El Derby, mi caballo Larry, y SCUBA

What’s better than horse racing in Chile, my own horse, and learning to breathe underwater?

This is the third time I’ve restarted this blog, because I no sooner write a few paragraphs that I have to stop. ‘This will be an easy semester,’ I once thought. Joke’s on me, because it’s been anything but! For now, I’m sitting in the NDSU Minard Hall coffee shop, enjoying a much-needed coffee after my 8:00 am intro to acting class, writing a fun little read for your Tuesday.

Three things:

  1. El Derby

Bad screenshot, but quite the crowd at El Derby, 2017! Screenshot from Sporting.cl live feed

I’ve had the itch for a while now to write about Chile. In fact, I’ve never missed Chile as much as I did on Sunday, February 5. Memories from last February keep nudging me, reminders of when I was packing my bags to study abroad, oblivious to the challenges I would face and overcome – challenges that created a human of more substance than I was just a year ago.

Sunday the 5th, after a mouth wide open, dead to the world nap on a van back from an IHSA horse show (where I rode and practiced my Spanish by interviewing my teammates and translating their responses), I walked in the door of our house, on a mission to finish homework and return to my sleepy bliss as soon as possible.

Throwing my red duffle bag and orange backpack on the floor, I made some tea and decided I should sit down to study my scuba dive book. I wasn’t even through chapter 2, and my mom and I would be taking the course the following weekend so I could be certified for our spring break trip to Colombia. Tossing our flowered throw pillows aside, I settled cross legged on the couch, tea in hand, and grabbed my phone for a quick scan through Instagram.

Pictures from super bowl parties, shots of the prior day’s Holy Bull Stakes winner Irish War Cry, and videos of the celebrations for El Derby in Chile.

‘Wait a sec, today’s El Derby!’ I called to my mom. ‘I have to bring up the live feed.’


Full of Luck (center chestnut with white blaze), winner of El Derby 2017. Photo courtesy of Felipe Leiva

Whenever I visited a racetrack in Chile, the words “El Derby” almost always came up. Called “El máximo desafio,” or “The greatest challenge” in English, it’s supposedly a sight to behold. Remember my blog about my computer problems? As I sat on a bench outside the crooked computer shop with a Chilean family friend who brought me to have the darn beast fixed, he told me about the history of horse racing in Chile (apparently the oldest sport in the Valparaíso region) and how attending the Derby each year is practically part of the culture, regardless of whether you’re a horse racing fan.


Winners circle scene. Screenshot from Sporting.cl live feed

Established in 1885, making it only 10 years younger than the Kentucky Derby in the U.S., El Derby is run each February (during Chile’s summer) at the Valparaíso Sporting racetrack in Viña del Mar. This is where I spent almost every Wednesday evening and many mornings while studying abroad! While I had hoped to return this year for El Derby or the Gran Premio Latinoamericano, an international race in South America that switches tracks each year and will be run at El Sporting in March, it didn’t work out. So I live streamed it from the couch in our living room. Not quite the same, but sometimes you take what you can get.

The first thing I noticed was the music in the background. This was no regular livestream pop or elevator music. Nope. This was the special Derby song, repeating the words “El Derby” over and over, exclaiming about what a grand spectacle it is and something about being by the sea. The tune is still stuck in my head, and I’m not sad about it. Drone footage zoomed back and forth over the packed grandstands, which had been nearly empty every time I had ever been there.


Full of Luck, the most tolerant racehorse I’ve ever seen… oh, and winner of El Derby! Screenshot from Sporting.cl live feed.

I could spend this entire blog talking about the footage, the oodles of people, the winner, Full of Luck (sired by Lookin at Lucky, who stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in the U.S.) and how patient he stood as photographers and reporters surrounded him, clicking away on their cameras and trying to grab soundbites from the jockey, still seated above them on the colt’s back. Oh, and I’ve met his trainer, Juan Pablo Baeza. Fun fact.

Alas, more about El Derby must be saved for another blog on another day. For now, here’s a replay of the race.

  1. Riding Larry

Every week I have two practices for the riding team, plus I help to feed my own horses and clean their poop (did you know an average 1,000-pound horse produces 50 lbs. of manure perday?!) as often as I can. But there’s nothing as relaxing as riding your own horse, on a beautiful February afternoon. Even when you’re doing something you usually enjoy – such as riding on a team  – it can still get old, lose its luster or become less exciting when you’re doing it simply because you have to. The past couple of weeks, I’ve prided myself on my productivity and how much I’ve packed into my days. It wasn’t until last Thursday night when I got home that I realized how burnt out I was. I was checking off items on my checklist without taking care of ME.

To remedy this, on Friday morning I woke up and did yoga. I went to class because I had to, then I read my scuba book because I wanted to (and because I was starting the course that night). The weather has been so joyful lately. I say it that way because winters in Fargo are dark and dreary and chill you to the bone with their biting wind. So when the temp rises into the 40s and the sun shines, it’s impossible for happiness not to shine from your soul.


Followed by our shadow

I can’t even remember the last time I rode one of my own horses, but whenever it was, I do remember Misty trying to buck me off. I drove home after class, pulled Larry out of the paddock, and enjoyed the day with a brisk trot down the road. Larry, who has a bugle that makes your ears ring if you’re unfortunate enough to be standing next to him when he calls out for the girls, didn’t make a peep. Just bumbled along, picking up right where we left off when I last hopped on him. As we tracked down the gravel road, softened by the melting snow, our hoof prints followed us like bread crumbs that we would retrace when we turned back. An eagle peered down from a tree along the river. I looked away for a few moments, and when my eyes returned to the spot back she was gone. A closer look and I saw her on a different branch, farther downstream.

The day was a reminder that I need self-care. Checklists don’t complete themselves, and it takes a fully rested mind in tip-top shape to get them done. Remember to take care of YOU.

  1. Scuba

My arms and shoulders hurt from swimming. My jaw hurts from gripping a regulator (the object used for breathing) between my lips. Sunday night as I laid in bed trying to sleep, my body still felt like it was swimming. Even after ten hours in a pool learning to set up and use my BCD (buoyancy control device), and a gazillion more in a classroom taking quizzes on scuba skills – over the weekend, mind you, when most college students do nothing but watch Netflix – I couldn’t be more pumped to do my first open water dives when my mom and I travel to Colombia over spring break.

Here’s a video with weird music but awesome footage of scuba diving around San Andrés Island, where I’m going!

My scuba book said a bunch of cheesy stuff about how you’ll never forget the first breaths you take under water… but it’s so true. There was a moment when I was floating at the bottom of the pool, looking up at the surface. I couldn’t believe how loud it was, with the air bubbles from mine and other trainees’ regulators crackling and hissing as they floated up to the surface. I thought water was silent, but far from it. Gurgling, tapping, clanking and swooshing filled my ears that I continually equalized (clearing or blowing air through your plugged nose) from pressure.

Most of all, I marveled at the bubbles floating to the surface. It was like becoming a fish in a tank, looking up at a different world. Actually, I had a strange sense of Deja-vu. I could swear I had a dream once that I was breathing under water. There were bubbles and I felt this strange sensation in my lungs, and yet I was perfectly at ease.

A few fun facts about breathing underwater:

You CANNOT hold your breath while diving! The air density changes as you descend and ascend, and holding your breath can severely injure your lungs from overexpansion. This pertains to breathing compressed oxygen and air density changes. When scuba divers are under water, even without a regulator in your mouth, you must exhale a small stream of bubbles.

Snorkeling: if you hold your breath with a snorkel in your mouth, water does not enter the snorkel, even when it’s fully submerged. This might be a no-brainer to some, but I had no idea, and was nervous when the instructor asked me to hold my breath and go under with a snorkel to practice pike dives. I was afraid water would funnel right into my mouth… but it didn’t! Maybe I’ll even try free diving someday, which is diving without underwater breathing equipment.

Have a wonderful week!


Featured image, top of the page: By Felipe Leiva 

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