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March 14, 2014

Setting Off On An Ocala Adventure

Look! No blankets! Ocala, Fla., is awfully nice in March.

When my trainer and friend Sara Kozumplik Murphy first suggested I come to Ocala, Fla., in 2014, I thanked her but figured it was just one of those things people say to be conversational.

“Oh, when are you going south this winter? Where are you going and how long are you staying?” I’d gotten used to letting them know that I’d be braving the cold in Virginia. I mean, I’m from Maine. I’ve got winter riding gear. I’ll manage, and I’m not trying to get to the Olympics anyway.

But when she brought it up again and offered to help me make it happen, I decided to float the idea by my husband. I’d certainly brought it up before, but he’d let me know that until I was getting ready for a two-star, I could stay home. Completing a one-star last fall with Joshua did not make us two-star bound this spring. However, to my surprise, Eric did not immediately forbid me to go. He didn’t love the idea, but he allowed that he probably wouldn’t divorce me.

(My husband is the most supportive horse-husband one could imagine. He frequently grooms for me at shows, cheerfully takes care of the horses when I’m out of town, and has told me that if horses make me happy, he wants me to keep doing what I’m doing.)

Then it was time to bring it up at work. Again, it wasn’t an issue. Would I have wireless? Could I call in for meetings? Go ahead, work from wherever you like.

(Am I lucky or what? When I started at the Chronicle, it was strictly 9-5, but between more modern management and wireless Internet becoming available everywhere, we’ve gained incredible flexibility. Not a privilege to be taken lightly!)

I’ve been saying, “I’m going to Ocala this winter” like a mantra to get me through the worst Virginia winter I’ve encountered in living in this fair state for 10 years. I’ve held onto this idea, repeated it to myself hoping that if I only said it enough, it would come true.

And so it did. On Sunday, March 2, I rolled down my dirt driveway at 5:15 a.m., with dog as my co-pilot and my off-the-track Thoroughbred Joshua in the trailer. I’d spent the day before packing…and crying.

Someone should remind me that a full body clip is an emotionally fraught experience that requires drugs for both horse and human.

Somehow everything got done. There was enough feed and hay for three weeks away. My tack wasn’t clean, but it was packed. I had clothes for riding, clothes for showing, and clothes for going out on the off chance that might happen. My husband even got up at 4 a.m. to make me breakfast and tea and kiss me goodbye.

I’d been dreading the 14-hour drive, but it turned out OK. Book 1 of the Divergent trilogy was so riveting I almost resented it when my friends called to make sure I was still alive. I did reap the results of my giant cup of tea—stopping every two hours to pee. I also couldn’t resist the magnetic pull of Bojangles for lunch. So delicious. So greasy.

But I pulled into the Florida ag station in the daylight and presented Joshua’s paperwork. After what seemed like an extensive inspection of my documents, the officer gave Joshua himself a cursory glance and sent me on my way.

I rolled into Longwood at 8 p.m., about an hour later than I’d hoped, but otherwise fine. Joshua was a little shaky coming off the trailer, but he walked it off, had a long drink in his stall, and happily settled in for the night.

My apartment is about a quarter-mile walk away, over another barn at this fabulous facility. The good points include its convenience and the fact that it’s equipped with air conditioning and wifi. Air conditioning! Which I turned on!

The drawbacks include the spiral staircase, which is so narrow and winding that my dog can’t get down unaided. Oh, and the fact that the roof slants so steeply that I can only stand fully erect on the edge of one side of the room. I’ve hit my head too many times to count already.

But as I settled down to some microwaved leftovers brought from home and compared the weather forecasts for the two states: Florida in the 60s and 70s for the foreseeable future, Virgina about to have a snowstorm followed by temps hovering around zero, I knew I’d made the right choice. 

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.