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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
Next time, we're bringing the whole family
is a member of the
Horse Riding Ireland
00353 64 66 31686
Fax: 00353 64 66 34119
Telephone: 011 353 64 66 31686
Fax: 011 353 64 66 34119