I love horseback riding and always include it in my travel plans. In July 2016, I went on my second horseback riding vacation in Ireland. As a woman traveling alone, a horseback riding vacation is good for me. Not only do I get my horseback riding in, but I join a group of other riders and I do not feel alone.
The horseback riding vacation took place on County Donegal, in northwestern Ireland. I chose County Donegal because it is a part of Ireland I have never seen before, and it was away from all the popular tourist areas. The tour started in the small town of Dunfanaghy, a quaint little town with friendly locals. The town is safe and quiet during the day, although I wouldn’t recommend women walk around alone at night.
I arrived in Dunfanaghy by taxi from the nearby town on Falcarragh, where I stayed the day before the tour. My room in Dunfanaghy had a good view of Sheephaven Bay. The riding stables were right behind the hotel. I would often hear the hoof beats of horses passing by the hotel when people were horseback riding. After settling in, I toured Dunfanaghy on my own. Later, over dinner, I met the other riders in the group. The tour guides gave us a briefing on the tour and what we could expect. This particular tour was called a “stationary tour”. We would ride to other villages in the day but head back to Dunfanaghy to sleep; each day was navigated in a petal-shaped pattern. The tour lasted for a week, including one non-riding day.
The weather was perfect for riding. The rain sure helps the landscape. The trees and grass were so green and healthy. No wonder Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.
The next morning, after breakfast, we all walked to the stables. We met Helen, the manager of the stables, and she introduced us to our horses. My horse was Rocky, a black Irish Cob gelding. We got on our horses and went on a brief ride in the arena, to get us used to our horses, and to make sure they were a good match for each of us. I was happy with Rocky, so he was my horse for the whole tour.
We then rode to Sheephaven Bay. We rode through the bay and made our way to Horn Head, so we had to start our ride during low tide. At this time, we would ride the horses through the bay to reach our next destination. The water was not much above the horse’s ankles. During high tide, the water would be above their knees. We had to pay attention to the reports on when high and low tides were.
Some days of the tour involved a ride on the beach. I enjoyed listening to the sound of the waves crash on the shore. Although it was July, the beach was not crowded. The weather was typical of Ireland, especially in the northwest – not very warm, even in July. I knew before the trip that the summer weather would not be the same hot and dry conditions I know in Pennsylvania.
After leaving the beach, we had a rather steep uphill climb to continue the journey to the village. When we reached the village, we rode the horses down the street and the people looked out their windows and waved at us. We then stopped for a rest in the village, where we tied the horses and had a picnic lunch. When we finished resting up, we got back on our horses and headed home towards Dunfanaghy. We took a different route on the way back so we did not pass by the same place twice.
We left the village and got back into the “wilderness”. Some spots on the trails were marshy from all the rain. The horse’s legs sank down quite deep, and I could feel all their strength under me as they pulled themselves out of the muck. One guide’s horse was almost flank-deep! I saw the horse struggle to pull himself out. Thankfully the horse got out of the muck, with the guide still in the saddle. Rocky also struggled to get through that marshy spot, and I struggled to stay in the saddle. Everybody survived, and nobody fell off!
Some days the weather was drizzly, but it didn’t rain hard. We had to wear our jackets. Focusing on the ride kept us busy and diverted our attention from the rain. We also had to stay focused on staying in the saddle when the ground got rough. We would also go at faster paces (trots, canters) with no warning. Overall, the weather was perfect for riding. The rain sure helps the landscape. The trees and grass were so green and healthy. No wonder Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. The clouds and drizzle did not stick around for long. The sun came out a short time later. When it rained, it was not constant. On sunny days, the view of the beach was beautiful.
At the mid-point of the trip we had one day off from riding. The horses needed a rest and so did we. I used the day off to visit Glenveagh National Park and Castle. I started by taking a tour of the castle. My body got its needed rest from this non-riding day.
When having fun, time goes by fast! It was hard to believe the week-long tour ended so quickly. I have made horseback riding vacations a tradition when traveling overseas, and now I’ll never take a vacation without including a horseback riding trip.