Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Ireland Part 2: Success and even more Ibuprofen

A bit late for part 2 of this series, I know. But better late than never. I'll go ahead and transcribe what I wrote for myself in my journal. A bit of it overlaps with my previous post, but oh well.

Greetings from Ireland! I am here at last after wanting to come for many years. I really should remember to travel more often; the world is such a wonderful place and my time and freedom are of limited supply.

This place is as wonderful as I'd imagined it to be. Everything is Irish green, the country side is beautiful with rolling hills, tall limestone cliffs, the gentle Atlantic Ocean, stone walls, cute houses and thatched roof cottages, and puffs of white sheep everywhere. The best part of it is everyone's relaxed attitude. Honesty, Ireland could be the 51st US state and fit right in. It's almost like the Midwest of Europe. It makes me feel very comfortable, relaxed, and at-home, something I never quite felt in England.

The best example of such an attitude was our first day at the Clonshire Equestrian Centre. For our second lesson of the day, Dan, one of the owners took us out onto the cross country course which was, as they say here, brilliant. I thought he was going to give us an introductory ride around, show us all the jumps, and leave it at that, but no, he sent the entire lot of us packing over all the jumps on the course. Of course, I completely freaked out because the most I'd jumped before this trip was maybe a few foot-tall fences -- fences that fell down if you hit them, and here I was presented with logs, stone walls, water-filled ditches, chicken coops, and large dirt berms. This is when I took the proverbial "plunge" like I did freshman year when I followed the Stanford Band into the pool with all my clothes on. I decided that though I was unskilled and inexperienced, I believed that if I dug deep and stuck to the basics, I could make it over the jumps without falling off the horse.

That belief got me safely through all but one jump, an up bank followed by an immediate drop. It was the only jump I had any real doubts about. I lost both my stirrups on the up bank and landed on my horse's neck. Then, with me clinging onto his neck for dear life, he proceeded to jump off the multi-foot drop. After hearing a large gasp from the crowd watching me, I fell off smacking my head, shoulder, and butt on the ground. Luckily, the ground was soft and I came away with minor bruises and a very sore bum the next day.

Fortunately, after many more arena jumping and cross country jumping lessons, I started to solidify my form over jumps to something more safe and controlled. Tanya and Heather wanted to try some flat work, but I must admit I was there solely for the jumping because boy did I find the horse to learn on.

His name is Baltimore and he's an Irish sport horse. He's calm, very professional, and knows how to jump better than any horse I've ever ridden. Learning on him is incredibly easy because he's the perfect crutch for a beginner like me. He handles 100% of the jumping: gait, pace, striding, takeoff, and landing. He does the absolute bare minimum required to clear the fence and he does it without any fuss. This is my dream horse, the "trusty steed" that I seek. As Tanya pointed out, my relationship with Baltimore is purely pragmatic and very "manly." There are no emotions clouding judgement; he does his job, I try to do mine, and we both go over the fences expediently and as safe as my position will allow. Apparently, one day, I want to buy an Irish sport horse.

Unfortunately, not all the horses are so safe and calm. Laurie's horse, Tough Guy, took too big a jump over one ditch, popped her loose, and she fell (for a second time). She ended up going under the horse which scared the living daylights out of me because his rear seemed to step on her chest. Luckily, he only kicked her on the thigh, but her knee and ankle are pretty banged up. This is all very sobering seeing what can happen even to the best of us.

By the end of the week, I'd slowly replaced some of my sheer recklessness with some skill and was getting more solid and consistent with the jumps. Unfortunately, I couldn't acquire enough skill in time and took another spill over the tiniest of walls. I had ducked because I didn't want to smack my head on a low-hanging branch while going over the jump, lost my balance and came loose. To my surprise, I landed on my feet! While I was busy admiring the fact, my horse, Baltimore, decided it was time to make an escape and bolted all the way back to his stall at the barn. This made the whole ordeal a bit embarrassing, but I was just happy I'd made it safely to the ground yet again.

The last day we were there, I decided to take it easy and went out on a gorgeous trail ride and bid the green Irish countryside farewell. I honestly can't wait until I visit again -- there are very few places in the world I feel truly at home. Ireland is one of them.