Horseback Riding Vacations at the Horse Holiday Farm

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East Anglian Daily Times
Roads to Adventures:
Rebecca Corbally rides out
in the West of Ireland

If You really want to get away from it all and back to nature, try a week on horseback in the wild west of Ireland.


















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.

So don't 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 for you,"
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 the morning.
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.

Unfortunately 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 night.
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.

After 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 experience is
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 dismount!
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.

 

Tilman and Colette Anhold
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 and
a member of A.I.R.E., the Association of Irish Riding Establishments.

 
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