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March 18, 2014

Getting Carried Away

Even my dog, Kieran, thinks Ocala is grand. Photo by Sara Lieser

My first morning in Ocala did a lot to ease my fears and doubts about the usefulness of this trip.

As I walked to the barn at 6:45, warm air tickled my face. I quickly shed my jacket and gloves. After spending the last several months adding layer after layer before facing the cold, I felt renewed, reborn in the gentle, humid air.

Joshua clearly felt the same way. Despite half a tube of Gastrogard, he wanted little to do with breakfast and everything to do with OUT. So I turned him out in his enormous paddock and watched with trepidation to see how he’d get along with his new pasture-mates.

He barely spoke to them. Instead, he took off around the field’s perimeter, first doing laps at the gallop, then canter, then trot. He stretched his legs, admired the green grass that he hadn’t seen in several months and generally exuded happy playfulness. It’s sometimes odd for me to step off a plane after a few hours and find myself in a completely new climate and setting.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to be a horse, ride in a vibrating, moving box for 14 hours, spend the night in a strange barn, and then find yourself in an entirely new location and season. Fortunately, I don’t think most horses are deep thinkers.

To be honest, I spent most of my first day in Ocala inside. After helping with morning chores, I returned to my tiny apartment and fired my laptop up. I’m not, after all, on holiday. I still have to work and be available via the Internet.

In fact, because I was so concerned with Josh in the morning, I’d made no time to buy any food since arriving. So I subsisted on the bag of clementines I’d brought along until the workday was done. And I decided I could shower using a clean horse towel, since I’d neglected to bring any for me.

But I did manage to sneak outside to watch my trainer, Sara Kozumplik Murphy, ride with Linda Zang. Canter, half-pass, counter-canter, repeat. Her mount’s glossy coat reflected the sunshine. Our dogs frolicked on the grass (and created some “atmosphere” for her ride). I could’ve watched dressage lessons all day.

It was a bit painful to return to work that afternoon. From my little loft I could hear all the sounds of the barn below me. Horses banging their doors for meals and turnout. Dogs barking. The farriers, talking and playing music. “Do you like Ozzy?” “Sure!”

The barn calls to me, tempting me to put my computer away and spend my days outside, riding, grooming, feeding, cleaning tack. It’s easy to forget how the all-consuming barn life can be, that it can sometimes leave you bitter or numb at day’s end. I imagine myself doing chores in the sweet sunshine, then riding a few before watching riders far better than me school their mounts.

But that’s not what the job is really like. I’ve been down that road before. The office, whether it’s truly the office or just my laptop and me in a quiet space, makes me a happier person than a full-time horse job. The horses take their toll, physically and emotionally. I need to remember this trip is a treat, not a career move.

Every so often, we feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We're just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. A graduate "C-3" from Penobscot Pony Club (Maine), Sara Lieser spent a year working for Denny Emerson before attending Amherst College (Mass.) and is now learning the sport from the ground up by training her own horses. She and her husband, Eric, share their 20-acre farm with one dog, two cats, and an ever-changing number of horses.  

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