do it for the chicken!

Hey guys!  So glad I finally have a free moment to let you know what I’ve been up to.  I’ve been in Ocala, Florida since late Thursday night to hang out at the HITS winter horse show.  I’ll leave tomorrow evening, so I’m still going to be able to ride on Monday, as well!

I had an absolute blast.  It’s such a relief to know that I’ve barely skipped a beat after over a month of not riding.  It worked out perfectly—I got to see all the Captivate horses show on Friday and also got to ride Smarty (our gigantic, gray, 8 year old Oldenburg gelding…basically Pegasus without wings), who didn’t show.  Friday night we went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner on my request.  It just doesn’t feel like a horse show unless we get Mexican food!  I gave Lindley her birthday gift (a sweatshirt from Equinox, those amazing gyms in NYC) and her birthday cupcakes, which, miraculously, survived the trip.  It felt like a strange twilight zone, like someone had taken this weird slice out of time and inserted a piece of summer into winter.  Ocala couldn’t be more gorgeous—rolling hills and gigantic trees full of Spanish moss that look like they could be something out of a Dr. Seuss book (especially if you dyed them a different color.  But that may be the case for most things).  Not to mention, a big red barn on a farm with a sign that apparently pointed to a deli, on the same grounds as the tiniest cemetery I have ever seen.  Talk about duende.

On Saturday I had little lessons on both Milo (our grand prix horse) and Smarty, and both of them were angels for me.  I definitely slipped back into the groove of riding even more than I had the day before.  In fact, I’m thinking that all the strength training, running, and stretching I’ve been doing to train for my half marathon, combined with not being able to ride Linus, is evening my body out a bit.  That’s a relief, considering sometimes it seems like the right side of my body and the left side belong to two completely different people.  Speaking of that, I also went for a run in the morning in the fresh air.  As I expected, it was a lot harder to run outside than it has been to run inside, but also completely worth the fresh air, the beautiful sights, and the generous doses of vitamin D I was receiving (basically via IV drip) all weekend.

The show grounds in Ocala are ENORMOUS.  I didn’t pay much attention to the hunter rings, but I do know that there were four jumper rings including the grand prix ring…definitely the biggest show I’ve ever attended.  There’s also a dirt race track encircling a few of the rings where a lot of people will either cool down their horses or gallop them to try to tire them out a bit.  Apparently, Erin attempted to do the latter with Mimi.  It didn’t work.

Saturday night landed us at this cute little restaurant called The Melting Pot (which is, apparently, a chain that I have never heard of), a fondue restaurant.  There’s a fondue pot in the middle of the table that the waiter switches out based on what you order.  We went with a cheese appetizer for dipping little chunks of bread and veggies first.  Then, came our entrées, which were pretty unique.  They bring your meat out raw, and turn the fondue pot on high with a broth of your choice.  You basically cook your own meat with the fondue skewers.  The waiter also brought out a large variety of sauces to try.  Erin was pretty distressed when the waiter shut the lid on our fondue pot while it still contained a few (unwated) pieces of Lindley’s chicken: “The chickens are drowning!!!  Oh my gosh it’s like a burial.”  Of course, if you know me at all, you know I was holding out for the dessert, which was a chocolate peanut-butter fondue and a couple plates of “dippers” (chunks of rice krispie treats, cheesecake, marshmallows, brownies, and fruit).  I went completely nuts.  Erin claimed she had never seen anyone eat that much, and then immediately proceeded to tell me to eat the final marshmallow.  I refused for a moment, the chocolate having long since been devoured, but when Lindley urged “do it for the chicken!” I just couldn’t resist.  Our waiter sent us on our way claiming we should ask for him next year, because he “has a great memory and will definitely remember” us.  Creepy.

I rode Smarty again Sunday morning (I’m sensing a theme here…my mom would probably die of pure joy if Smarty ever turned into my horse) in a hunter warm-up full of entitled amateurs who seem to have never learned the left-to-left rule.  We actually did make it out alive, in time to watch the $50,000 grand prix.  The sun was relentless.  I’m so glad Erin wasn’t in it with Milo—after how overheated he (and all the other horses) got at Traders Point last year, it’s obvious that he’s somewhat sensitive to heat.  I was able to watch part of the prix while munching on some barbeque, thanks to a generous friend of Erin’s who had a couple extra wristbands to the VIP tent.  Most noteworthy part of the prix: there was a twelve-year-old girl in it.  She only had one rail!  She rode better than a lot of the fully grown, experienced professionals did.  Her mom does the prix’s, too, I’ve seen her ride before.  It made me wonder how old she was when she was doing the children’s jumpers, five???  Amazing.  The jump-off was exciting, with a couple inside options.  The technicality of the sport never fails to amaze me.  In most cases, I’d say it’s always fastest to take the fewest steps and make the tightest turns rather than gallop around and lose some handiness.  But Aaron Vale was the first (in this case) to prove that that’s not always true, galloping around a jump instead of inside it to make his approach to the triple bar in the jump-off.  I think he actually saved time because he was able to flow through the turn more, instead of micromanaging it.  Milliseconds count in the jump-off—the first few spots ended up being separated by fractions.  Shaving off a few inches or leaving out one stride can make you or break you.

After the prix we went to a hibachi restaurant for dinner.  I can’t remember the last time I went to one!  My food was absolutely delicious, and there was a TON of it.  I got an eight-ounce filet mignon, salad, soup, a LOT of fried rice, veggies, and noodles for only nineteen dollars, and I’m not talking about small amounts of any one of those things.  I have never in my life received that much food at a restaurant.  Lindley ordered tofu and ended up with six gigantic slabs of it.  Overwhelming, but SO GOOD.  I usually don’t like Asian cuisine, but hibachi definitely has my stamp of approval.  I mean, just look at all that capitalization!

Erin left early Monday morning to go pick up her boyfriend from the airport in Tampa, so I only got to see her briefly when I came down to their room to drop off my stuff.  That morning Lindley rode Larry while I walked Milo around.  Erin warned me not to take him on a hand walk…apparently he tries to roll everywhere and throws a fit if you don’t let him!  Next, I rode Mimi and Lindley rode Smarty.  I wanted to get a ride in on everyone’s favorite femme fatal before I left.  The truth is, I absolutely adore Mimi.  I would love to be her in human form.  She was fantastic for me—a little strong, but that’s no surprise!  The show grounds were a ghost town, which is predictable for a Monday.  Usually, the horses have Monday off, they flat or school on Tuesday, and then they show again on Wednesday.  After cuddling a bit with Milo and Smarty, I had to part with the show grounds and hop in the truck with Lindley to drive to the Gainsville airport.

And that, my friends, is a whole different story.  More to come on my traumatizing journey from Florida back to New York City later.

That trip was the breath of fresh air I needed to really wake me up again (literally).  There’s nothing like deprivation to make you understand what’s truly important in your life.  My time in New York City is teaching me that I never want to go without horses, ever.  Also, that nature is absolutely essential not only to my art, but my soul, as well.  I’m sure a little time in the sun couldn’t have hurt, either.  That’s not to say that I’m not loving New York City—just that, at this point in my life, I’m not thinking it’s going to be permanent.  I would never eat a sandwich on the subway, but I’ll spend an entire day at a horse show and eat one without even thinking about washing my hands.  Still, heading back to New York City felt eerily similar to going back home.  Strange, how quickly things can become familiar.

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