Ugh. Vacation hangover.
Definitely the vacation of a lifetime. It exceeded all expectations and I can’t even express in words how much fun we had.
So let me try to convey all the fun in words AND pictures…
We were riding at a place called Dartfield, and as I mentioned before, the owner is a renowned horse man. He breeds Connemaras and Irish Sport Horses, but also gets a lot of them as babies and he and his sons bring them up. I can’t say enough about his horses. Athletic and SO sensible.
I will admit that our first day Sarah and I were a little “what have we gotten into??” They tie horses by their bridles, horses aren’t immaculately groomed, and they never asked us once our riding ability or experience. Just put us on horses and off we went. What we quickly learned though, was that they knew what they were doing and we could chill out. Willie has been tying horses by their bridles for 60 some years. The horses grow up doing this. They don’t pull back and they don’t hurt themselves. They have this thing called sense, or life preservation, which makes it so they don’t do anything stupid. Am I going to begin tying Georgie this way? Hell no. But she isn’t a sensible Irish horse who grew up with the expectation that if you are an idiot, off you go to someone else. As for the grooming, I kind of appreciated it. It’s always raining and muddy in Ireland. Time is better spent elsewhere and horses can be a bit muddy.
The horses. I can’t say enough good things.
We started with Lady Grey and Jacqueline. The first day they would jump anything. And then stop. They knew the routine. Get the rider over the fence, then walk back to the pack. (By the second time we rode them we knew we could ask more of them, and they were super fun. Way more forward and willing to gallop after the jumps). After a fairly large down bank, Jacqueline fell to her knees and struggled to get upright and out of the mud. I waited it out and up she came. It was only a few seconds of terror, but Willie was impressed with how I rode it, and perhaps deemed me a worthy enough rider to foxhunt the next day on one of his nicest horses.
Alex was amazing. This horse (as well as all the horses our group rode foxhunting) would jump 4ft walls like a champ. If we were in the back of the pack and the wall had come down a bit, he was smart enough to jump over the rocks on the backside and not injure himself. He could gallop fences, trot fences, keep up with a crazy day of galloping and jumping, and stand quietly while we had a beer at the pub afterwards. And yes, I’m not stupid. I asked how much he would be to purchase. And yes, he is well out of my price range. Whomever ends up buying this horse will have the most amazing partner. We did hunt 2 more days but they were quieter and not nearly as exciting as the Tuesday hunt. We did find out later, after making some friends in the hunt field, that Tuesdays hunt was considered one of the best hands down. Personally, having grown up foxhunting, I thought it was the best thing ever.
When we weren’t foxhunting we were riding different horses over cross country jumps. There was only one horse I didn’t love. Dear sweet Homer was super safe but also terribly on the forehand with a mouth of steel. He would land and his head would go to his knees. I worked so hard to keep him uphill and finally told Sarah “I’m on vacation, I shouldn’t be working this hard.” The gal who rode him after me, the following day, fell off after the first jump as she wasn’t prepared to be launched down and forward… Would jump anything, and so sweet. Just, tough.
I rode Willy, and Lilly, and Jacqueline a couple times, but by far my favorite horse was Buttons. Oh man. He was a 5 yr old ISH and SO FUN. When I put my leg on and kept the contact he would soar over any jump. Such a comfortable canter and just a lovely, honest horse. I really considered figuring a way to bring him home, but it’s not in the cards. I kind of hope an eventer from America buys him so I can follow him.
There were a couple things I came away with as a rider. Sarah and I have been working on getting me to ride more defensively. I know Georgie will jump and get a bit lazy sometimes… at the end of this trip I said to Sarah “All this trip has taught me is that horses will jump anything.” So much for working on riding defensively… But I did get to ride lots of different horses and see what I liked, what I could do to improve the ride I was on, and man, I haven’t jumped a horse other than Georgie in 3 years, so I was really proud of myself for jumping lots of horses I didn’t know!
Also, Willie said something in passing that really stuck with me. He was so complimentary of his horses and you could tell he really loved them. If someone had a problem he would reassure them that the horse could do what was being asked, just ask again. At one point, he said something along the lines of “Any of these horses could jump around Rolex.” Could they? I don’t know. But the fact that he had that much faith in them, stuck with me. I find myself doubting Georgie sometimes. I worry she will have trouble with Prelim tables, despite Sarah telling me she won’t. The fact that Willie believes his horses can jump a 4* made me think that I need to believe in my mare more. She’s never done anything to indicate there’s anything she can’t do. So, if I believe in her, and ride her like she deserves, who says there’s any limit on her ability? Sure, we probably aren’t going to do more than Prelim together, but why should I believe that’s her limit? I now believe in her as much as Willie believes in his horses.
If any of you are considering a visit to the Emerald Isle, I highly recommend this trip. I’m happy to give you more information and have a gazillion pictures and videos. Now, back to the real world and getting Georgie back into work. I saw her yesterday and the first thing I thought was “Man, your head is small.” Small, compared to the giants we were riding, but perfect nonetheless.