Connemara Trails
 

Ireland on Horseback

by Wendy Carlson

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Connemara - Wild West of Ireland


Connemara Trail


Connemara Pony


Willie Leahy


With the Connemara Pony on Connemara Trail


Fun in the Water

The thunder of galloping hoofs broke the silence of a serene mountain valley. A flock of sheep stopped grazing to watch our posse churn across the landscape, a blur of manes and - tails and determined, red-cheeked faces. This is the Wild West of Ireland.

We were riding through Connemara over countryside so mesmerizing I hardly noticed I'd been bumping up and down in the saddle for nearly five hours. Nestled between Lough Corrib and the Atlantic Ocean, Connemara is a land of dramatic contrasts, a patchwork of lush green pastures that are dotted with wildflowers, soggy peat bogs, and craggy hillsides.

It's said that to know this land intimately, one must walk it. But traipsing over the deep, sleepy bogs can be treacherous. Naturally, anyone tan admire the scenery from the window of a rental car. But nothing compares to seeing a rainbow break through the clouds from atop one of the peaks of the Twelve Bens, the stark mountain range that dominates Connemara.

Really, one of the best ways to see rural Ireland is while trekking on the back of a sturdy Irish horse.

Horses always have been a means of transport and an integral way of life in Ireland. Most trail horses here are a mixture of the Thoroughbred and draft, producing a mount with a gentle and willing disposition. Sturdy Connemara ponies that are native to this region also are used on the variety of treks offered throughout the country.

As long as riders are fond of the fourlegged creatures, it doesn't matter whether they were born in the saddle or seldom set foot in a stirrup. There's a safe mount to match anyone's experience and a variety of riding holidays throughout the country to suit any taste. I've cantered along the wind-swept beaches and plunged down sand dunes at the Horse Holiday Farm in County Donegal.

One of the most popular horseback rides is the Connemara trek. It's led by Willie Leahy, a gregarious Irishman whose rumpled Stetson hat and quick wit make him a sort of jovial John Wayne in Ireland's West. For twenty-two years from May to October, Leahy's been leading two alternating, week-long, one-hundred-mile treks: the inland Connemara trek I rode and another coastal trek that roughly follows the wrinkly Atlantic coastline.

Astride his plucky Connemara Pony, Willie guided us along sunken macadam roads, over slippery bogs, and up and down rocky hillsides during our six-day equestrian odyssey. Thankfully, the trip wasn't all riding; we rested our weary bones at cozy hotels and dined on sumptuous meals of fresh local produce, salmon, and trout.

Tippling at the local pubs, stopping to chat with farmers along the trek, and breaking for tea on the grounds of Aughnamure, a five-Story, thirteenth-century castle, also kept us refreshed during the six-hour rides.

A perch atop the horse gave me a bird's-eye view of the land. And the pace - lots of walking and trotting-gave me time to take in Western Ireland's wide array of fauna, which ranges from bright, blooming fuchsia bushes to miniature palm trees. We smelled the sweet aroma of peat burning in the hearth of the thatched-roof cottages. As we trotted down narrow cow paths, I could reach over and pluck a fistful of ripe blackberries. At noon, we unbridled our horses and set them loose to graze while we dined on a picnic lunch.

By the end of the Connemara trip, my group, an international mix of French, British, and American riders, had developed an admiration for the sure-footed mounts that had carried us safely over rocky slopes and squishy bogs. By the final day, we even scrambled on our horses bareback and splashed in the Atlantic Ocean.

We were riding through Connemara over countryside…
The thunder of galloping hoofs broke the silence of a serene mountain valley. A flock of sheep stopped grazing to watch our posse churn across the landscape, a blur of manes and - tails and determined, red-cheeked faces. This is the Wild West of Ireland.

Aille Cross Equestrian Centre
Connemara Trails
Loughrea, Co. Galway
Ireland

Dartfield Equestrian Centre
Horse Museum
Kilrickle, Loughrea, Co. Galway
Ireland


Tel. No. 091 843968
Fax No. 091 843969
From Europe:
Tel. No. 00353 91 843968
Fax No. 00353 91 843969
From U.S. and Canada:
Tel. No. 011 353 91 843968
Fax No. 011 353 91 843969
 
 

 

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