horse play magazine

Horse Play Magazine report on a Horse Vacation in Ireland


He said / She said: What one Couple did on their horseback vacation.


Victor Thomas, 54, a biochemist, and his wife, Diane Bova Thomas, 46, a biologist, of Unionville, Pennsylvania, won the horseback holiday contest sponsored by HorsePlay and Cross Country International Equestrian Vacations (CCI). The couple and their daughters, Anna, 16, and Sarah, 13 both Pony clubbers, keep four horses and a pony at home. The family wasn’t always such a horsey bunch. It all began when they won a pony in a raffle eight years ago. Diane rode Western as a child, but made the switch to English, and they all talked Victor into riding lessons. Sarah spotted the HorsePlay contest, but since the requirements stipulated that winners had to be over 18, told her bemused parents, “You guys just have to enter. I know you’ll win.” Last summer, Diane and Victor took an inn-to-inn trail ride through the Killarney Reeks/Ring of Kerry region of Ireland, courtesy of CCI and HorsePlay. We’ve reprinted portions of the journals each kept. SUNDAY Diane: Shannon Airport, 7.30 a.m. During the two hour car trip to the trail’s start, our driver points out interesting sights, but I am in a groggy haze; couldn’t sleep on the overnight flight. Feeling more alert when we arrive, Denise greets us and tags our luggage for the bed and breakfasts we’ll stay at. Next, Lorraine O’Sullivan discusses our riding ability and general fitness to assure good horse-rider matches. I am assigned Chroi (Irish for heart), an Irish draft/Paint cross with a moon eye.

After tea and toast and a quick change into riding togs we meet our group: Annika, a Swedish art student, Ashley, a newspaper executive from Florida, Charlene and Becky, mother and daughter from Maryland, Phillipe, a Belgian engineer, Petra, a German secretary, Wendy, a retired New Jersey woman, Lloyd and Laura, a Texas Air Force couple, and Marion, a Dutch veterinarian. Finally, lunch. It is our first Irish meal, salmon salad. We take an easy walk and trot down quiet lanes, then climb Windy Gap for a misty view of Caragh Lake. More trotting and a few short canters and we spot a Coomasharn Lake from far above. Next, a gingerly descent across a peat bog. Lorraine shouts, “Stay on the trail or you can sink 12 feet!” We listen. Blast it! After only a few hours in the saddle, my left ankle turns out (an old injury), and posting becomes torture. The sports tape and vet rap in my luggage do not do me much good now. By the time we reach the stable at Mountain Stage my ankle is swinging like rubber. Thank Goodness for the tea and the warm-scented peat fire. After dinner at a pub I fall into a deep sleep at lovely Glencurrah House, which has a spectacular view of the bay. Victor: When we meet at the stables after lunch, I’m told my horse is a large grey mare, an Irish draft cross named Misty. This is the same name our family gave the pony we won in a raffle seven years ago. The ride to Windy Gap takes four hours, climbing to 1,000 feet elevation. Tomorrow, I vow, I will use my seat saver. The weather is a mix of drizzle, mist, sun, clouds, wind. I think briefly that I should have worn Goretex, but the views are so lush that I don’t mind. By 9.30 I am asleep, early for me, but I did make time for a pint of Guinness.

MONDAY Diane: B&Bs are great! The ‘full Irish breakfast’ keeps me going all day. Donal (Donnie) O’Sullivan, originator and clear captain of the ride, suggests I sit out the beach gallops to rest my ankle. So Donnie, his wife Noreen, and I head to a pub, order a pot of tea and listen to local folk singer Larry Matthews. This is certainly a part of the trip I never expected, but I enjoy getting to know the O’Sullivans and meeting some local residents. At midday we head to the beach in Donnie’s Land Rover and find our intrepid riders, who are feeling a happy kind of tired. We all each lunch in a flat grassy spot surrounded by dunes. Victor: Everyone, horses included, seems more alert today, we ride 2.5 kilometers over a small mountain to the beach on Dingle Bay, where we spend two gloriously sunny hours galloping like giddy kids. The syncopated symphony of large hoofs pounding on wet sand is even more vibrant than hearing race horses gallop by. I’m not too hungry at lunch, having had black-and-white pudding for breakfast, a delicious blend of herbs, spices, cereal, and grains. Another two hours riding up and down the beach and we look like toddlers in a sandbox. In bed by 9.30 again, a bit sore but sublimely contented. I’m glad I used the seat saver today.

TUESDAY Diane: My day off worked. I feel rested and ready as I set out toward Waterville. It’s a day for a little or everything. Windy Gap lives up to its name as Victor’s helmet cover flies off and becomes the coveted property of some lucky sheep. Suddenly we all can’t believe what we’re seeing. A grey pony is playing King of the Mountain, mane flying and nostrils flared. We cannot see how he got up there or how he might get down, but the sight is impressive. We meet Donnie on a misty mountain pass for hot soup, sandwiches and tea before riding over Ballaghsheen Pass, a shorter and easier ride than the morning. At an old schoolhouse we turn the horses out, 22 miles from where we began that morning. Lorraine congratulates me for having made it through the longest, hardest riding day. Over dinner in a Waterville pub, we celebrate one of the group’s birthday. Victor, having asked some local schoolgirls the words, shakily attempts to sing Happy Birthday in Gaelic, La Beithe sona Duit. Waterville is such a peaceful place, I am ready to stay here a long time, especially since my knees won’t touch and I can’t cross my legs without using both hands! It’s a small comfort I am not the only one. Victor: This will be the longest day, five hours in the saddle. It’s cloudy and the horses walk sideways to keep the wind off their faces. Through a really boggy area we dismount and one of the guides holds the horses while we walk through. Then she lets the horses find their own way across. The Ring of Kerry is as beautiful and spectacular as the Colorado Rockies or Big Sur on the California Coast,, but it is unique. It can’t be compared to anywhere else. In Waterville we nurse fatigue, then dine in a hotel said to have been Charlie Chaplin’s Irish hangout. Diane and I stay in a B&B built by Americans during the 1850’s installation of the Atlantic Cable. It is called, appropriately, Cable House.

WEDNESDAY Diane: Donnie – and my ankle – suggest I forego the morning gallops, so it’s off to another pub (More tea, honest). I chat with the men who help care for the horses and watch the pub staff prepare lunch for the riders. Later, I’m glad to see Chroi waiting for me. The afternoon ride takes us along the Glencar/Waterville Road – where motorists are amazingly co-operative – and past Lough Currane. Everyone is happy to be in short sleeves today. We end the day at the beach stable and return to Cable House. Victor: It’s a beautiful day for an early gallop through the Tulligane Woods. I feel a bit like the gremlins in Star Wars, whizzing through the trees. After lunch, its 11 miles back to Waterville, and steaming fisherman’s soup at a lobster bar. After much pleading, the cook reluctantly surrenders the recipe: crab, cockles, mussels, and fish in a lobster bisque, a bit of wine or sherry, and of course, potatoes.

THURSDAY Diane: The morning plan calls for another gallop on Waterville Beach. I opt to ride in the Land Rover with Donnie, since I want my ankle to continue bending in the proper direction once I get back home. I get an eye-opening education watching a local man whose hob it is to judge the tides, selecting the right spot to safely cross the Inny River. He signals when it’s time and, once across, the riders split in the “slower2 pokes, which I’m happy to see includes Victor, and the more gung-ho riders. Anxious for me not to miss too much, Donnie says to take off my boots, hike up my breeches, and cross on foot. He hands me a large walking stick and asks if I can swim. The water is just over my knees with a fairly swift current, so I am glad for the stick. “Anyone can do it on horseback,” he smiles. Catching up with the riders, we find the slower group has grown. Only the very young and very fit are still so gung-ho. The group rides down a main village street, parking their horses behind a pub, tying all the lead ropes together so that the horses face into a circle and sleep, something Victor and I decide not to try at home!. I mount up after lunch for the scenic ride along the coast to Hogs Head and Ballinskelligs Bay. The trails run along roads, many quite steep, but obviously loved by cyclists. I am glad to be on a horse! Everywhere I’ve looked all week has presented a spectacular view, but the vistas today are some of the best. We end the day at a church, where a large truck waits for the horses, and we reluctantly board a bus for the 90 minute ride back to Lorenzo House in Killarney. Killarney seems like a big city after the solitude of Waterville. We decide to find a pub offering traditional Irish music and, while it takes a good deal of walking, it’s worth it. Victor: Another beautiful sunny day, but there’s no dawdling. We must leave by 9 a.m. so the tide will be right. After fording the river and having an exhilarating gallop along the beach, we’re ahead of schedule, so we take time to sun ourselves on the shore. Later, we pass an ancient stone fort being restored, circa 600 B.C., come guesses. How Irish I feel! At dinner, most of us order a boxty – a wrapped potato pancake, sort of an Irish burrito. It is filled with chicken, beef, or seafood and is wonderfully good. Later, it’s pints and music at Buckley’s Pub until 11.30. I must be getting in shape! THURSDAY Diane: Killarney National Park is out destination for a final, relaxing day’s ride. My ankle feels good and I’m excited to explore the park, which includes more than 19,000 acres, with trails snaking near old copper mines, through azalea forests, past Ross Castle (16th century), and along the shores of Lough Lein. We do some cantering, and I can even tolerate a lengthy posting trot. After a goodbye pat, the horses are taken off to get new shoes, I’m wishing it was the first day, but it’s not. We humans share lunch at picnic tables and reluctantly separate to our various assigned B&B’s for our last night. At the start we wouldn’t have guessed that such a diverse group could come to like each other so quickly. After sharing rides, meals, pub-crawls, and more for a week, we feel like old friends.

A few of us meet later in Buckley’s Pub for more music and conversation. Tomorrow everyone leaves for home or to tour Ireland sans horses. Too bad. My most lasting memories are of absolute tranquillity. Everything – riding mountain passes or along bogs, walking the beaches, evenings in pubs – was so very peaceful. Victor: misty seems as tired as I , but we both appreciate the sunshine and beauty of Killarney National Park. I wonder if Irish draft horses stay up late, laughing and swapping riding tales too? Glad it’s the last day since my right knee starts acting up, an old football injury. Six days in the saddle is probably my limit. We stay in Killarney for the weekend to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. I mostly nap while Diane shops we’re both tired and want to get home to our kids, our horses, our house, our own beds. The again, everything was so organised we had only to worry about staying on our horses. We feel so relaxed that what we really want to know is when we can go back again. Next time, we’re bringing the whole family