Riding in Ireland

On Sunday, I took the Luas from city centre to Saggart; a town south west of Dublin city. From the stop I walked about a half hour along narrow country roads towards Coolmine Equestrian Center. I was there for an afternoon trail ride. Image

(All these pictures were taking before and after the ride. None are of the actual trail or views from while riding unfortunately)

Coolmine Equestrian Center offers this trial ride at 3pm every Sunday for the regulars at the barn and to other experienced riders who want to join. I knew it was going to be different than the scenic horseback riding expeditions that other sites offered of rides along the beach and through rolling hills. Although those tours do sound awesome and picturesque, I was excited by the idea of a more experienced group of riders. This of course would be my undoing.

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As I write this post on the train on my way to work, I am currently aching from head to toe. I am basically wearing the nicest form of pajamas I could put together because I want nothing more than to be comfy all day, despite the horrible pains I am experiencing all over.

Don’t worry I didn’t fall off the horse or anything. In fact the problem was that I stayed on; that I decided to keep up with the more experienced girls of our group instead of hanging back with the relaxed half.

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Many of the girls either worked at the center or rode their regularly so they had been on this trail many times. Some were new like me or less experienced. We started off in a line of horses making our way up the road, trotting up hills,  or slowing to let cars pass. After not being on a horse for a little over a year, I felt fine when I mounted my horse for the day, Bailey. The road we traveled up, however, had several hills. After trotting up the fifth hill or so I was definitely feeling my body start to question what I had gotten it in to.

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Once in the woods on the trail though we calmly trekked through thick ferns and tall moss covered trees. It was so quiet and cool in the trees, which segmented the view of the surrounding hills and fields. After heading upwards through the woods for a bit we came to a path high up on the hills. A large group of grazing horses came in to view. I had already been lamenting my lack of camera, but at the sight of these horses, the absence of any picture taking device started to physically pain me. The horses were beautiful; wild in comparison to the groomed bunch we were riding. Tiny foals with shaggy manes scattered away from the fence as we passed, however several older ponies came curiously towards us. One particularly shaggy horse actually jumped up onto the ridge near our path and shook his scraggly beard back and forth at us. If you can imagine a hippie-ish/mountain man in horse form, that is what these horses looked like. They had untamed manes and shaggy beards like goats. It was an amazing experience to see them amongst the beautiful Irish scenery, let alone to be riding our own horses by them.

After that scenic bit of the trail, we split into two groups of those who wanted to canter and those who didn’t. I was feeling good about the tour so I of course decided to follow the cantering group.

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The last time I had gone on a long trail ride like this I was about 13 years old at horseback riding camp. That was also the first time I had galloped on a horse, which led to my first time falling off a horse at such high speeds. That memory was fresh in my mind, creating a small edge of panic as we went further down the path. I was determined to fight it though and I convinced myself that we would only be cantering, nothing faster and of course I could handle that.

When I first got to the the riding center they informed me that I would be riding Bailey, who they described as a nice easy Irish cob. Since it was my first time there they wanted to give me an easy horse, so I wouldn’t have to worry on the trail or not be able to handle it. In the indoor ring, Bailey was compliant and like they said, easy.

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But apparently they forgot to mention that once out in the wild on the trail, Bailey is no longer a compliant easy horse. He was a determinedly stubborn being whose only goals were to eat and run. As soon as we started cantering, he took off, basically at a gallop. I desperately increased my death grip on the reins trying to slow Bailey’s pace down, yet he did not heed my request, let alone seem to remember that I was still on his back. Thankfully I was in the back of the line of cantering horses, on a narrow trail, so Bailey could not pass the horse in front of me, despite his attempts. The first path we cantered on was a narrow trail in the forest. It was like being in a leafy tunnel of green which turned into leafy green blur as we barreled down it. I had to use every ounce of my riding abilities to stay on that horse.

I have cantered on horses many times in the past. But cantering in a ring is very different than in a straight line. In a ring, the horse can’t really go incredibly fast, because they have to turn at corners, and turning at high speeds for horses is not really possible. So I am more used to that kind of controlled, graceful cantering. Not the full speed, give no fucks, lay it all out there cantering that a horse will break into when given the space and distance.

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It is in moments like that when the intense speed will make you so fearful of falling that you will either loose concentration and slip, or you force yourself to block out that feeling and only focus on the things you can control, like your hold of the reins and the tight grip of your legs around the saddle, while you try to remember to breathe and possibly begin to enjoy it.

After I succeeded at not dying the first time we cantered, I felt relieved but also wary, because I now knew what kind of horse I was dealing with: one that I would not be able to control, when he was presented with the option to full out run. Our next canter was thankfully going up hill. This sounds strange that I would prefer that , especially since it was a rocky, dirt path uphill, but cantering uphill meant that Bailey was unable to go as fast as he would normally on a flat plain. It was still definitely a fast canter, but no longer boarder line galloping.

The third opportunity for cantering was definitely my favorite. We finally left the crowded trees and were on a path in an open field, on which there were a couple small fallen trees we were able to jump. Bailey was still traveling at his one high speed setting, and because we weren’t on a confined path in the woods, he tried and finally succeeded at passing the horses in front of us, until I was finally able to pull him back into a abrupt stop, almost flying out of the saddle in the process. BUT I STUCK THAT LANDING.

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All in all it was definitely a great experience and despite the mini panic attacks I endured I still enjoyed myself immensely. I was also proud of myself for doing something I set out to do, even though I was alone. I don’t have any pictures of the actual ride to show, but it was something I was doing for myself and I know I won’t forget everything I saw and experienced.

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