I am not
one of those people with natural sense of direction and I quickly
lose patience with maps, so a horse riding adventure holiday
in Ireland was always going to be a challenge.
The deal is you are handed a horse and then you push off alone into the
wilds of the countryside for a week with no guide -just a map. It's just
you, your horse, the weather and the countryside.
This is escapism the way they don't make it anymore and should all go
well, you are collected at the last B&B on the route and driven home,
horse and all.
By the time my friend Marc and I neared our start point in County Sligo
on one of those wet, drizzly mornings that west Ireland is famed for,
I'd almost stopped breathing with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
Horse Holiday Farm nestles in a village on a high cliff face among lush
green fields overlooking a tidal estuary. Driving up the long drive to
the front door, we were greeted by horses hanging over the fences of
their holding paddocks - their well-bred air and large stature allowing
me to finally breathe again. With relief, that is. It was all a far cry
from the half-collapsed Kentish riding school I was used to.
This was going to be riding the way it is supposed to be, and 1 smiled
as the ram poured down my face and ran in rivers oft my chin.
This is not for novices - though they do claim to after something for
everyone. At least one of you in the pair needs to have some serious
riding experience, and the other, at the very least, needs same guts.
lie about your experience and these guys will give you exactly
what you need.
"You want something 'forward going' you say? We've got just the horse just
Said Donnacha Anhold the owners' dashing son, with a twinkle in his eye.
I wondered what on earth I had just said.
People come back year after year to ride these stunning animals and enjoy
an element of freedom normally only available to those from privileged
backgrounds. Though I thought it might come back just for a glimpse of
the owners' sons!
After a night spent at the B&B next door, we awoke to a full breakfast.
Lunch, it was made clear, was for the weak, so you had to stock up in
Once over at the farm we were ushered to our horses, introduced to Astra
(my mount for the week) and Morgan, handed a box of brushes, given a
tack number and left on our own to 'crack on with it'.
Soon our previously muddy animals were glistening and tacked-up, at which
point the heavens opened and Marc gave me a withering look. Horse riding
is my thing, not his -particularly in the rain.
Saddled up and surrounded by over-stuffed saddlebags and the skirt from
my huge waxed jacket, we were enthusiastically waved oft by the grooms
and headed, following our map, towards the beach.
A few hours later we gently squeezed our horses into a canter across
the beach towards our goal - an island n the distance. As the rain eased,
we thundered across the sandy spit with the clouds racing overhead, the
sun poking through and warming our backs, and the horse's rhythmic breathing
and graceful gait pulsing underneath.
not much later Morgan, with Marc on board, slowed to an awkward
walk reducing us to a slow wander back to the spit. This was
alarming as there was only about an hour before the tide would
come in and all four of us would become trapped here for the
His horse deteriorated quickly and it became clear that he was badly
lame, so we found a level grass verge and dismounted. Luckily a quick
call to the farm from my mobile meant that within half an hour, the owner
bounced over the horizon in his Land Rover with his potions, needles
and soothing words.
a painkiller, the horse was turned out into one of their many
paddocks surrounding this stretch of beach to recover and we
were assured that another mount would arrive once we made it
to our first port of call for the night. Marc jumped In the Land
Rover and I rode along the roads on my horse taking in the rolling
countryside, wondering if this was a sign of things to come!
But within an hour we had a replacement - in the form of Joker -who was
fit and ready for the Job. Soon both beasts were brushed, fed and grazing,
so we headed into town to sample the fme ale for which the island is
famed, plus a few quality whiskeys.
Next day's itinerary, scribbled on the back of the map, suggested we
set off at about nine in order to make it to our next destination well
before nightfall. With heavy heads from our enthusiastic experiences
the night before, we ate a huge breakfast only to head off a good hour
behind schedule. Fortunately the owners make allowances for this kind
of behaviour because it turns out they include a few hours in the itinerary
for getting lost, getting up late and / or being hangover.
The route for the week included uphill climbs on isolated paths, sliding
around on slime-covered planks over bog land, hours of beach gallops,
and some solid time walking on country lanes, when you and your horse
can get your breath back.
Along the route you are free to soak up the countryside - the lush green
fields with grazing cattle, who barely give you a glance buzzing bugs
in the forests; lakes; hedgerows humming with life and heavy with blackberries
rushing rivers and tinkling waterfalls.
There's nothing quite like the clean air. Whistling through your nostrils
as you sit
Astride your horse and take a breather on top of the hill. And the whole
Underscored by something alien to most people - complete and utter silence.
The whole week we passed nobody and barely heard a car. If you need to
think about life, this is where to do lt.
The B&Bs on this route The Sligo Trail give you a real insight into
west Irish country life with their roaring log fires, big kitchens and
hefty fare and it isn't hard to picture yourself never leaving. For both
of us, the office seemed eons away and bumbling around aimlessly, half-covered
in mud, vaguely damp and smelling ever-so slightly of horse, was a luxury
only topped by deciding which pub we would adjourn to in the evening
for more ale, music and friendly faces.
As the days passed, our bodies fit the strain. My bottom, legs and thighs
stiffened into a set saddle shape, which made it almost impossible to
According to the brochure, the day-to-day riding here varied between
about five and eight hours - and they weren't far wrong. We heard the
odd horror story of guests taking up to ten hours only to appear at that
night's B&B through the ram and fog long after dark.
Even with my dreadful sense of direction, and a companion not quite at
home on horseback, we managed to make it through the week smiling and,
more amazingly, barely having got lost. It's a real adventure walking,
cantering, climbing, sliding, galloping, drinking and eating your way
around some of the most breathtaking, wild and rural terrain you'll ever
see so close to home.
It's one that will have me going back year after year because I sincerely
doubt, in the western world, there are better adventures to be had quite
like this - and I can only -hope that the Horse Holiday Farm in Sligo
doesn't change a bit.
Horse Holiday Farm Ltd.
Grange County Sligo Ireland
Telephone : (071) 9166152
Fax : (071) 9166400
From Europe Telephone : 00 353 71 9166152
Fax : 00 353 71 9166400
The Horse Holiday Farm is Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board) approved
a member of A.I.R.E., the Association of Irish Riding Establishments.