MVH Around the World

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2001 Portugal
2002 Ireland
2003 France
2003 England
2004 Australia
2005 Australia
2006 Australia
 
Oct 22-29  2002 Ireland

FOX HUNTING IN IRELAND

(As seen through the eyes of Pam)

I closed my eyes for the six hour flight as the plane soared to the east, destination Ireland. Awaking to the sound of the flight attendant preparing the cabin for landing, I looked out the window to see the emerald city of Shannon. I couldn’t believe I was really going to fox hunt in Ireland!

 My companions Diedre, Jim, Robyn, Alisha and I had to smile as Dave pulled up in a rented minivan. Not only was he driving on the left-hand side of the road, he had to learn quickly how to drive a stick shift with his left foot. After a few close calls, we breathed a sigh of relief because he learned quickly. On the way to the castle, we stopped at a tailor so Jim and Robyn could be fitted for new jackets. Next stop, Kilcolgan Castle, our home for the next six days. 

We were greeted by our lovely host, Karen Sullivan, and her young black lab, Jessie. The castle was weathered and old but was to be expected. It was built sometime in the 1100's. Karen has done a wonderful job of preserving the paintings and the decor. It felt very inviting especially the lovely warm fireplaces throughout the castle.

 After brief introductions, we were off to the farm to meet Johnny, our riding host. He selected our horses for us and took us out on a trial run. We found our mounts suitable for the task - clearing three to four foot stone walls! I had Chippy, a Clydesdale cross; Alisha rode Stoney, a dusty gray; Jim had a huge tall fellow named Dugal; Diedre had a legend named Paddy. Everywhere we went, everyone knew Paddy. He was well known for his ability to get the job done. Robyn had Anish, a big light gray gelding who proved to be brave, bold and a fun ride.

That evening, we dined at our first Irish Pub enjoying Irish stew and fish and chips. There was always fresh seafood, chowder and fresh vegetables. After our delicious dinner, we headed back to the castle for a much needed rest. The night air was very cool with a mist surrounding us. The castle welcomed us back with its warm hearth. I snuggled into my comforter and dreamed of what the morning would bring.

Thursday morning, we awoke to dampness and rain, the first of many; however, the cozy kitchen lifted our spirits and the breakfast prepared by Uncle John was great! Into the van, we excitedly arrived at the pub to meet Johnny and the horses. Each hunt begins and ends at the local pub. We hacked a half hour down the narrow roads to the fixture before beginning our hunt. The weather was rainy and chilly even by Irish standards. As we stood watching the huntsman working the hounds, our spirits were lifted when we viewed our first fox! Each hunt lasted four to five hours and we viewed or chased three to four fox each time.

The hounds had trouble following the line and back tracked quite a few times. It made me realize how clever the fox could be; and made me proud of our hounds and how well they are coming along.

 Fox hunting in Ireland is not for the weak hearted. My visits to the gym, riding my bike and riding Alex helped prepare me for the task at hand. Riding in Ireland taught us so much - we learned from our mistakes. Twenty riders fell off the first day in the mud and rain. There was no doubt, they would get up and start again. I personally have always ridden too far forward which makes it impossible to ride a downhill correctly. After a three foot wall with a five foot drop on the other side, I hit the ground hard and ended up with a bruise on my right buttock in the shape of Ireland! The next down jump, I sat back like I should and took the jump correctly - how cool! The biggest thrill for me was riding at speed from one stonewall to the next following the field master, Willie Leahy. The hounds were giving tongue and were in full pursuit of the fox. As we caught up the fox went to ground. I had a smile from ear to ear and thanked God for the experience, it doesn’t get any better than that!

 Friday was a special treat, we were hosted by the North Galway Hunt on a beautiful private estate. It was a small intimate group and we were able to stay close to the hounds and watch them work. Jackie, the field master, had a delightful sense of humor. David, the huntsman, was training his two sons to hopefully follow in his footsteps. I was amazed how quietly they handled all the hounds. A gentle jester of the whip corrected the hounds. 

Saturday, Diedre hunted an extra day. Jim, Dave, Robyn and I went to Galway City Center to shop. It was market day, so it was full of festivities, food and drink. Later that day, Jim had scheduled duck hunting. He had a great time with his two hosts but I never saw a duck. I do know we had to rescue him from a five foot eleven inch Irish blonde from the local Pub named Paula. He quickly became known as the most eligible American bachelor to the locals. We found out the Irish drinks of choice were Guinness and Jameson Irish whiskey.

Alisha became famous when she jumped a three foot wall into a three foot deep lake and fell in! It soon was referred to as “her Irish christening”! She was soaked up to her neck and still rode another two hours. She gained a lot of respect for her hardiness. I didn’t want her to feel embarrassed so I also took a swim. Ha-Ha!

I was so proud of Robyn. We met about ten years ago when she rode with my daughter, Amanda. She is like a daughter to me. She has come so far in her riding. She jumped everything aggressively and boldly which is the only way you can hunt and survive in Ireland. Jim also did some wonderful riding. We were told to watch because the Irish horses have a tendency to take “turns” in midair. Well, Jim found that to be true!

Diedre learned a lot about the style and methods of hunting. Some hunts stand around on roads and fields for a long period of time. The field is not asked to follow the huntsman too close. The other hunts allow you to stay close but tend to allow the field master to lark too much. We agree there must be a happy medium.

 Although the weather was inclement, it provided us with the most beautiful sight of rainbows we have ever seen. One day we saw two complete double rainbows! The sun would shine and the rain would be pouring.

One of the highlights of the trip was Monday, the Galway Races (steeple chase). Out of twenty-thousand fans, Jim was picked from the crowd and given a special written invitation to the “best dressed contest party” at the owner’s suite. He was the first man ever, the first American ever to be in the top three. He won second place and was on the local news. He received a huge bouquet of flowers, and five-hundred dollar gift certificate to a local clothing store. He can use it on-line in the states. I am happy he won but his head is big enough as it is, now we have to listen to him for a long time!!

 Dave was our driver, photographer, groom, tack cleaner, etc. We could not have done it without him. (Sorry about all the back seat driving) He said he became inspired to ride when he saw us and heard us talk each night. Monday morning before the races, Robyn, Alisha and I went to ride one last time and Dave joined us. Johnny, our riding host took Dave aside and gave him a crash course in jumping. What a way to learn to jump - three foot stone walls in Ireland! Johnny said he was a natural and did fantastic.

We learned a lot from our experience in Ireland. I have gained a deep respect for the brave bold Irish horse and the wonderful people who train them. We all came back better riders and have a deeper appreciation of this great sport.