Horseback Riding Vacations at the Horse Holiday Farm

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DIY in Donegal
PIPPA ROOME resurrects her map-reading and packing skills on an unguided ride across the wilds of north west Ireland
Pictures by Pippa Roome and Lucy Brett


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 stop

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
trial ride

The saddlebags are more waterproof than they look, but do pack in a double layer of plastic bags

Pippa with Rushka and Busky. The farm has 74 horses, so there´s bound to 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.
I gawped.
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 book.

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 the beach.
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 missing.

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 were practical.
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 local craic.
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 ground.

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 here.
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.

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