the Horse Holiday Farm
without a guide
Rain on the
Trailriding by the Sea
at the Horse Holiday Farm
Ireland - It's hard to imagine that there remains in this world
a man who will greet you as a friend even though you are a
stranger, house and feed you, and let you choose from among
his hundred sleek, spirited horses to ride off on your own
across a gorgeous landscape for a week or two.
To Tilman Anhold, this is simply perpetuating the generosity extended
to him three decades ago. At 29, he came on holiday to County Sligo from
Celle near Hanover in his German homeland, looked around at this wind-torn
outreach of north-western Ireland and, being an experienced rider, decided
he could best see this land by horse.
The Irish tourist board put Anhold in touch with Don Wall, who operated
a horse-drawn caravan business in County Leitrim. Wall agreed to let
Anhold have a horse for the trip and called ahead to a friend in Dromahaire
to ask whether horse and man could be accommodated for the night. His
host in Dromahaire gave Anhold directions to the farm of Agnes McDonagh
in Ballintogher, where the German visitor could depend on lodging the
Anhold spoke fairly good English; Agnes' daughter. Colette, knew a few
words of German. Together, Colette and Tilman hatched the notion of turning
Tillman's adventure into a joint-venture.
The two were married a year later. By then they had acquired 35 horses
and a house on 50 acres, and started Horse Holiday Farm.
Thirsting for adventure and longing to ride on our own without guides
across the open Irish countryside, my husband, Pat, and I travelled to
County Sligo in May two years ago. Although we bad been keen equestrians
In our youth, the opportunities to ride had dwindled. But we were confident
our skills would prevail.
After a four-hour trip from Dublin by train and car, we turned in at
the gate and drove past fields and paddocks of lustrous horses, grazing
and lazing in the afternoon sun, their long manes and tails flicking
in the breeze. At the edge of a cliff high above Donegal Bay, we stepped
out at the main house and were greeted by Colette, whose warm manner
melted away the miles.
The beauty of the scene-a panorama of the Slieve League peninsula, with
four strands of beach and as many separate weather systems-left us in
awe. Colette pointed out the solitary and eerie Classiebawn Castle at
Mullaghmore, an a promontory to the distant far right. Then, with a sweeping
gesture to the left, she identified each strand of beach:
Muliagbmore, then Cliffony, Streedagh and Lissadel, and told us that
at low tide we could ride on all four, from one to the other.
To the left was Sligo Bay, shimmering in the late-day sun, and directly
behind us a few miles away was the smooth, hulking form of Benbulben,
below whose bare, sloping head, in Drumcliffe churchyard, lies the grave
of William Butler Yeats, marked by a stone etched with his words: "Cast
a cold eye / On life, on death / Horseman, pass by"
We turned toward the house, whose gray stucco walls and heavy doors gave
it the look of something meant to withstand the elements. By contrast,
the interior, with its polished hardwood floors and contemporary furnishings,
is warm and inviting. In the dining room, which has a picture window
overlooking the bay, a long wooden table was set for tea.
Upstairs, our spacious room had a simple Bavarian motif, with big puffed
comforters an the beds and a view toward Mullaghmore.
Colette suggested we have some tea and cake before heading for the stables
to meet Tilman and be matched up with our mounts.
is a fair-haired, burly man, now 60, brimming with energy and
mirth. An Irish lilt is woven into his German-accented English,
and judging from his banter with the youthful staff, he runs
the farm with firm but friendly Teutonic efficiency.
To determine which horse to offer, he asked only two questions:
How long have you been riding?
What manner of horse do you want?
Then he consulted his list of 120 and made a match: for me, a sweet-faced
dark bay named Lomond, and for Pat, a heftier, lighter bay named Guinness.
All of Anhold's horses are Irish hunters-a cross between a thoroughbred
stallion and a warmblood Irish draught mare-or die bigger, heftier Irish
draught horses with huge plumed lower legs and feet. They are beautiful,
powerful and willing, as well as gentle and sure-footed. Most of Anhold's
horses are bred and raised right there on the farm.
That first evening, during a sumptuous dinner of shellfish and chateaubriand
with die six other guests, most of whom had also just arrived, the mood
of excitement and conviviality gave way to gallows humour as a rainstorm
Back in our room, we stayed up half the night distilling the contents
of our suitcases into two small sets of saddlebags (one sack to be left
empty for halter and grooming gear) and reading a 15-page booklet of
farm rules and cautionary tales as huge gusts of wind and rain pounded
against the walls.
of naturalist John Muir, who once tied himself to a tree during
a fierce storm to experience what die tree was going through,
and I was having some serious second thoughts about riding
off into what might be six straight days of something similar.
the rain had diminished to a drizzle. After breakfast of juice,
muesli, porridge, eggs, sausage, bacon, grilled tomatoes and
toast, we saddled up for a tide on Cliffony Strand to test
Anhold's match making skills.
Itching to run, the horses began to prance when we reached the sand.
Anhold told us to give them free rein on the beach, so 1 gripped Lomond's
mane just as he surged into a fast, elongated trot and then into an undulating
gallop. The horses are so big and powerful that every sensation seemed
exaggerated. The sound of hooves pounding the sand drowned out the crashing
of the surf and was in turn muted by the rush of wind and die throb of
blood inside my head.
After half an hour of putting the horses through their paces, we turned
back toward the farm. The sun bad broken through the overcast, and we
were relishing the prospect of hitting the Donegal Trail for a week of
Anhold gave us a map of the ride that he had hand-coloured with Xs marking
die location of each night's lodging. At each farm there would be a bed
and bath for us, a breakfast so big that we would pack part of it each
day for our lunch, and a field and feed for die horses. Dinner with our
hosts was optional.
Anhold told us we would find yellow arrows at every junction to indicate
the trail. He circled the location of a couple of pubs we would pass,
and then, placing another X on the map just before the village of Bridgetown,
he said, "Don't let die horses drink die water here." But be
and we assumed- wrongly -that the groundwater was tainted.
we were off.
For the next four days we galloped for miles across white sand beaches
and trotted down one-lane country
roads, across fields and through forests, and along narrow footpaths
lined with a riot of rhododendron, Scotch broom and hazel in full bloom.
We went for hours without seeing other people All along the way were
ghostly relics of the past-crumbling stone fences and long-abandoned
stone cottages. Windows that once glowed with candlelight now stared
back blankly through fluttering shreds of old gray lace. Newborn lambs
bleated and ran to their mothers, startle dby the clatter of hooves.
spanned the seasons, sometimes all in one hour. One moment
we were galloping along a beach in bright sunshine as big clouds
billowed on the horizon; the next moment we faced a blackened
sky Within minutes we might be riding into a hailstorm, stones
the size of ripened peas bouncing off our helmets. We quickly
learned to get in and out of our slickers without dismounting
which was fine since we could be sun-dried 15 minutes after
a drenching rain.
arrows proved more challenging than the weather. From the beginning
we learned that they were easy to miss or misread. The second
one we saw was bent around a utility pole. We decided it meant "go
straight," but it actually meant we should cut to the
right onto a faint trail through a field. .We ended up on a
just outside die fair-sized manufacturing town of Ballyshannon at die
5:30p.m. rush hour.
Checking the map and realizing our mistake, we turned and rode several
kilometres back to a small quarter-horse ranch, whose owner, coincidentally,
was Colette's first cousin. After offering us tea, which we reluctantly
declined, he directed us back to the trail.
At the end of our second day we were rescued by our intended host, John
Boyle, who was returning from the nearby town of Donegal In time to greet
us at his farm.
Hunkered in our hooded slickers, we bad missed die min and were unknowingly
following die next day's arrows.
"Will you be looking for someone?'" he asked with a broad grin as he
leaned out the car window. He led us to the farm, where his wife, Philomena,
gave us hot tea and arranged our wet clothes around a big iron stove, the centrepiece
of the living room.
There were many more missed or missing arrows in the days to come. In
the more remote regions, when we ran out of arrows and were just as confused
by the map, we tried to go by our instincts. These times invariably led
to a wonderful encounter with a shepherd, a farmer, a fisherman or a woman
gardening or hanging 1aundry who would sometimes greet us with "Aye,
you must be from Tilman's," before setting us in the right direction.
These misadventures often led to nine-hour days and late-evening arrivals.
On the first day's stopover, Rose McCaffrey, one of the mistresses of
Cavangarden, a beautiful country estate Set in 1,000 rolling green acres,
returned from her evening walk and found me lying at a rear gate looking
up at my horse. Dismounting to open the latch, 1 had caught my foot on
a saddlebag, slid to the ground and was too exhausted to move. Laughing,
Rose helped with the gate, and we rode on in through neatly groomed grounds
to a large stone manor house an a circular driveway.
Each night was a different barn but the same routine: Brush down the
horses, give them grain and water, and turn them out into a field for
the night. In the mornings we often found them lolling in die tall grass,
sometimes allowing us to approach and even put their halters on before
they lurched up onto their feet.
We were too late for the evening meal at Cavangarden, so we washed up
and called a taxi to drive us back into Ballyshannon, the nearest town.
By the time we arrived, it was almost 10 p.m. and the three main restaurants
were closed. We finally coaxed a pizza chef to make one last pie for
us, and we carted it off to a local pub, where we ate ravenously and
drank warm Guinness stout.
As we neared Bridgetown the next day, mindful of Anhold's admonition
not to let the horses drink the water, we kept the animals from approaching
streams along die way. As we neared die town and were riding along a
lane behind some houses, we saw a large barrel brimming with what must
have been rainwater.
The horses headed straight for it, half-submerging their heads. Just
then, an elderly woman rushed around die side of die house with both
arms raised, shouting, "Don't let the horses drink the water!" and
we realized this was her drinking water, the water that Anhold had warned
us about. Apologies would not suffice. We
rode on, feeling stupid and remorseful.
On the third day, we turned east away from the beaches and were heading
through peat bogs and into more mountainous terrain, alternately walking
and trotting for hours through a seedling pine forest until we suddenly
carne upon the stunning Lough Derg. Rising from the water, mirage-like,
was the large, mysterious form of the basilica known as St. Patrick's
Purgatory a destination for Christian pilgrims since medieval times.
The skies had just cleared, and I would happily have ridden around and
around die shores until nightfall, but we were driven, off by swarms
of tiny gnats with big appetites.
Itwas less than an hour's ride from here to the town of Pettigo, where
we stayed the night at Carne, the farmhouse of Mary Greene, a reserved
and soft-spoken woman who was gracious and attentive to our needs, including
proffering a packet of frozen peas for my slightly swollen sprained thumb,
as we all sat down for tea.
The next day, after riding again for hours and becoming Increasingly
anxious that we might have missed a turn, a new feature of this treasure
hunt occurred to us: We could quit. Just that fast, we turned the horses
and headed back to Pettigo. After reserving another night at Carne, we
spent the afternoon and evening riding in the hills above the town. As
the warm sunshine faded softly and a light breeze quickened, we luxuriated
in the knowledge that we couldn't get lost.
That evening we called Anhold to tell him of our change of plans, and
he arranged to send a truck in the morning to trailer us with the horses
back to Horse Holiday Farm.
There we spent the rest of the week riding by the sea on the spectacular
trails and beaches around Horse Holiday Farm and relaxing again in the
embrace of Colette's hospitality.
It's not unusual for riders to cry when they part with their horses on
the last day at the farm, and I was no exception. Those who find the
pain unbearable can buy their horse from Anhold and take it home. Bestowing
big strokes and hugs and murmured endearments on Lornond, I instead vowed
to return another year to ride die Sligo Trail.
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
Anfrage und Reservierung
zur Horse Holiday Farm
The Horse Holiday Farm is Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board) approved
a member of A.I.R.E., the Association of Irish Riding Establishments.