Greetings from Ireland! I must say this place is everything I hoped it would be. The people are wonderful, everyone is laid back, the grass is green, the clouds puffy, the sheep are too, and there are horses and great riding everywhere. It has been raining every day here, but there are hours of sunshine to break up the wetness and lift the spirits.
Our first stop was Galway. Getting there involved a crash course on how to drive on the left side of the road, manage a left-handed stick shift, and navigating roundabouts and intersections without the help of any street signs. We got there safe and sound, however, and enjoyed two days of wandering the western coast of Ireland which had gorgeous sea cliffs, cute seaside towns, and large limestone mountains bathed in lush green grass dotted with little fuzzy white sheep. I also had my first taste of Guinness straight from the homeland tap and boy was it an experience. Guinness is so incredibly good here. The stuff in America is pretty good, but this stuff here is to die for.
Yesterday, we headed south to Adare and the Clonshire Equestrian Centre, one of the most prominent centers in the area. Today, we had our first lessons there. In the morning I began by jumping 1' fences in an arena. For the non-riders, 1' fences are for beginners, and they consist of a pole supported by two stands on either side. If this horse hits the pole, the falls to the ground and no one is worse for wear. This is about the level of jumping I've done in the past. In other words, I don't really jump at all.
Our second lesson was a cross country ride out in the 100+ acres of the riding center. At first I thought we were just out for a grand tour. It was our first day, after all, and I was a beginner jumper. Surely they wouldn't be having me jump ditches, stone walls, tree trunks, dirt birms, and small ponds... I was casually following our instructor and the other horses when I started noticing that the horses were taking a quick hop up something. To my horror, I realized that we were jumping up a large stone embankment and that in 20 seconds time, it would be my turn. Facing something completely out of my league, I had two choices: 1) Tell the instructor there was some kind of mistake 2) Throw caution to the wind and just go for it. I chose #2 and had a blast. After that, we went cantering around the fields jumping random things that were not only way higher than 1', but went up, down, around, and none of these obstacles would fall down if I messed up.
Things were going wonderfully until I bit off more than I could chew and fell off my horse. It was funny because I could hear the entire class gasp as I lost both sitrrups, landed on my horses neck with one jump remaining, and then completely bounce off and onto the ground after the last jump. Luckily, I landed on by back/butt/neck and am obviously fine. Nonetheless, I took some Ibuprofen and will be feeling poperly horrible tomorrow.
One thing of note are theses Irish sport horses. I usually ride Thoroughbreds whom I consider completely crazy. They would never allow me to jump down an embankment into water, up the other side, and over a chicken coop. My Irish sport horse, however, was absolutely brilliant. He took me, an absolutely cluelesss beginner, all over that course without any fuss. He clearly knew what he was doing and jumped everything wonderfully and under control. It was so wonderful having a horse take care of me for once, instead of me trying to keep the horse sane all the time.
And another random note, Peter Lynch of Fidelity owns an incredibly large estate next to the riding center completely with the most gorgeous gardens, ponds, and fields I've ever seen. Strangely enough, the landscaping reminds me much of some of the most beautiful Chinese/Japanese gardens I've seen. Imagine, a lush green field tens of acres large sloping downards in the center towards a large pond lined with cattails and small groomed trees. In the center of the pond is an island with a single large tree with gigantic green canopy.
I look forward to more cross country jumping tomorrow. Hopefully I'll stay on top of the horse the entire time this round!