One year of horse ownership

Building a Relationship

On November 3rd, 2018, I drove to Oregon to buy Navani and bring her home. Though I’d been told she trailer loads, this turned out not to be the case:  it took a grueling three hours to convince her to board. She’d step up on the ramp with her two front hooves and then fly backwards, rearing up, always coming within fractions of an inch of smashing her skull on the trailer roof.

The deed was only finally accomplished with the use of a lip chain, a much harsher method than I would have ever wanted to employ, and not the greatest start to our relationship. If she hadn’t loaded then, if she had continued to fight until the chain drew blood, if she had to be dragged onboard, I would have asked for my check back and left with an empty trailer. Any horse who fights that hard not to go with me is not my horse. I’m certain it didn’t help that the entire family was there, one of them practically sobbing into her mane as the bill of sale was signed.

As it was, the sedative administered to last her the entire trip home had worn off before we even pulled out of the driveway. Thankfully, once she was on board, she rode quietly. When we unloaded her that evening, again she rushed backwards out of the trailer and it was only my desperate grip on the rope that kept her from hitting her head, but it was done. She was home. I had a horse.

Navani belonged to the same family since she was a yearling. Every formative experience she ever had was with them. Her life has revolved around them. From day one, I was less her new friend than her captor. I spent hours in her stall, talking to her and grooming her, giving her treats,  trying to convince her that though things were going to be different for her now, different doesn’t mean bad. Indoctrinating her into the cult of me. Fifteen days later, we had our family photo session for our “look we got a horse” holiday card. In many of the photos, her expression is concerned, her body language tense, ready to flee. I chose one where she merely appeared alert, joining the proud tradition of cards that paint a slightly-too-rosy tint over the facts.

All horses are individuals, of course, but there are shared traits among species, breed, and gender. Ask an equestrian which they prefer, geldings or mares, and be prepared to pull up a chair and sit awhile. I don’t know how much of it is true and how much is misogyny disguised as horsemanship. “Geldings do what they are told, mares are challenging.” “Mares are crazy, I’d never want a mare.” “Geldings are consistent. They’re the same every day. Mares go in heat, they change.” “Geldings are dull; a mare can give you more. You get the trust of a mare and she’ll give you everything. She’ll walk through fire for you.”

Getting that trust takes time. In late December, Navani realized she forgot to give me anything for Christmas and so to commemorate how she felt about our special relationship, gave me a hard fall. I hit the ground so resoundingly that my friend heard the thud from across the arena. I struggled to do anything but lay flat on my back for a week; when I moved I had the distinct feeling my right side was caving in. Three weeks later, I was back in the saddle. 

At her first bodywork session (basically horse massage), the bodyworker asked me what my favorite thing about Navani was, and I really struggled to answer. Our relationship was challenging. It took weeks to convince her to do something as simple as entering the crossties to be groomed. Just like the trailer, she’d back up and threaten to rear. She took food aggressively. On walks, she’d yank me around like the proverbial 1100 pound gorilla who eats whatever she wants, mash my feet, and knock me around. She’d give me as little of her attention as she conceivably could when on the ground and while riding. She was squirrely to ride, weaving around, being avoidant, and dangerous when she’d get scared and take charge. She made it very clear that in a life or death situation, my survival was inconsequential. “My favorite thing? Her, ah..little goatee,” I managed weakly. 

For a good long while, it was less a dream come true than hard, awful, and hideously expensive, with enough hits of brilliant, wonderful, best-thing-I’ve-ever-done dopamine to keep me going. For months, we’d been working on sitting trot, wherein the division of labor is such that she jogs around with me on her back and I just try not to bounce around too much. (And now you know why I buy my horse massages: guilty conscience.) So often in these sessions she felt like a cannon ready to go off; the gentle calf squeeze that signals the transition from walk to trot would cause her to react like I’d spurred her with a Jackie Chan kick because we needed to escape a jet-powered T-Rex. She would launch into a rushy, shitty trot like she was urgently needed in orbit and didn’t have time for any outside opinions. During many of these trots, she felt tense, she would lock up mentally*, occasionally grabbing the bit and zagging out from underneath me, a sickening rollercoaster-like sensation where I would have a moment to hope that my body would continue to travel in the same direction as hers, either naturally or by sheer force of will.  There were enough incidents to make me apprehensive about riding. “This is a hard season” the horsepeople said. “It’ll be better in a couple of months.”

What I’ve learned about horses from a year of being around horsepeople:

Fall: “The weather starts getting crisp, the wind picks up. That makes horses go crazy.”
Winter: “It’s cold, they’re pent up, getting less exercise. That makes horses go crazy.”
Spring: “Hormones are surging, it’s new grass, full of sugar. That makes horses go crazy.”
Summer: “Flies are biting, there’s more activity on the trails. That makes horses go crazy.”

As a horse person, you start obsessing about the weather, the conditions that might help or hinder your ride, how much time you have before the sun sets. You become, almost against your will, an outdoorsperson. 

If you poke around in the horse world, often when someone is having issues with a horse, they’ll refer to “bitting up”; i.e. using a harsher or more severe mouthpiece to apply more force to the horse, to assert more control. Every person who owns and rides a horse will find their own line with regards to equipment. I have never felt comfortable using a bit, and for her part, Navani would resist being bridled but felt very comfortable taking the bit and going as she pleased. On my evaluation visit, I watched their trainer ride her and noted two things in particular: that she was being ridden with a lot of contact with the bit, and her lower lip was flapping, an indicator that she was nervous or uncomfortable or both.

Coercing my horse to open her mouth so I could put a piece of metal in there to assert control doesn’t feel good. I don’t think it felt good to her, either, or she wouldn’t toss her head up to avoid it. I’m also not a huge fan of a lot of contact with the mouth, especially if it’s not necessary, and in mounted archery, I’ll have no contact with her mouth as my hands will be busy with a bow and arrows.

So around the eight month mark, I started using a bitless crossunder bridle, and incidentally, that was when things started to take a turn for the better. From the very first time, she went so well in it that feels unnatural to use anything else. Instead of fighting the bridle, she now puts her nose in when it’s offered to her. She responds to lighter aids. She’s less spooky and snorty on our trail rides. She’s less spooky in general, less likely to duck and run, more likely to listen to me when I tell her that she has no cause for concern. She and I feel more like a team. I recently convinced her to load into a trailer in under a minute. 

I don’t give sole credit to the bridle but I do think that its use dovetailed beautifully with the months of consistent work and training I’d been doing, including all the trot work. We’d done all that trotting for myriad reasons: to help her build fitness and protect her back, to school speeds within the trot, to help me regain confidence after the fall and prepare for the mounted archery clinic I attended, and, as always, to help me become a better rider** and better partner to Navani. I have hope someday we’ll be able to go completely bridleless.

 

Things are clicking for her in other areas, too; the other people who handle her have all come to me separately recently to tell me that they can tell I’ve been working with Navani on her ground manners because she’s not barging them around anymore, either. I’ve been talking to her the whole time. I think it’s only recently that she’s started to believe I’m worth hearing. 

The People

I don’t own enough land to keep my horse at my home. Navani would mow down my back yard to the dirt within a few days, only the high rock content of the soil would keep it from turning into a mud pit, and my neighbors with the roosters and turkeys would finally get a taste of their own medicine as she’d blast calls across the neighborhood, looking for other horses. After she got bored of destroying my ornamental plants, she’d knock out at least one of the supports for my raised deck and then knock down my fence and rampage about the greenbelt. I would love to be able to wake up and look out of my window and see my horse but it’s not feasible now, which means I have to board her. 

When you board a horse at a barn, your experience with your horse is intrinsically tied to the other people boarding there. It’s rare to have the facilities to yourself, and if the other people around are inconsiderate or unpleasant, it negatively influences your horse interactions because instead of quietly building a bond with your animal like you want, you’re forced to make small talk with an asshole. I’m so grateful every day that all the other boarders are such wonderful people who support one another like family. If the barn environment had been different, if people had been snide or gossipy, I don’t know if I would have made it through the hardest parts, when I’m already fighting the Seattle drizzle and depression and grief and daylight savings and the kind of cold that chills me to the bone and mud and her attitude and my attitude and… 

Because this was a need-to-sell not a want-to-sell situation, Navani’s former owners are still heavily invested in her in a way that I find unsettling and boundary-violating. We conducted a transaction. Why does it follow that we have to be in each other’s lives after that? They’ve sent messages asking me to post more photos of her, they’ve tried to befriend my friends, there’s been an endless stream of borderline condescending or insulting comments or training suggestions. “Her weight actually looks good!” “Navani told me she wants you to buy her such-and-such.” Aside from being annoyed that she is intimating that she’s having conversations with my horse, the audacity of telling me the things she thinks I should buy by couching them as my horse’s suggestion! 

There’s also a previous rider who until very recently still had a crowdfunding page up to buy my horse, referring to her as her heart horse and her soulmate. She friend requested me on social media almost immediately after I purchased Navani, and I just let the request hang because although it felt petty and chickenshit to directly refuse my recent livestock acquisition’s soulmate’s desperate plea to stay in touch across the miles, I also didn’t feel like I owed this complete stranger access to my entire life, which I write very sincerely and hypocritically, publicly on the Internet. She followed Navani on Instagram for a time, “liking” all the photos except the ones I was also in. Which is fine of course; we’re not friends. 

I have really struggled to reconcile the things they have told me about their experience with her and my experience with her. For example, they claimed online that she is such a compassionate horse that once when her rider became unbalanced, she fell to her knees to prevent her from falling off. But they also told me in person that if I was going to hit her, I should just not hit her on the face, because it makes her rear. Even now with our vastly improved relationship, I cannot imagine this horse ever falling to her knees to protect me, which seems unfair to me since I don’t hit her at all much less hit her on so many places of her body that I can figure out which places really upset her. 

The Expenses

Owning a horse is horrendously expensive. Less so than having a child in daycare, but nothing to sneeze at. Monthly board, farrier visits every six to eight weeks, tack purchasing, maintenance (this includes having a saddle fitter out a couple times a year to adjust and flock), and replacement, chiropractic, acupuncture, bodywork, feed supplements, unguents and creams for skin soothing and hair conditioning, sprays to repel flies and thrush and dust, special tools to scrape crap out of hooves and parasites off of legs, nets to control food intake, vet visits (all with an extra “showing up” fee that you can only avoid by hauling your horse in, which would necessitate owning a truck and a trailer and all their attendant maintenances) for shots, tooth care, bi-annual turd analysis and any lameness or illness needs, lessons and clinics…

I haven’t even gotten into stuff for me yet, but a decent pair of winter riding pants and a new pair of paddock boots to replace the ones that are currently falling apart after two years of use will set me back over three hundred dollars. Plus now I need a new helmet since I hit my head on my most recent fall and safety dictates that a helmet is only good for one impact. Navani is jet black because she is a black hole for every dollar I’ve ever thought about having.

TL;DR

My first year with a horse has flown by, and the difference between the horse she was then and the horse she is today in both temperament and condition is as stark as night and day. The changes in me have been nearly as radical. I can’t wait to see where we are at this time next year.

 

*Pretty much exactly what my December accident looked like, except I was consistently saying turn left…turn left…TURN LEFTTURNLEFTFORTHELOVEOFGODTURNLE–
**My next goal is to become a strong enough rider to be able to do one of the Ride Egypt vacations, but as of publication, Navani’s canter is still unbalanced and a bit scary to ride so it’s not something I’ve tried much. It’s a big dream.

Night Market: The Flavors of a Friendship, Sugar and Nine Spice

I first met Beth on a train platform in Taipei. I was eighteen and she had just turned seventeen and we each knew we were meeting “the other American” in the large group of exchange students from around the world who would be spending the next year there, living in the homes of strangers we were to call our parents. We’d each just recently arrived, and I was nervous that she wouldn’t like me and nervous I’d be recognized for the imposter that I was in equal measure.

An imposter is what I felt like: I coasted through school with ease, and the parts that weren’t easy, I relied on my social ties with my smarter or more studious peers to pull me through. Frequently lamented in progress reports and report cards was my inability to apply myself; a fair criticism. Between the stress of my home life,  my after school and weekend job, and my desperate need to be liked by my peers, I took relief where I could get relief, at school, by doing the bare minimum that would get me the grade that would avoid repercussions at home. I did thoroughly apply myself to one area: telling authority figures what they wanted to hear, and I used that skill to carry me almost seven thousand miles away, to this train platform, with assurances that I was eager to learn the language, embrace the culture, and be an ambassador of sorts for the United States. I wanted to do those things well but what I really wanted was what the Rotary leaders had promised over and over again: the best year of my life. I wanted it and I was interested in any country that was willing to take me in and let me have it. At that time, we were required to buy an open-ended airline ticket, a ticket where your arrival date is set but your departure could be any date within a year of purchase, the better to be wielded by the program managers as a “behave or we’ll send you home” cudgel.

The nature of the ticket weighed heavily in my mind when I first met Beth. I was intimidated by her: she seemed much too cool and smart to possibly want to be my friend, and likely able to see right through my bullshit, and she could end the best year of my life before it could properly begin. But instead we went shopping and took sticker pictures together and ate food and became friends. Later, Beth confessed to me that she didn’t know if she’d like me at first because I was too pretty. I laughed–she had my number, all right. 

Our year was the last year the Taiwanese Rotary had all the exchange students together in a group: we had bonded together too much, they said, to the exclusion of making local friends. Of course we formed strong ties with one another; we were all teenagers going through a similar experience that was vastly dissimilar to our home lives. We were all schooled in Mandarin together, spending hours learning our bo-po-mo-fos and yi-er-san-sis, concluding our month of all day lessons by putting on a play. There were more exchange students than high schools, so even after we were split apart from the larger group, we still had familiar faces around which was crucial because the regular high school students were too busy striving toward college to have time for anyone still struggling with their Chinese ABCs. While all the exchange students had this experience in common to bond over and our individual friendships were based on personality, we also fractured along country lines, making Beth and I unquestionable allies and lifelong friends. We were American and that meant something, even though in the age of George W. we did occasionally pretend to hail from elsewhere so people wouldn’t ask us questions about our stupid president (2019: “Hold my beer.”). From elsewhere, together. That year was hard and all the exchange students clung together to survive it as we were used as pawns in subtle social games we didn’t understand while we navigated young adulthood and homesickness and culture shock and quasi-independence, and all of its assorted BIG feelings. Of course we bonded.  

So it wasn’t the best year of my life (how sad it would be to assume I could have none better in store ahead?) but I did make some of the best friends of my life, first and foremost Beth. We were obnoxious foreign tourist teenagers together, we hung around cafes for longer than was socially acceptable together, we shopped together, visited night markets and museums and slept on wooden beds and attended festivals and ate entrails stuffed with offal together. We got tattoos and $3 ear piercings together. We broke all the rules together, Beth lamenting that her host father was a police officer and she was constantly afraid of being caught with alcohol on her breath. We spent hours haunting restaurants that served free diet coke refills, assembling a yearbook which we mass photocopied in 7-11. We obsessed and laughed about things that German student Max deemed “a little bit stupid”. 

It was hard to go from a year of intense togetherness to being separated by thousands of miles, me in California and Beth in Pennsylvania, and though we kept in touch online, it was not the same. The best time I had in my tumultuous semester at Drexel was when Beth came to visit. I was overjoyed when over ten years later, her work brought her to Seattle and we could be in-person friends again. We spent a lot of time together, visiting museums, going to shows, taking tours, walking and talking for hours. 

Beth was more than cool: she was funny, and vivacious, and kind. At my bridal shower, Beth gave me a turquoise bud vase and told me that she’d been at a conference where the artist was selling them but the attendees assumed they were free and walked off with all of them, and that she felt so badly for the artist that she bought a vase whenever she saw them. That’s the kind of person Beth was, in her life, in her advocacy for causes she believed in, in her work as a nurse: thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic. She was a better friend to me than I have been to anyone, and she was that way with everyone. 

Last year, Beth died following a battle with kidney disease. Attending the memorial service felt useless, mingling with people she knew whom I’d never met in a part of the country where we shared no history. What comfort could these strangers take from me or I from them? I briefly entertained the idea of a return to Taiwan, with or without any of our mutual far-flung companions, but when I used Google maps to try and find the building in which my second host family lived and a point of reference to my favorite beef noodle soup shop, I couldn’t recognize anything. It’s been twenty years in a major metropolitan area: of course it’s different. I didn’t know what I hoped I would find there, the thing that would give me closure, that would help me accept her death.

So instead I went with mutual friends to a night market, to honor her memory by sharing the flavors of our past and a little bit of the unsavory carnival element inherent to the night market. The ones I visited in my youth were certainly seedier. They were places that sold bootleg CDs and DVDs, shots of snake blood, counterfeit designer goods, junky jewelry, a variety of marital aids and they just happened to also have food. This one caters more to foodies and families and also sells some other uncompelling crap: junky jewelry, special effects contact lenses*, thin onesies, stickers and some as-someone-has-seen-on-TV.  Things for which the night market is just a short stop on their inevitable journey to a landfill. The vibe was right. 

I felt it was important to take a group photo together, as taking photos together was one of our primary hobbies in Taiwan. It’d be even better if there were a few purikura booths** but handing my camera to a complete stranger is fine, too. 

I first experienced stinky tofu (臭豆腐) shortly after my arrival to Taipei; my host family took me to enjoy this “special taste” within days, as if they were afraid someone else would feed it to me first and they’d miss their chance at seeing my reaction. It was a simpler time, there wasn’t as much on TV, and watching your exchange daughter gag on the creamy garbage smell of cho-doufu was an entertaining diversion. Cho-doufu is tofu that’s been fermented in brine made from other fermented things in an unholy multiplication of stank alchemy. This tofu, puissant with odorifiousness, is then deep fried to put a crispy skin on its wobbling innards. In the second neighborhood I lived in, an enterprising vendor would make his rounds, pushing  his fry cart down the street, the wafting scent curling into people’s homes as he called out “cho! doufu” over and over again. He could have saved his voice: the smell is unmistakable. Twenty years later at a night market halfway around the world, the smell and its remembered associated taste could still make me shudder and my stomach flip-flop.

Cheese tonkatsu poutine: pork patty stuffed with cheese, breaded, and deep fried, served on a bed of french fries and green onions. A fan of anything stuffed with cheese, I was hyped to try this. Pro tip: find somewhere to sit, dump out that searing lake of cheese onto the fries and then stuff those cheesy fries back into the empty meat shell. You’re welcome.

On hot, sticky days together in Da’an Forest Park, we’d occasionally visit a shaved ice vendor who would load up a mountain of fluffy shaved ice with rivers of condensed milk and piles of chopped fruit, red beans, and tofu pudding. My favorite was ripe, fragrant mango. This drink from icy bar with its bubbles and jellies was refreshing and evoked a similar experience.

What are the six extra Ds beyond the mundanity of the mere three that people usually experience? Best guess: danger, dinosaurs, divestment from money…disappointment? That’s still two entire Ds unaccounted for. I’m going to venture that the disappointment is deep and all of these dimensions combined with a bunch of deep fried whatever could conceivably cause dry heaves. Disgorgement: that’s the word I’m looking for.

 

There’s so much food at the night market that everyone found something appealing, whether that was a chicken cutlet the size of a car tire or fish shaped pancake stuffed with custard. I got to share dragon beard candy with almost everyone, a pillow of fluffy strands of sugar around a core of chopped sweet peanut, black sesame, and coconut, dusted with more sugar that puffs around your mouth like smoke when eaten, the strands clinging to your face in a beard of sugar. Laborious to make with a freshness window of less than ten minutes, it’s very sweet and the texture is a bit like biting into a cotton ball. A nostalgic cotton ball. 

We found a table and wrapped our evening with gelato, flavors like tangy White Rabbit (Chinese milk candy), punchy yuzu, and nutty, roasty black sesame eddying into the bottom of our cups. In sharing this experience with our friends, Beth felt more present in my life than she has since her death. It didn’t lessen the ache but reminded me why I ache, why I loved her and love her still. Beth lives in the past now. I know where to find her.

 

 

 

 

*The very last place I’m going to put something sketchy is directly on my eyeball, thank you very much.

**I don’t know how they haven’t taken off in the USA yet but they’re like snapchat filters and stickers rolled into one and they can only have gotten better in the last twenty years.

Burning Beast 2019

“Welcome to the world’s best feast in a field!” Held annually at Smoke Farm in Arlington, Washington, and organized by chef Tamara Murphy, Burning Beast celebrates all things carnivore, inviting chefs to compete with one another for the title of Ultimate Beastmaster glory and a plaque with a skull on it. Each chef is assigned a protein, but it’s up to them how to prepare it to stand out from their peers and win the accolades of the 500 hungry attendees. 

This was the first year I was able to get my hands on tickets (they typically sell out in minutes and though I purchased my tickets in a harried frenzy, this year they appeared to still be available on the date of the event itself), and I was eager to experience the beefy bacchanal for myself. The chefs generally arrive the previous day, camping at the site and preparing for the event. Ticketholders are invited in at 3pm, with the dinner bell ringing at 5pm or thereabouts. As ticketholders arrive, they’re handed a menu for the evening and a station at which to start.

The lineup:

  • Chicken, Jack Timmons of Jack’s BBQ
  • Beef, Michelle Pegues of Carnivore
  • Rabbit, Jesse Smith of Smith & Coleburn
  • Octopus, Tana Mielke of Votano Hellenic Tavern
  • Goat, Tamara Murphy of Terra Plata
  • Filipino Pinakbet, Melissa Miranda of Musang
  • Turkey Tails, Dylan Giordan of Piatti
  • Catfish, Dana Neely of Girls Gone BBQ
  • Beef Tongue, Mike Easton of Il Nido
  • Pig, Adam Hoffman of Adam’s Northwest Bistro & Brewery
  • Duck, Robert Killam of Bread and Circuses
  • Grilled Corn & Eggplant, Mutsuko Soma of Kamonegi
  • Ram & Ewe, John Sundstrom & Rosie Cisneros of Lark
  • Salmon, Sadie White of Staple & Fancy
  • Lamb, Tristan Chalker & Mollie Turner of Salish Lodge

 

We arrived around 3pm and spent some time wandering the grounds: walking to the river, checking out the creative ways chefs were preparing their dishes: roasted on a spit, buried underground, strapped to a rack above a cinder block pit with a vintage chrome car grill mounted to the front. Above it all loomed The Beast, a giant plywood coyote that would be set ablaze at the end of the day’s festivities. 

Our chairs were parked near some Burning Beast veterans (whom we’d both worked with indirectly at some point in the past: games are a 135B industry with a teeny-tiny social circle) who’d helpfully explained to us how it was all going to go down. All too soon, the bell rang. I was to start at the salmon, and Jason with the lamb. I had seen the salmon cooking on posts, the accompanying bread grilling on a grate over hot logs and I was definitely ready to put it in my mouth. The sole dish that I knew I would not be queuing up for was the octopus, as I personally feel it’s unethical to eat them (too smart, no bargain with humanity), but that left me with a whopping 14 other dishes to try. 

The lines were huge but moved snappily, and once you’ve visited your starter station, you’re free to select a line at will, with many people choosing to eat the dish they got from the previous chef while waiting in the next line. I personally found the food to be a mixed bag. The salmon was sadly unremarkable, nigh-flavorless and wetly lumped on a piece of bread so hard and cracker-like it was difficult to bite through. While cleansing my palate with the lamb dish, I then entered the line for the rabbit tinga tostada, but when I got to the front of the line and saw that the dish was cilantro city, with a cilantro tortilla and a cilantro queso fresco, I passed owing to my passionate distaste for the herb that tastes like chewing on soapy tinfoil and declared it was duck season instead.

The duck wings were deboned and stuffed with a mixture of chicken and pork along with what appeared to be glass noodles and served with a side of pickled veggies and were excellent, one of the standouts of the day. 

“Who wants a rib?” I eagerly volunteered, accepting what I thought would be a pretty special morsel that turned out to be…not, when the meat on the bone was slippery and chewy, but not chewable. 

The catfish was perfect, flaky and crisp and somehow fried on a barbeque grill, because Dana Neely is a chef, and I suspect, a wizard. The catfish got my vote for Best of the Beast: it was just that magical.

I also tried the turkey tails, which is a part of the turkey that I had never eaten nor heard of before. It turns out to be a gland that attaches the turkey tail to the body and is filled with oil that the bird uses to preen itself: fatty, delicious, and the USA mainly exports theirs to the Pacific Islands. Dylan Giordan cooked his turkey tails on cast iron skillets above the fire until they were crisp and golden and delightful.

While watching the chefs cook, I did occasionally wonder how the amount of food they were cooking was intended to feed 500 people, but assumed the chefs knew better how to dial in the correct amount so that everyone would get to try everything. This assumption was incorrect and items that ran out early included the tuscan beef, the pinakbet, and the corn, that last which, unlike having to slice off 1/500th of a side of meat, seems countable. I was only able to try seven dishes before I tapped out, and maybe chefs take stomach capacity into their calculations, too,  but running out of food early makes ticketholders have to play a game of weighing what they think will be most popular so they don’t have an option taken from them and/or encourages them to pound down their food as fast as possible. It feels both in-line and out of line for the event: it’s first and foremost a feast, primal, meat and flame, but so many chefs cook with a nose-to-tail mentality and with sustainability in mind that eating as much as you can as fast as you can feels like it runs counter to that ethos.

Still: stomachs were filled, votes were cast, the circle was cleared, and the beast set afire, howling smoke and then jets of fire at the sky, finally collapsing into a flaming pile as people danced and digested and the sun set. 

I’ll give you $10 for the lightbulb hut.

Mmm, Beast Butter. 

Salmon

Ram & Ewe

Goat

Tuscan beef

Chicken by Jack Timmons. Last year he took the trophy with his brisket and told me that if you win, next year you get assigned chicken. His chicken was bathed in mole for tacos, with a small snowy mountain of cheese.

Catfish 

Turkey tails