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Horse Trekking in Ireland

As some of you may have seen, I spent almost two weeks in Ireland earlier in July. It was semi-last minute for me; my parents had planned the trip together, and my mom asked me to go with her instead. So, bittersweet, but as my mother frequently reminds us, she gets anything she wants right now – and also, I wasn’t going to turn down a trip to Ireland!

The majority of the trip was a planned tour, with hour-by-hour plans in various parts of the country. That is not my usual style of traveling, but it did mean that up until about the week before, I genuinely had no good idea of where we were going, which was kind of…freeing?

The one thing I did know was that the second Friday of the trip would be a free day in Galway. So I started hatching a plan to find a way to get on a horse on that day.

I did a fair bit of Googling before I left, and tried to pick a stable based on a few things: relative location to Galway (since I would not have a car), relative professionalism of a website (maybe some people are more trusting than I, because holy shit some of those websites?), AIRE accreditation (Association of Irish Riding Establishments, which seemed like it would give some measure of baseline accountability), and the options they offered.

After some sifting, Moycullen Riding Center ticked all the boxes. It was 7.5 kilometers from Galway center, so a reasonable taxi ride, and everything else lined up and looked reputable. I was particularly interested in the bog rides, because that felt more Irish, somehow. Plus, it was right on the border of Connemara, so I had high hopes for good horses.

I sent them an email through their website and waited…and waited. And never got anything back. Whoops. But – I was pretty determined, so once we were settled in Ireland, I called and left a message for them, about a week before the ride. I heard back a few days later, and they had a ride for me!

I got my upfront questions cleared: yes, they provided helmets, and all stirrups had toe cages, so I didn’t need to worry about only having sneakers. They asked me what level of experience I had, and bless them, they took my word over the phone that I was an experienced rider who was comfortable with walk-trot-canter. Judging by the number of horse trekking establishments we passed in other parts of the country, there were a lot of stables out there being very optimistic about (mostly American) tourists.

It took me two days to convince our tour guide that yes, I was going to do this, and yes, I was going to be fine. I think he’s used to the people he shepherds being complete fucking idiots, and also he was miffed that I was skipping the things he had planned for our free day, because he apparently did not think “free days” were an okay thing to have, even if the trip itinerary said otherwise. (I did not like our tour guide.)

On the Friday morning, I took a taxi for about 20 euros out to the riding stable, and well, there I was. I don’t have photos of the stable because it felt creepy to take them, but it was British-style shedrows around a small outdoor – maybe small court dressage sized. There was a lesson going on when I arrived (very early) and it just felt so good again to smell and see horses after almost two weeks away that I just watched the lesson and breathed. I liked the trainer, I loved the horse (a smart gray Connemara who had some spark to him but was very obedient) and I felt a bit for the rider, who was clearly verrrrrrry green. But doing generally okay.

When the time came, we all filled out liability forms, had a quick conversation about our actual riding experience, and got fitted for helmets. There was one other experienced rider, an American eventer from North Carolina, and then three others: a local woman with mixed experience (lengthy experience but a nervous rider), and two men who had never sat on a horse before.

The horses seemed to come in two types: big heavy cobs that looked half-asleep or cute little Connemaras that were too small for me. I started to fidget and get a big nervous, and then someone led a tall bay out from around a corner and gave him to me, and I was relieved. And then I saw he had a gag bit in, and I got a smidge nervous again.

My horse was introduced as Failte (pronounced fal-chuh, I never did get the hang of Irish pronunciation), an Irish Sporthorse/Warmblood cross. (I never did figure out what type of Warmblood, only that the trainer had a very dismissive view of warmbloods generally.) Despite the gag bit, we spent the first 20 minutes of the ride establishing that yes, I was going to put my leg on. He also did not want me to touch his mouth, but that was somewhat understandable with the gag in, so after establishing that he was a sensible sort of fellow, I generally gave him a long rein.

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A few minutes into the ride, we split the group up, and the trainer and other eventer and I had a nice long run. It started with a trot of several minutes along a dirt road, and then we turned off the road into the bogs. I was second in line, and the trainer turned in his saddle and said “Just take a good hold of them, then. Keep him steady.” My face must have communicated something, because quickly added that generally it wasn’t a problem but if I really let him go, if he really got a good extended gait going, he could be hard to stop.

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Well: I shortened the reins, I did a quick check of my jacket to make sure that everything was zipped and ready, and when the trainer in front of me cantered, I did too. It took me a moment or two to convince Failte that’s what we were doing, but once I did he gave me a lovely, polite, rolling canter. I stayed up in two-point for it, with my knuckles on his neck. Just in case he tried anything, and I was also watching the ground: we were on an established trail, but it was narrow, and we were definitely in a bog.

It was lovely. Really, truly, wonderful: gray skies and a good fast horse who took a half-halt nicely but was willing and ready to give me more if I asked, and beautiful rich green views as far as you could see.

We came back to the walk and picked our way up the last descent on a hill that gave an incredible view of the whole bog area. We let the horses have some grass to eat, and after a short break, while waiting for our novices to catch up, we headed back down the hill.

Total, we were out about 2.5 hours, mostly riding on narrow dirt roads with bog on either side. In many places we could see piles of cut peat from farmers getting ready for the winter; the trainer said in rural areas like that one, as many as 70% of the farmers still used peat to heat their homes in the winter. In the distance ahead of us we could see the Connemara mountains; to one side, a long, wide lake.

If anyone is going to Ireland, especially in the Galway area, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It was a very welcome space for me to get back on a horse, escape the tour, and see gorgeous things I would not have otherwise.

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August 2019 Goals Post

Well, let’s see if I can dust this thing off.

Original Goals Post

Tristan

  • Get to First Level – so; I’m not sure? we have some pieces there, some pieces not.
  • Take 12 lessons – now at 10/12
  • Volunteer at 6 events – 1/6, no more yet, but I have hopes for the fall
  • Get & share 1 video per month of rides – got some video from part of a July ride

Other

  • Finish house interior work – not much movement on this, and there won’t be until the fall
  • Finish funding emergency fund – 90% done, will finish in August
  • Pay off vision correction surgery – 83% done, on track to finish in October
  • Try 24 new recipes – I’ve honestly lost track of where I am, let’s call this 20/24
  • Write 20k on Morgan book – giving a talk in 2 weeks, have to start putting my thoughts together

Business

  • Get to 500 sales on Etsy – 342/500 (honestly this was a helluva reach goal and I might actually make it???)
  • Separate website and social media for business
  • Take accounting class
  • Develop 3 new patterns – I’ve listed three new options for customized items, so calling this good I think
  • Have a total of 7-10 items for sale – much less invested in this goal now, as it doesn’t seem to be the right path for the business right now
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25 Questions

Trying to get back into the swing of things here with this blog hop from Viva Carlos.

1. What is the first thing you do when you get to the barn?

Honestly? Check my email.

When I actually step into the barn, I make a sort of “tsk” noise with my tongue and my top teeth that is Tristan’s specific calling noise. I wish I knew how I started doing it, or when, or why, but I do, and it’s a very specific noise that no one else ever makes and I never make in any other context. He usually hears it and shoves his head out into the aisle, or if he’s in turnout he’ll pick his head up and watch me walk down the road.

2. Is their a breed that you would never own?

I don’t love the hairy flashy ones, Friesians or Gypsy Vanners, but never say never I guess.

3. Describe your last ride?

Short and sweet. I intended only on longeing, but he looked so loose and good on the longe that I thought “I wish I could sit on that.” So I brought him back to the aisle and tacked him up and rode for about 15 minutes. In particular, I worked on transitions a bit, trying to keep that soft-but-uphill feeling through both up and down transitions.

4. Have any irrational riding fears?

One very specific one: that I will fall off and Tristan will run away and we’ll never find him. It seems like every summer up here there’s an alert to look out for a horse who ran away in a state park or forest or something and they never found him again.

5. Describe your favorite lesson horse?

One of my very first lesson horses – his name was Thistle, he was a small bay horse of indeterminate light breed who was just cheerful and straightforward and kind.

Photo Jun 05, 9 12 20 AMthrowback to dressage showing in the pouring rain

6. Would you ever lease out your horse?

If the absolute right situation presented itself. In-barn only, and part-lease only.

7. Mares: Yay or neigh?

Pretty hard neigh. Again, never say never, but even the really fancy ones at my barn now are just grumpy and difficult in a way that absolutely does not appeal to me. Every so often I’ll really like one but I can think of three in 20+ years of riding horses.

8. How many time per week do you get to see your horse?

It really varies; sometimes 2-3, sometimes all 7 days. He’s only 10 minutes away so I have no excuse. I can stop by on my way to work for a quick kiss on the nose without any difficulty.

9. Favorite thing to do on an “easy day” with your pony?

Hack out bareback in the big field. That said, he’s gotten tricky in the big field lately, so that might be courting some problems, but when he’s cooperating it’s a lovely feeling.

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10. Conformational flaw that bothers you the most?

This is really superficial but: pig eyes. There are quite a few otherwise lovely horses that have that constant beady slight white eye look that really turns me off. I know, I’m an asshole, and it might not even technically be a conformation flaw, but it definitely bugs me. There are many far more serious ones for sure – overly sloped pasterns is one of my biggest red flags in terms of an actually problematic flaw.

11. Thing about your riding that you’re most self conscious about?

Probably my hands. I’ve been working on them a lot so thinking about them a lot.

12. Will you be participating in no stirrup November?

Sure, I usually do a little bit of it. No stirrup work (usually bareback) is not at all uncommon for me, and it’s so much warmer in the winter I’ve sometimes gone 2-3 months without riding in my saddle.

13. What is your grooming routine?

On a really quick ride day, like throw a bridle on him and head out, I’ll just pick out his feet and go. Dirt does not really bother me.

Medium: curry, stiff brush, body brush, and pick feet.

Long: curry, stiff brush, body brush, pick feet, treat feet with thrush or preventive stuff, touch up bridle path, detangle mane and tail a bit, and after the ride do a rinse with apple cider vinegar and scrub leggs.

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14. Describe a day in the life of your horse?

Breakfast, turnout, lunch, nap, short ride, afternoon hay, afternoon grain, night check hay.

15. Favorite season for riding?

I actually love late spring into early summer, when it’s exciting to get back outside and not wear eight million layers but the bugs aren’t out quite yet. So pretty much right now.
16. If you could only have 1 ring: indoor or outdoor?

Indoor with big garage door windows that open up.

17. What impresses you most about the opposite discipline (english vs. western)?

I guess I’ll pick working cow horses as an opposite discipline – I’m impressed at how hard they use the horses and how fit they are, which is not to say they’re overused but that they’re incredibly fit and practically muscled up.

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18. You have unlimited funds to buy one entire tack set for your horse, what is he/she wearing?

I…genuinely have no idea. I kept looking at this question on other blogs and thinking I’d have to come up with an answer and I don’t have one! I am so the opposite of a tack ho. I have a secondhand, well-used setup that works for us and no interest in upgrading it. (Can I invest the money in a truck and trailer instead?)

19. How many blankets do you have? When do you blanket?

Hoo boy. I’ve got:

1 fly sheet
1 stable sheet
1 honeycomb cooler
1 fleece cooler
1 wool cooler
1 quarter sheet
1 mud/rain sheet
1 lightweight blanket layer
2 medium turnout blankets
1 heavyweight turnout blanket

…WHEN DID I BECOME THIS PERSON?!

20. What is your horse’s favorite treat? Favorite place to be scratched?

Peppermints! Specifically right now he loves the mint lifesavers. In the summer I often buy the Canadian mints because they don’t melt.

For whatever reason, Tris is not an itchy horse. Once in a blue moon his neck will get itchy and that’s it.

21. Something about your barn that drives you crazy?

I am on record as adoring my barn, but no place is perfect, right? So I don’t think anything about it “drives me crazy” but I do wish Tris got more turnout. He’s happy & healthy with what he gets but I’d love for him to get 12+ hours.

22. Roached manes, pulled manes, or long flowing manes?

On Tris I leave it long. I love the look of a roached mane and I think pulled manes are so much the norm that I can appreciate them but the thought of maintaining them makes me exhausted.

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23. Can you handle a buck or a rear better?

Rear, weirdly enough. Tris has a rear in him, almost exclusively on the ground, but he’ll get light in the front end under saddle sometimes.

24. I would never buy a horse who ___________________?

Cribs. This one I’ll say never for. Never, ever, ever.

25. Favorite facial marking?

Blaze! Nice wide one.

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Slowly, slowly

I feel like every inch of normalcy I get back is by fighting until I am exhausted. And lots of days I’m too tired to do even that.

I’m hoping June will be more on track. I’m signed up for lessons and shifts at the barn again, anyway. I baked for the first time in months last week. I’m trying hard to suck less at work. My spending and eating everything in sight are slowing down.

I’ve been slowly reclaiming my barn time, too. I’ve now ridden three times, and gone out and groomed and hand-grazed quite a lot more. It’s hard. On one level, I really want to, and our rides have been absolutely superb. He’s such a fun horse to ride when he has energy and willingness. When he stays put together he’s now doing some lovely first level work, and it’s finally feeling realistic that we could put together a whole first level test.

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But I often get to the end of a workday feeling mentally bruised and just overall exhausted. So I convince myself I can’t go to the barn. Then I get home and the anxiety hits and starts to climb and I end up revving myself up all night anyway – spending hours cleaning, or working on Etsy stuff, or just puttering and trying to keep my brain from capsizing. Often unsuccessfully.

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Which is a lot of words to say that today would have been my dad’s sixty-sixth birthday, he would have retired from work next week, and this fucking sucks.

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Giveaway results + website beta

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First, thanks for your patience – the saddle cover winners have now all been notified! Thanks to everyone who participated.

When the winners post their giveaways, I’ll share them here as well, so keep your eyes out – you still have the chance to win a saddle cover from Bel Joeor Metier.

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Now, a request for everyone.

I’ve been slowly chipping away at setting up a separate website for my custom work, whether the handy bags, saddle covers, or other things I’m introducing in the future.

I’ve just put it live – can you take a look and let me know what you think?

Any and all feedback welcomed, as I’m trying to make everything as easy and straightforward as possible to find, understand, and order. So I’m particularly interested in your experience browsing the site as if you wanted to order a specific product.

I’d really, truly, welcome your thoughts: www.beljoeormetier.com