to be my final (AM) “vueltas” … inspired by a question asked of me yesterday at the In the Money + Taverna Novo KY Derby party: What are the things I will miss when this ends?

The top 3

  1. The sky – so many moments, colors, clouds, light, dark, sun, moon, stars, trees. It was a gift every day to see the sky at those “magical hours” from 5:20am to 8am when the day was arriving, in all it’s glory. These are hours one rarely gets to see, and I truly cherished every morning I had the chance to witness the beauty an “take photos with my eyes”. Many friends will recall what a sunrise “hound” I am, but it’s often hard to actually implement the get up in the dark plan to see them. This job gave me that impetus and a new appreciation of watching the sunrise indirectly, looking to the west, looking through the trees, and peering out from under the eaves of the barn. All these vantages gave me visions of the spectacular sight of the lightening sky that accompanies the mornings on the backstretch.
  2. The community – there’s just nothing like throwing yourself into the “new kid” scenario. My heart is with all those college freshmen (first years) who are doing the same thing right now… walking into a completely new and unfamiliar setting, bringing their tools, talents and instincts with them to navigate unknown terrain and to connect with a new set of individuals who will guide them, shape them, support them, and share the experience with – whether they know it or not. My journey on the backstretch was made infinitely easier by my comfort level speaking Spanish, but that was merely a tool in my toolbox. Just like the college kids, it was a leap for me. My strategy was to just “be me” and hope I’d be accepted and welcomed. As I walked around the shed row today, I realized that I would truly miss feeling – albeit briefly – like part of a team with my new colleagues. The people I worked with at the barn – directly and indirectly – were a great gift. They collectively saw past or through my appearance as a dilettante (the short time, part timer), they accepted my intent to learn and be helpful, and they showed me how to be useful. I am grateful to all of them, and as I look back on this brief but vivid chapter I will fondly remember that feeling of being a part of this amazing, incredibly hard-working community.
  3. And of course, the horses, especially in those very special moments – usually right as we took the turn into the “good corner” with the green vines, and then headed up Linda Rice’s aisle, with the sun flooding through the pillars. These were magical moments. A couple of them took a little piece of my heart: Justin’ Scones, Devil’s Rendezvous and most recently, the big and thoughtful Macho Boy. Each of them surely taught me a lesson, and all of them looked to me for something important. They required me to breathe, to be still, to be calm, to be steady, to be strong, to be clear and to be present. A recipe I’ll try to hold on to!
Kim & Scones – artsy style, thank you Lupe Velez

4. Oh, and ice cream! Yes, I’ll miss that feeling that I can truly and legitimately eat whatever I want after walking 15-25,000 steps a day. Those afternoon trips to Cookies & Cream were such fun and I enjoyed every fry from my regular lunching at the Horseshoe…

These are still just a few of the gems that I’ll treasure from this strange and wonderful “summer unlike any other”.

More ruminating over the days ahead – but for now, hitting the hay without the 4:30am alarm and feeling very, very grateful.

Happy Labor Day!


Day 15: All about Scones

saturday was A Big Day!

I was looking forward to a reflection on “Reggae and Rainy Days” inspired by today’s (Saturday’s) episode at the barn… but this ruminating has been pre-empted by BIG NEWS: We Have a Winner! Her name is Bustin’ Scones!

This pink-nosed beauty is small but mighty.

Click here to watch her race. I especially like her happy canter across the finish-line, ears a flopping!

I think she was the first horse I walked on the day I began this adventure.

I’m fairly certain she’s the first one I held for a bath. She bit my thumb. Pretty hard. I’m watching the bruise grow out and remaining hopeful I won’t lose the nail. She loves grass. She’s super sassy. And she CAN BE sweet as pie when walking – ears flopping, head low, leaning in… an absolutely love. We’ve had a bunch of magical moments around the shed row. She’s my girl.

I gave her a big pep talk on Saturday AM when we walked, mostly telling her to come back safe, but also to let her fierceness shine. I think she heard me.

Meanwhile, our rider tells me she’s a thing possessed when you’re riding her. Total transformation to fire-breathing dragon. A veritable ball of energy, with the nimbleness to go in any direction at the drop of a hat – she does, she can and she will. The challenge is to stay with her and to not piss her off – neither sound easy. If you watch the race video through the post-race interview, Amira talks about how challenging she is to ride and she really credits the jockey, Benji Hernandez, for doing it so well and really “getting her”. Such a big moment for everyone who has spent time with her. She won her first race in 2018… so this one has been a long time coming, and a great culmination to the summer meet for the team.I think her 2020 Summer meet record was 1 3rd, 1 2nd and 1 first – and I know she’s dreaming of her next race.

As I return for my last few days of this summer adventure on Friday, I wonder if she’ll still be at the barn. With just a few days of racing remaining, I’m sure our shed row will be growing emptier with horses heading back to Belmont and some heading west to Finger Lakes. Scones will stay close to Amira for sure, but I suppose it’s possible she’ll leave before the weekend. I made sure to tell her how proud of her I was when we walked on Monday… I feel sure she heard me.

Life Lesson from Scones

I think what I most love about this little horse is that she is completely comfortable in her skin, completely her own quirky little personality, and entirely comfortable being two completely different horses – depending on the circumstances. I think she’s teaching me (all of us) a lesson.

In the barn and around the shed row, she is truly a love. She is my hands down favorite horse to walk (even on the couple days when she was on her toes), because she just seemed so happy, so there, with me, in the moment – enjoying the walk and not afraid of anything.

On the track, to train or race, she is a wild thing. A woman possessed, a dragon, a beast, a hell-hath-no-fury like a little filly who wants to run. She makes everyone pay attention and suffers no hard handed direction, she demands that all those around her do it her way. And on Saturday, she showed them all what she loves to do most – run and win.

You rock little Scones. You really do. When I grow up I want to be like you!


Day 13: The learning…

Hello Friends!

It’s a Wednesday evening, which now feels like the Sunday of a 3 day weekend, as I’ve come to really cherish my “normal days” (Tues, Wed & Thurs) without the 4:30am wakeup and all that follows. I remain super grateful to have the opportunity to experience this chapter, but let’s be clear – it’s an exhausting (mentally and physically) job. I may only be doing it a few days, but each day feels pretty epic and my appreciation for those who do it every day, 365, is IMMENSE.

No matter how glad I am be there, I’m frankly equally glad to be such a short-timer. I am uttering million prayers of thanks for all the lucky stars that led me to a life where physical labor for an hourly wage was not my path. On behalf of everyone who has never lived that way, I’m living this mile in another’s shoes. For all of us who are born to so much good fortune, comfort, ease, resources and, yes, privilege, let us not take this for granted – as easy as it is to do. Among the many, many lessons I’m learning (re-learning) is just how fortunate I am to have the life I lead. The gratitude journal overflows.

learning by doing – the only way

In an earlier post I shared my simple overview of the org chart of the barn team, and probably gave short shrift to the responsibilities that go with each role. From my low-man-on-the-totem-pole perspective, my role is definitely the simplest: walk horse, hold horse for bath, walk horse, put away, repeat. I’m really super comfortable with the minimal decision making I need to make in this role, so I can just focus on the many, tiny but impactful details that go into my success in this simple job – much of which is mental/emotional or dare I say “energetic” (woo woo alert!).

However, as my tenure continues and other factors play out among the other team-members, I find that I’m being asked/expected to add some new tricks to my bag. All of which I’m glad to do, if only to avoid the awkwardness of the “waiting” when there’s no horse for me to walk. With so much that needs to be done, it’s really not great to be sitting there not doing anything (and I’m not known as a particularly good “sitter”). Until pretty recently, I simply wasn’t directed (or likely trusted) to do much more. Tis the nature of being the new kid!

Well, all this changed on Monday (Day 13) when I arrived to find that Tito (groom) and Reena (hot walker) had finally managed a day off – much, much deserved. The result being that there were fewer of us to carry the load of the day’s tasks and keep the trains running. It was a great day to learn!

cleaning Stalls: a link to history

So, as we jumped in to our short-handed Monday, I started with what I knew – buckets. I must admit, I love doing buckets. There’s a right way to do it, it’s straightforward, it’s satisfying and it’s pretty hard to screw up. Bring on les buckets! But then, that’s really the easy part, isn’t it? While the horses need to have their water (and feed) ready when they return from their work, the bigger issue is that they also need for their stall to be ready for them when they get done – a much larger task. This heavy and quintessentially horsey task generally falls to the groom as part of his or her sequence of preparation for the horse’s work of the day. On Monday, it fell to all of us to help get them done as Robert worked his way through the horses – and thus, a lesson & a link to history.

Stall cleaning (as observed by me) step-by-step:

  1. First, you tie your horse up, so you can work around him safely. At the same time, you can remove his buckets and put them outside the stall – ready for cleaning.
  2. You ou remove all of the soiled bedding – and there’s ALOT. Those metabolism are on super-drive and over the course of the night, they tear them up and make quite a mess.
  3. The strategy is to remove all the dirty bedding, but to try to keep as much of the clean, dry straw as possible – to be efficient. As you find good straw, you push it to the corners out of the way.
  4. Once complete this leaves you with the rubber pad and four corner “nests” – and then you an work on drying out the rubber pad (broom works)
  5. I’ve observed that usually from this stage, the groom then moves back into the prep for each horse – grooming, wrapping, and getting the saddle on for the track.
  6. Once the horse leaves for its work out, the clock starts ticking – to get that stall ready before the horse returns (when the bath begins), or at least get a good start, which can be finished while the hot walker is walking post-bath.
  7. Rebuilding. This is where I think some of the art comes into the equation. As you take the stockpiles of dry hay from the corners and fluffily cover the pads (and help with the final stages of drying – you hope).
  8. Then, the new bedding – tearing up the flakes (by hand, by pitchfork), throwing it about to create a deep, fresh, clean, fluffy (and therefore) safe bed to welcome the racehorse home to his stall. And, the goal is to be “all set” and ready as soon as his hot walker has finished her work and brings him back to his “Aula” bed.

The Link to History

As I was doing this process above, and thinking about the stall I stood in, I was struck by my connection to more people – who had all stood there in that stall before me – than I could possibly imagine. As I worked through the steps above, I started thinking about the way that this simple and very frequently repeated task now linked me to all the many, many people who who came before me (and who will follow me too). A powerful feeling of connectedness and shared experience with untold number of strangers, each with their own reasons for being in this role – and all are valid.

  • How many other people have cleaned this stall? When was the first?
    • How many days have horses lived in this stall?
    • How old is this barn? When did it go up?
    • Did those who worked here before me use the same technique?
    • What advice would they give me?
    • What stories would they tell me?
    • What horses lived in these stalls?

OK, all food for thought and now, speaking of hay, it’s time to hit my own.

Thanks for reading & be well & stay safe!!!

Day 11: Not for nothin’ …and the afternoon “gig”

Tack Room

frequently heard phrases

I love language, phrases, vocabulary and accents. Perhaps that’s why I found myself teaching Spanish all those years ago at Oldfields, and I continue adding to my vocal list on the racetrack every day. As we’ve settled into our new home here in Saratoga I’ve been enjoying noticing some of the very subtle examples of the regional syntax. One of the phrases I realize I’d never heard before, but hear all the time now, is “Not for nothin'”. I credit our dear friend Fran LaBelle for likely being the first to say it to me, but I realize that it’s nothing short of ubiquitous. I have no insight into where it comes from, but it makes me smile. New Yorkers!

Back to the backstretch, here are a few phrases that punctuate the mornings of a hot walker:

  • Hold Up!” – used in a variety of situations, synonym for “whoa/ heads up”, used to stop other horses around you because whatever you are doing needs to go first. Interesting to me, because it is the “Esperanto” across the English & Spanish speakers to communicate perhaps the most important request: WAIT/ STOP/ LOOK OUT.
  • Coming Out” – the call of the exercise riders as they are approaching the gate on Nelson Ave, to cue the NYRA security guards to stop traffic so the horses can cross the road
  • Coming In” – a bit less frequent, but as a rider is coming around the shed row and making the final turn into the horses stall, this is called to alert all in the barn (especially groom & hot walker, who should already be there).

And then, the one that I guess is just the thing that has been said to every hot walker since time began… and which I had absolutely NEVER heard before starting my education on the backstretch:

“Keep Turning Left!” (Or “Turn Left, Turn Left”).

John Dallas, you get credit for being the first. Since then, Dr. Reid McLellan of Groom Elite, and most recently, Dave Grening. What’s up with that? While it’s certainly a true statement – it is absolutely what “we” do, for hours on end, walking in circles, turning left constantly, I’m just not sure I understand why everyone keeps telling us to do it. A light hazing ritual perhaps? Funny! Just a racetrack thing, I guess?

Hotwalking fun fact: Cyndi Lauper

Over the past few weeks, someone had mentioned to me that Cindy Lauper was a hotwalker for a short time. Just now I ran across an article about her experience at the racetrack… and chuckled to see who had written it! Enjoy

From Hot Walker to Rocker, Cindy Lauper Still is Unusual (2003)

Hotwalking 201: The Afternoons

As green and novice as I am, I sort of seem to have passed a test last week. To be clear, this isn’t some incredible accomplishment. There’s no risk that I’m considered a hotwalking prodigy, but the labor shortage is VERY SEVERE on the backstretch. So severe, that many barns simply don’t have enough help to send the 2 people who are allowed (max) to accompany each horse to the paddock for the races in the afternoon (groom + hot walker). Cue – my new gig!

As 9pm approaches, I think I’ll save the “intro to afternoons” for my next post. Who knows? I might get to walk one tomorrow!

For now, signing off – 4:30am comes quick!

View of the Nelson Ave Gate from our shedrow
The very scary corner (cars & Clare court)
Saturday AM – let’s get started

Day 9: Hot Walking 101 – A primer

So, what exactly am I doing?

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot. So, let’s break it down into the KPIs of my new hot walking job:

  1. Show up on time (5:20am)!
  2. Walk (cold) horses to their bath.
  3. Hold horses for their bath.
  4. Walk horses around the shed row until they are dry.
  5. Put them back in their stall.
  6. Repeat, until all the horses have done their job and returned to their stalls.
  7. At all times: Don’t get hurt. Don’t let the horses get hurt. And don’t get in the way of someone else doing their job.
  8. NOTE: As horses start to come back from their workouts, they will be “hot” and thus the job title “hot walker”. Horses that just walk without a workout are known as “cold” (and they are much, much harder to walk).

How Does it work?

There’s a rhythm to all of this. The music is written by the trainer and the tempo is set by our exercise rider. The trainer posts “the list” the night before so that when we all arrive it tells us the order of the horses, and from there we sort out who is doing what. The tempo is set by the exercise rider and the grooms are the drumbeat (says this totally not-musically inclined person), as they prep each horse in order, while cleaning stalls while the horses are out, and being poised & ready to bathe and care for the horses when they get back. At the end of the line, you find the hotwalkers. We wait and we walk.

Except sometimes. Sometimes we find ourselves in between horses. That’s when things get a little dicey (at least for me). Waiting is really hard, and when there’s so much work to do, it always feels wrong. However, with my limited experience there are really not a lot of things I can do to be truly helpful without possibly screwing something up. So far, I’ve found just a couple “extra tasks” that I feel confident about: cleaning buckets (water & feed), filling & hanging the water buckets, and pulling manes (which only happens after all the morning work is done).

and then there are all the many things that happen…

More on this later, but suffice it to say there are a lot of things that can throw off the perfectly crafted plan and/or just a myriad of ways in which the simple harmony can go off key. Some of these reasons are equine, many of these reasons are human, and a bunch of them are just random variables….

I’ve heard a saying that goes something like “music is the sound between the notes” and I think that this captures a lot of my job.

My job is, at its best, when the horse and I are happily, peacefully and quietly walking around in circles. It is peaceful when we are doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, doing it quietly and until we reach the end. I am investing a good deal of attention and energy into being aware of these moments – watching for them little gems, noting when the sun is shining, soaking in the velvety calm of the happy & relaxed horse, and feeling grateful when we’re just “humming our happy tune”.

Vuelta por Vuelta.

More soon!

Day 8: I feel like a vampire

9pm – the witching hour is real

Boston Scones – one of my barn faves.

Hi Friends!

Every day that I am at my new & very part-time new job as a hot walker, I think about the lessons I am learning and the observations I want to share… and I look forward to sitting here at my laptop to share them…

And then, suddenly, it’s 9pm and my brain stops working, I can’t focus or even finish posting my daily pics on Insta. It’s a wall that takes no prisoners, and even as I type this I am on borrowed time. It struck me today as I was enjoying a chat with a new acquaintance while waiting for my pizza at 8pm that I was starting to look at my clock, racing the minutes to get home, to eat dinner, to try to post or write, and get in bed before 9. The analogy that popped to mind was the vampire racing to get “home” before the sun comes up and he or she turns to dust.

I feel you vampires, I really do!

The Why – i.e. Why am I doing this?

This is the topic I’ve wanted to write about, soonest, because it’s the question I’m asked most often. (And on an unrelated note, I’m going to try to get myself to write more “single-topic” short posts, so I can keep up over the days ahead – wish me luck.). So, just to get this rolling – here it is;

To Learn

To Be Helpful

To Grow/ Test Myself/ Prove My Capacity

To Experience Life through a Different Perspective

Can’t wait to ruminate on each of these… but for tonight, I’m going to try my new short form approach. And to add in a few photos.

List of Names to Thank

  • Amira – my boss, for giving me this opportunity to learn & help & grow
  • Robert, Tito, Reena and Matt – the squad
  • Dave – NYRA Security (and Tracy too)
  • Maria – hiring me to walk in afternoons
  • Alfonso – took me under his wing for my first walk in the afternoon
  • Amado – 2nd groom to take me to the paddock in the afternoon, and even invited me to join him tomorrow (only daughter is Katia, 20)
  • Emilio – Linda Rice’ hot walker (gave me a hash brown)
  • Luis – Vet for our Shed Row
  • Keith – 3rd groom to take me to the paddock in the afternoon, cool as a cucumber through our unfortunate series of events with Sea City
1st Day Walking to the Paddock – Licensed and ready!