Your Turn: One week in Ocala

HN reader Colleen Hofstetter drags her non-horsey buddies on a whirlwind trip to Florida and subjects them to a litany of horsey activities. You’ve got some good friends, Colleen.

From Colleen:

Yes, I have heard and read all about “Slocala” this year, but having received an invitation to spend some time in sunny Florida–close to the capital of the Sunshine State’s eventing community–I said “of course” in a heartbeat!

Slocala–now wait just a minute! Granted, I don’t know anything about the fabled party nights, and had I been here a week earlier I am sure I would NOT have been invited to David O’Connor’s 50th, but I still have to take objection to Ocala’s recent nickname. Ocala has always been a beautiful area, albeit a bit run-down, but all the horses I passed in their quaint paddock–or lush pastures, depending on the farm–seem pretty darn happy basking in the sunshine and cool breezes.

Ocala is two hours from the ocean but I can still sense that ocean feel about the place. How can one walk around the show grounds at Rocking Horse Horse Trials and not take a second to appreciate the hanging moss on the trees shading sandy pathways? Peaceful ponies may take a moment from rolling in the sand to leisurely stroll to the fence line looking for a scratch, or better yet, a treat! I love the ambiance of the area, not to mention this year’s incredible Florida weather. But back to the horse thing… it was great!!!

In one week I watched the Intermediate XC at Rocking Horse and some lower level show jumping; I perused the vendors at HITS (not so interested in hunter classes); sat in on some of the USEF Eventing High Performance training sessions; watched lessons with renowned dressage trainer Linda Zang; shopped at the Winning Edge; and had lunch at the Horse and Hound. Ah, yes: I love the feeling of total horse indulgence!

Rocking Horse I was well-attended and well-run. Additionally, a week before, the inaugural event at Longwood ran to much acclaim and satisfaction. I missed it and would have loved to have seen the well-touted grounds of Longwood, but many riders who attended were thrilled to have another venue added to the area. We did make it to Rocking Horse on Saturday and my non-horsey companions (henceforth known as NHCs) got to see some “famous” riders (or infamous, but we will not go into that!) When they recognized names from my unceasing litany of riders, horses and eventing in general, I realized how much I unconsciously go on and on about the sport! And since said NHCs had only previously accompanied me to prominent venues such as Rolex and the WEG, they saw how eventing really can be a sport for all levels.

To cap it all off there was a fabulous coffee stand on grounds that served wonderful Italian coffee–much appreciated by all us coffee-holics. It was nice to see such happy and healthy horses enjoying their runs on XC. I would say that some of the horses looked a bit unfit, but it was January, early in the season, so let’s give everyone some leeway. My NHCs were a little concerned over some of the heavy breathing from the horses, which does make it a bit harder to defend “Those horses have to run and jump THAT???!!!” Luckily, no major accidents and no major drama (some minor drama), but a beautiful day spent in the sun was had by all. For me, it was a great chance to see some of the notables on their first outings of the season, and I did see some riders who will surely become notable if they keep riding the way they did and their horses stay sound. Love it that now I will have additional rider websites to tap into and new names to stalk on the results pages once I return to the great eventing abyss of my home area! Ha ha!

A few days later we ventured over to HITS… well, what can I say? Acres and acres of horses, stabling, trailers, rings, vendors, kids, adults, dogs, golf carts and trainers leaning against the rail giving the usual hunter advice: Sit up, wait for your fence, look where you are going! You’d better look where you are going as the hunter warm up ring is still as crazy as I remember it from days gone by. However, I also remember there is more to it than meets the eye! The shopping–now that is another story! My debit card was burning a hole in my pocket so of course I had to find SOMETHING to buy, even if I didn’t really need it. Those saddle pads were just calling my name, as well as a few necessaries, but I did refrain from another new bridle that I don’t really need–that is, until I went to the Winning Edge, which happened to be having a one-day sale on bridles! Funny how quickly I could then justify spending the money!

Eventually I did convince my NHCs that we should really go and watch the training sessions at Meredyth South. They were impressed with driving up to the beautiful gates, which automatically swung open for us. Good thing that the gates opened as I would never have had the courage to figure out how else to get into the place. Naturally, the O’Connors’ farm is fabulous! Every horse should live in such understated comfort and safety. Are the barns grandiose and fancy? Not really, but they are airy and very clean–everything neat and tidy of course. A very peaceful atmosphere permeates the farm; the pastures are beautiful. Did I know which horses I was looking at as we passed paddock after paddock? No, I can’t really say I saw Mandiba or Veronica, but I can say that any horse would love to live there!

Unfortunately, our lackadaisical vacation attitude caused us to miss most of the morning riders, but that was OK as we did see someone riding a horse that Captain Mark Phillips was obviously enamored of. He kept saying, “I’ll take him, I’ll take him–he’s not only a four-star horse, he is a five-star horse!” Hmm, I asked myself–could he be shopping for his daughter? Only time will tell. For my NHCs though, there was evident boredom as said horse and rider were working on some very basics: walk-to-trot transitions and trot-to-canter transitions–when asked, not when said very smart horse decided to pay attention and get down to work. A very clever fellow is said horse! We did see Mark get on and ride–the first time I have ever seen him ride and I must say I was impressed. Coaching, course designing and controversy are usually what I associate with CMP, but I must say, the man is a very quiet and nimble rider as well.

As my time in Florida was drawing to a close I got an invitation to watch some friends work with Linda Zang. I should confess that I really didn’t know who Linda Zang was–yes, I have heard the name and a quick check on the net filled me in. This time my NHCs decided to pass, and I was sort of glad they did as I was quite interested in watching lessons emphasizing subtleties and finesse.

Shall I report on Linda’s comments regarding “eventing dressage” teaching and training versus classical dressage teaching and training? Better not as I don’t have permission to quote her. I guess I could sum it up in a word, and the word would be “puzzlement.” I think that is all I should say about my impression of her take on the state of eventing dressage training. Again–just my impression. I watched several lessons and each one was spectacularly different. What an eye that woman has! Position, position, position. Another chance to see learning and application of very basic principles–clear examples of when a foundation is missing solid elements, piece-work and flashes of brilliance will follow, not real connection. Chatting with her husband and minding her two Corgis while she long-lined one rider was also fun, and I did catch a bit of info re: what has been going on with a very famous WEG horse. Ah, the horse world!

So my quick journey to the land of sun and fun of course has to come to an end–back to living vicariously through blogs and web sites! And back to the mild but muddy weather up north. Some people may call it Slocala but I call it… Inspiration-cala!! I can’t wait to get home and ride!!!

About Colleen: My name is Colleen Hofstetter. I am an amateur rider. I have four horses at home. No longer ride competitively but have owned horses that have done quite well in the eventing world.

Event rider Marcea Funk riding in the Linda Zang clinic.

Zang and event rider Sara Kozumplik.

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