Magazine article The Spectator

Taken for a Ride

Magazine article The Spectator

Taken for a Ride

Article excerpt

My teenage daughter and I, who have been riding since we could walk, decided the time had come to convert the two menfolk in our family to the joys of the saddle. We hoped a week's horse-riding holiday through the highlands on the remote west coast of Ireland must surely do the trick. The 'Connemara Trail' has horses to suit all levels of rider from complete novice to experienced. And age doesn't matter so long as you're fit and determined enough to manage five hours a day in the saddle. The rewards are a four-star hotel most nights, a warm welcome and gourmet cuisine created from fresh local meat, game and seafood.

We touched down at Galway's tiny airport to be met by a muddy Land Rover and trailer carrying two ponies for our children, and drove north and west out of town through wild and lonely bog country. Finally we stopped. Up ahead of us was a corral full of Connemara ponies -- descendants of the Arab stallions that swam ashore from the sinking Armada galleons in 1588. Leaning against the sides were the other half a dozen riders, quite an international bunch from Los Angeles, New York and Brussels.

This was the start of our 110-mile journey to the Atlantic coast. Within minutes we'd left the road behind, and were headed up the hillside dotted with isolated little farms, each with its whitewashed thatched cottage, stacks of turf harvested from the bogs, and miniature stonewalled fields. Willie, our guide, a larger-than-life character who seemed to know everyone along the route, stopped to chat in Gaelic to an old lady who appeared at the door of one of the farms. This part of the west of Ireland is considered the uncorrupted heart of the country and repository of its ancient culture and language. The identification of the west as the home of the true Irish people stems partly from Cromwell's 17th-century clearances of the native Irish from the best land to the country's poorest province; hence the persistence of the saying 'to hell or Connaught'.

With four hours of the trail behind us we stopped for a picnic lunch, sitting among the stone remnants of an old village abandoned during the potato famine of 'Black Forty-Seven'. …

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