Pippa and Rushka enjoy the beautiful Blue Stack Mountains on the
first day of the West Donegal trail
Waking up to a spectacular view after the
first night‘s B&B
Pippa and Rushka make the most of the sunshine after a thrilling
gallop beside the surf
A last look across Gweebarra Bay before turning back inland on the
fifth day of the trail
Busky and Rushka show Pippa (right) and Lucy how to tackle rivers
during the first afternoons
The saddlebags are more waterproof than they look, but do pack in
a double layer of plastic bags
with Rushka and Busky. The farm has 74 horses, so there´s
be one for you
The thing we really must buy, whispered
Lucy, leaning confidentially across the table of Pizza Express
in Covent Garden, is seamless knickers.
A friend told me theyre essential - she got blisters on her bottom
after riding across Scotland because of the seams of her pants. It wasn´t
for Lucy Bretts underwear expertise that l asked her to join me on a riding
holiday in Ireland - but everyone has a hidden talent.
Seven weeks later, I was hoping Lucy might also have closet map-reading
skills. Having arrived at Horse Holiday Farm, near Sligo, the day before,
we were 110W at the start of the West Donegal trail. Tilman Anhold, the
farms owner, delivered us to our starting point.
All right then? he cried, throwing up the lorry ramp.
And with little more than a nod from us, he was gone, leaving me and
Lucy with two horses, eight saddlebags, a map, a list of B&B stopovers
and instructions to follow the yellow brick road - or rather yellow arrows,
this being Donegal, not Kansas, after all. Tilman and Colette Anhold
have been running riding holidays in north-west Ireland for 33 years.
Seventy per cent of their guests return and one Japanese client has been
visiting for l5 years - this year, he turned up without bothering to
I don´t imagine that would worry the Anholds. With 40 guests weekly
at high season, this is a huge operation; the Anholds have 102 horses,
including 74 for guests. If you don‘t get on with the first horse
you try, there´s bound to be one you like. Though once you have
been allocated your horse, he´s yours for the duration. The farm
is relaxed - Irish-style - and Colettes accent is pure Donegal.
But Horse Holiday Farm is a cosmopolitan corner of the Emerald isle -
Tilman is from Germany and his right-hand man, Vitaliy Gladky, is Ukrainian.
Visitors to the farm can choose to follow a trail or stay at the farm
and ride from there. Its stunning location - high on a cliff, looking
over a bay lined with yellow beaches, plus an uninhabited island you
can ride to at low tide - makes staying put an attractive Option. Press
cuttings line the tack room wall - articles about the farm and numerous
called Rushka, and Lucy got the slightly smaller 12-year-old Busky.
Before we set out on the trail, we spent an afternoon riding out from
the farm, accompanied by Vitaliy. We were certainly put through our paces,
plunging through seawater up to our horses knees, riding through
a river and having a flying trot across the dunes.
On the way home, we headed to the beach, which had been publicised as
the trips highlight. We soon saw why. Once they were on the sand,
Rushka and Busky had only one pace: bolt.
If you are ready, go, shouted Vitaliy, as our horses side-stepped
excitedly. If they go too fast, head towards the dunes, where the sand
is deeper. If you want to go faster go towards the sea, where it´s firmer.
And we were off. Nervously starting near the dunes, 1 soon found Rushka
was easily controllable after the first burst of energy and headed along
That evening, the minibus took those at the farm to a nearby restaurant.
We met a Norwegian on his sixth visit to the farm, as well as British
holidaymaker Helen, who used to have her own horse and is uninspired
by riding school mounts.
This is the next best thing to having my own, she said.
The next day, we were off in the Iorry to start our unguided six-day
trail. Aside from the first and last stopovers at the farm, nights are
spent at B&Bs, which also supply a field and feed for the horses.
Each day you follow a marked route. The way was generally easy to find,
although it´s wise to keep an eye on the map in case an arrow is
A highlight was the scenery in this remote corner of Ireland - this ride
takes in the grandeur of the Blue Stack Mountains, as we] as spectacular
views across the islands and beaches of Gweebarra Bay. After two days
riding westwards, we were rewarded once more by reaching the sea. Here,
we experienced more thrilling beach gallops. Busky and Rushka, forward-going,
calm rides most of the time, had an alternative personality when their
feet hit sand. lt was a case of holding on long enough to get them below
the tidemark before they took off.
On the fourth day, I made the mistake of removing my coat. Next thing
1 knew 1 was galloping into a rainstorm - only they don´t have
rain in Ireland, Vitaliy assured us, only lrish fog.
Irish fog was a feature of our trip, but our kind hearted B&B hosts
Second- and fifth-night host Barbara Bonner built up her turf-fuelled
open fire to dry our sodden clothes. Both she and Mary Sharp, in whose
picturesque thatched cottage we spent two nights, put their tumble driers
at our disposal.
Although the saddlebags were fairly waterproof, we were glad we remembered
a trick learnt on school Duke of Edinburgh expeditions - pack using a
double layer of plastic bags. And it´s worth making room for a
novel because there´s a lot of downtime in the evenings. Early
nights were welcome because we were tired, but I´d advise talking
to your hosts about heading to the pub if you want to experience the
There are no bridleways in Ireland, and the amount of roadwork involved
on the trail took us by surprise - albeit on quiet roads. We met two
Germans on the trail, and, communicating through a German/English dictionary,
learnt that they too had been disappointed by the amount of time on the
street. Equine Adventures state that you can make off-road diversions,
but I would have been nervous of getting lost or heading on to unsuitable
But when we were directed off-tarmac, I enjoyed the novelty of crossing
bogs and making an exciting river crossing - off-road is properly offroad
Although this holiday has a self-sufficient feel, help is never far away
- when Busky cast a shoe, Vitaliy was out to replace it within an hour.
On the final morning, we said goodbye to Busky and Rushka, before a last
quick ride on other horses. With seals playing at the waters edge
and the sun sparkling on the sea, we enjoyed a memorable final gallop
across the golden sand.
And what of the seamless knickers?
My advice is to stick with your normal underwear lest you, like me, suffer
problems with the seamless version riding up, if you know what I mean.