Vacation without sun and beach?

Seems impossible if you ask me.

And yet, this year's summer vacation, turned out to be just that. We changed sunny weather and beaches for green fields and rainy showers. We changed keeping still and reading for activity to the max. We changed our usual laying around in the shade for riding like lunatics in the woods and across solid fences. We went to Ireland for a long weekend of riding cross-country. And we loved it!

This, of course, was my crazy idea. Lennart, who hasn't been riding for ages due to horse allergy, also found the idea appealing.

So, last Thursday we got on the plane for Ireland and the Bel-Air Equestrian Centre. To me, this trip was terror. I am no cross-country rider, far from it, solid fences scared me. The brochure of the place said the fences were 75 - 95 cm high. I haven’t jumped more than 50 cm in years, and felt that it was quite enough. This trip scared me senseless, what had I gotten us into? What if it turned out to be really awful, what if one of us fell of the horse the first day and broke something? Broke everything?

I was scared out of my mind.

After a long bus ride we got off in Ashford and started our walk to the hotel. We had looked it up on a map and it was about 2 km to walk. No problem for people as fit as us, we thought. We might have thought differently had we known it was all uphill, with luggage, in the rain.

The hotel

Sweaty and tired we arrived at the hotel, and immediately felt welcome. We got our room and as we waited for dinner to be served we took a walk in the surrounding area. We followed paths around the hotel and found a couple of fences. They were huge and I thought to myself that I would never dare to jump them.

Dinner turned out to be amazing, and we got a lot of it too. We ate until we could hardly walk.

Next morning the first ride started at 9.00. My horse for the morning was Fionn, a grey gelding with a lot of Connemara Pony in him. We started of in the arena where Helga evaluated our riding experience. First some ground work and then we ended with a smaller fence, Fionn jumped like a god and I fell in love with him then and there. This was really a match made in heaven. After that we tried jumping the bank in the field. First we went upwards and then downwards. The feeling when your horse disappears under you is quite scary, but I survived. When the instructors felt secure with our knowledge in riding they let us out in the woods where the real fences were.

Me and Fionn

I got to ride in the front, right behind Helga and Lennart stayed in the back with the other instructor, Noni. As we closed in on the path me and Lennart had walked the evening before my fear grew greater and greater. Oh no, they think I can jump those scary fences! Helga gave me instructions on how to jump each fence and off we were. Fionn got me over all the fences - such a marvellous horse! I did not only jump that scary fence, as we rode on in the woods there was a jump down that was about a metre and some other fences too we jumped. We also jumped in the field; tires, logs, and more fences I don’t even remember. The last hour Lennart joined me in the front and we had a lovely ride in the country side. After three whole hours of riding we got back to the hotel for lunch. Seldom has a couple of toasted BLT:s tasted so good.

Wales behind the clouds

After lunch we had a shorter break and then we were at it again. This time I got a big grey horse named Luigi. I am not only scared of jumping, I also have a fear of big horses as I feel like an ant on their backs. But no time to fuss about my fears here. We started off in the arena and Luigi turned out to not only be big, he was also a bit insecure and tried to tell me there were ghosts all around the arena. Me and Lennart got a private lesson in cross-country jumping out in the field. We jumped a chair fence, a gigantic fallen tree into a grove, a smaller tree inside the grove, some more tires, a gate and so on. After an hour we jumped our last fence and got a great canter up the field to the house.

Here you can see the fence in the film. As you can see this particular fence is lined with horse-eating trees, all according to Luigi. On the left side, just before the grove, you can see another fence we jumped.

The fence in the film

And this is us in front of the hotel.

Me on Luigi and Lennart on Romeo, in front of the house

On Saturday we got to sleep in, we didn’t need to be on a horse until 10. I got to ride Nala, a big dark mare. We started out with the same fences as the day before and then went for a ride up the hill. Two hours riding and jumping and my body started to feel really sore. After lunch we were supposed to get a lesson in the field but due to rain we ended up jumping a new set of fences in the woods instead. I got to ride my very much loved Fionn again and finally I got the feeling I wanted. I stopped feeling scared and only enjoyed myself.

Nala

The evening was spent indoors due to rain. Thankfully the hotel had a pub of its own.

Sunday was our last day, the plan was two hours of cross country riding. At breakfast Noni came in and asked us if we wanted to ride, despite the rain. All the regular riders had called the riding off. Me and Lennart looked at each other for a split second and answered in unison: yes!

My ride for the day was Lynard, a gigantic grey horse. We where supposed to be a big group going out but in the end it was only me, Lennart and Noni. We started off as all the other rides, jumping in the woods. The ground was soaking wet and where there had been solid ground before now there was mostly water. Around the first couple of fences there where giant pools of water, so we got to try jumping and landing in water, something a lot of horses don’t like. Lynard tried to sneak around the water, but of course failed as there was water everywhere. After some more jumps in the woods we rode up the hills again.

Lynard

At a really nice little path Noni said we where to canter and off she went. Really, really fast. We could hardly see the rear of her horse as they vanished in the distance. Our horses didn’t stand a chance of catching up. I remember thinking “Irish people really do like to ride fast”. When they finally stopped it turned out that Noni had lost her grip on the reins and her horse, Hero, had seized the opportunity and started running uncontrollably. It had taken Noni a bit of time to get the control back and all the time me and Lennart thought we where meant to go that fast. On the way back we jumped some more fences and then we had to tell the horses and this wonderful place goodbye.

On our way home me and Lennart decided to come back next summer for a whole week of riding. We really loved the horses, the nature, the people, and the food. The hotel was lovely, as was the staff. The horses where well kept and really knew their job, and they loved doing it. All and all this was definitely one of the best vacations I have ever had. It didn’t even matter that there was almost no sun, or that we actually needed a vacation after the vacation. Even the pain from the sore muscles was worth it. I can’t wait to get back there again.

As a result of this trip I decided to bring Nemah to a couple of hunts here in Stockholm in the autumn. I don’t feel fear around fences any more, I just point my horse to them and go and have so much fun!