Friday, October 20, 2006

Killer Chairs and Concerts

It was quite an industrious day today that ran the full gamut, from encountering killer chairs on horseback to rocking along with "Two Dog Night" at Epcot.

Last night, I was chained to my computer because we had just gotten home from Disney cruise #53, and I had a lot of work to catch up on. I can do a lot in the internet cafe on board, but there are some things that require my laptop. Thus, after a late night of catching up with online counseling clients and Disney cruise line confirmations for my travel agency, this morning I was ready for a little leisure time.

Because of the cruise, I hadn't ridden my horse, Figment, in a week. Tomorrow is the Trail Obstacle Challenge at Lake Louisa State Park, so I knew that I needed to exercise him today. I headed out to the barn this morning, saddled him up, and turned him loose in the round pen before mounting so he could burn off his excess energy. He ran, kicked, and bucked like a bronco, then settled down for work time.

Most of the obstacles were already set up, although they were roped off so early arrivals couldn't gain an unfair advantage by practicing (besides the locals, there are campers who come out a day early). I figured that it would be good for Figgie to just pass by the obstacles and to get familiar with their location.

The first two didn't phase him; one has been under construction for some time, so he's passed it many times before. However, he did have a mini-meltdown when he saw a round pen set up nearby, with a sawhorse and large water bucket sitting by the fence. I managed to convince him to walk up to it and sniff everything over thoroughly, and he finally decided that no equine-flesh-loving predators were hiding inside.

The other was in the Boy Scout camp area, where he is used to seeing various strange objects like tents, grills, and whatnot, so he didn't give it a second glance.

But he spotted the next one from a good distance away and froze in abject terror. From what I could see, it didn't look all that threatening; there was a numbered sign, two chairs for the judges, and several poles wound with caution tape. Unfortunately, Figment was acting as though a horse-killing devil creature had landed right in front of his nose. I wasn't aware that horses can run backwards, but he showed me that they can indeed! I would get him to go a little ways forward, then suddenly he would freeze and shift into a quick reverse.

This went on for several minutes, and I could tell that we'd probably be there till the trail challenge started the next morning if I didn't take drastic measures. I dismounted him and led him towards the death obstacle so he would see that it didn't devour me alive. It turns out that what he was so petrified of was the two chairs. They were those cheap white plastic chairs that you can get for a few bucks each at Wal-Mart, but apparently they are also extremely toxic to horses. Figment acted as though they were going to rush towards him on their little plastic legs and engulf him in a fatal embrace. He didn't even seem to notice the poles or caution tape off to the side.

I finally convinced him that the chairs were okay by sitting in one and feeding him a carrot. He still looked skeptical, but munching on his favorite treat had a calming effect. I rode him back and forth several times before continuing on down the trail.

Every one of the obstacles had a pair of identifical chairs set up by it. He was a little leery of the next set, but I managed to get him to go up and sniff them, then slipped him a bit of carrot. Soon he caught on to the fact that whenever he saw killer chairs, he would get a reward if he touched them with his nose.

We passed a variety of obstacles; I have no idea what we'll be required to do with most of them tomorrow, but there were various configurations of poles, fences, etc. It looks like there will be things to go over, through, and around, and also potentially something to pick up or drag. I did have to go through one of them: a water crossing. But that won't give me an unfair advantage because Figgie and I have been through that same waterhole dozens of times. It's one of our favorite trails. He's such a silly boy...he loves to splash through the giant puddles.

I hope that by tomorrow, Figment will still remember that chairs are friends, not predators. Things will look quite different, since people will be manning each obstacle and judging the horses' performance. I'm not expecting to win, but rather to simply get him used to new things. Being around large groups of people and horses, and going through all sorts of new, spooky items on the trails is excellent training.

Horses are funny creatures; all his life, Figment has been around heavy equipment so he is very road-safe. He was born next door to a heavy equipment business, and when I bought him, there was one next door to the Chicago boarding barn where I kept him. Now, the people where he lives in Florida have a similar business, and he sees giant trucks, trailers, and Bobcats on a daily basis. Giant noisy, rattling vehicles can pass inches away from him, and he won't bat an eye. But put a couple of plastic lawn chairs in his path and he has a heart attack.

He used to be a little spooky when we would run into trucks and people on the Lake Louisa trails because he wasn't used to seeing humans and vehicles in that environment. Now, he has learned that they might pop up at any time on the trails, so he passes them with a bored yawn. Hopefully he will remember all the strange things that we saw today and treat them as routine when I ask him to get a little closer to them tomorrow.

This evening, after work, we joined friends to head over to Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival...and, more specifically, for the "Three Dog Night" concert. Actually, it's more like "Two Dog Night" if you go by original band members, but it was still a good show.

On the way to the theater, we grazed at various food stands. You can buy little sampler portions of items from various countries at stands located throughout World Showcase. I enjoyed curry and mango soup from Thailand, vegetable strudel and apple strudel from Germany, cheese soup and maple custard from Canada, beef with mango chutney, chicken, and custard cake from South Africa, and sauteed shrimp from my home state of Florida.

By the time we reached the concert line, I was quite full. The portions may be small individually, but they add up quickly to a full meal! We were fortunate enough to get front-row seats for the 7 p.m. show (seating is first come, first served) and rocked along with the two Dogs and their band. They didn't play my favorite, "Out in the Country," but I had figured that they wouldn't because it's one of their lesser-known songs. They did do a couple of obscure tunes, as well as biggies like "Black and White," "Old Fashioned Love Song," and "Joy to the World," and also a hilarious rap version of "Mama Told Me Not To Come."

As we left the park after the concert, I marveled at how cool it is to be able run over to Epcot for a couple of hours and then to head home. When we used to vacation at Disney World, I thought it would be a pain to visit as a local, braving traffic and having to navigate the vast park-lot wasteland (we always stayed at on-site hotels and relied on Disney transportation). And worst of all, I thought it would probably feel mundane vs. being pumped up on the excitement of being on vacation.

Now I know the truth...the excitement is still there. It doesn't matter that I have to work when I get home. Vacation is a mindset as much as it is a physical activity. Living in Celebration, with the theme parks in my backyard, is a sort of permanent mental vacation that makes it easier to work and carry out other humdrum responsibilities because I know that "play" is always close by with no plane ride required.

And speaking of excitement, I should have plenty of that tomorrow. It's time to head off to bed and rest up for the next episode in the continuing drama of "Figment Vs. The Killer Chairs."

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