Saturday was a low-key day. A day for walking about, a visit to the grocery store for Mary and me, having learned the previous evening that toilet paper is not an efficient way to start a fire, and Mike’s daily visit to the bookie. Somehow, we did all find ourselves back in Murphy’s Pub at lunch, but that should be no surprise to anyone. Then, on our way home later in the afternoon, we made a stop at Dingle Riding Stable to enquire about my signing on for a half day of trekking, to include a canter on the beach.
Everyone has his or her bucket list. Mike had checked off a big item on his list when we attended the Killarney races. Now it was to be my turn. A canter in the surf had always been at the top of my bucket list. My dream was never specific as to the actual location for this ride. It could have been down a beach in Mexico, or along the shore in Greece. But, Ireland was the time, the place and the opportunity. Jupiter was aligned with Mars. They had a spot for me the next morning on a ride that would leave from Ventry Bay, canter the length of the beach and then ride through the hills and valleys, returning to the stable’s location above Dingle.
Mary (our own version of a soccer Mom) drove me up to the stable early Sunday morning. There I found a pair of tall riding boots that fit me, allowing me to tuck my jeans in, and a helmet to keep me from scrambling my brains should I become unseated at any time. The stable yard was where I joined the other riders and it became rather obvious that I was to be the least qualified rider in our party of five. It’s not that I’m inept, having spent a number of years enjoying lessons and training from some of the Morgan horse world’s most notables. Rather, it was that I had not been on a horse in six years. It mattered not that I used to ride up to six hours a day, traveling to show rings from North Hampton, MA to Oklahoma City. Six years and monthly Social Security checks tend to make a granny of thirteen a bit cautious. But, it was a bucket list thing.
Our band of riders was driven out to a windswept pasture that sits behind a pub and a Catholic Church on the outskirts of Ventry. The horses had spent the night there, having been ridden on the reverse ride the previous day, from Dingle to Ventry. Our mission was to get our posse up, around and over the mountains and back to a cozy stall above Dingle. So, riders up, stirrups adjusted and girths checked. I found myself aboard King, a mix of all the dependable and sure footed breeds of Ireland. The first order of the day was straight to the beach for a walk along the edge of the incoming surf. Once we were about half way down the long expanse, we cut back up to a path that was behind the hedges but followed the shore. This is where the first long trot was called for. Our guide kept looking back to assure herself that we were all still aboard our mounts and were managing to post with our feet still in the stirrups. Up down, up down, up down. Yup. I remember how this works, but yikes it does make a girl’s thighs burn. Back to a walk and a return to the beach. Our guide asks if we are all now up for a full-blown gallop down the entire length of the beach. Ummm. Now I have a dilemma. I do not want to be the timid one who holds the group back, causing grumbling through the ranks, nor do I want to be carried back to Dingle in a sling. “A controlled canter, please?” Thank God I spoke up because one of the other riders asked for the same option. Alright, here we go.
CONTROLLED CANTER, MY ASS! The horses warmed to the feel of the sand, skimming the surf. The riders were all well tipped forward, signaling the horse to let ‘er rip. I had contact with my horse’s mouth, resting my knuckles on his withers as I kept repeating to myself “White on rice, white on rice” keeping time with King’s out stretched body as his feet pounded the beach. Thank you, Sandy Sessink, the woman who taught me to recognize my diagonals, feel the correct lead and to never grip like a clothespin , always relaxing into the horse. And she always told me to ride that horse like “white on rice”. I didn’t fall off.
Our ride then turned to the hills. For the next four hours, we worked our way back toward Dingle. So far, Dingle had not presented her bright, sunshine summer face to us. We had mostly found the weather to be promising…promising of rain to come. When you look to the surrounding mountains, it looks as though the upper reaches are smoldering as the mist embraces them. The clouds are not the gathering thunderheads that we see in North America, they are a blanket with an occasional hole poked through to show just a wee look at the sun. Most vistas are mist softened as they reach toward the horizon. I had dressed for all weather options, being well protected from anything the day might bring. I brought my camera, but it was very hard to snap anything because the motion of the horse caused blurred photos. Rather, I tried to imprint upon my mind the glory that stretched out before me. Each blink of my eye needed to be the shutter, sending the images to my brain. And, as if Ireland knew about my bucket list, she managed to blow away much of the clouds on this day. If I looked to the hills, I saw stone walls breaking the pastures into jigsaw pieces, climbing toward the crest. Houses with small out buildings perch along the sides of lanes, defying gravity as they grab onto a wee flat spot . Because this was a mostly sunny day, I would occasionally see the forty-acre wide shadow of a cloud as it blew across the hillside. Looking back down the hills, you see the green mosaic of the pastures as they fall to the sea. At this time of year, the gorse is in full bloom, shouting with its yellow voice as it clings to every hedgerow. There is more yellow in the lovely shy iris flags that live along the roads. The hedgerows themselves are punctuated with wild fuchia, belles of Ireland, and buttercups. I felt in danger of a swoon due to the feast that my eyes were drinking in.
We passed the ruins of an ancient castle. We stopped and dismounted at the Gallarus Oratory, a sixth or seventh century structure that is in near perfect repair today, having been built by dry stacking and without any mortar.
Sometimes we found ourselves on a paved road, having to tuck in if a car needed to pass our band. We passed through farmyards, down one-track rock strewn farm lanes, past fields of sheep. It’s odd that when a person is on foot, sheep and cows totally ignore you or will actually walk away. When you are on a horse, all other four-legged creatures come to meet you. They stare at you. They chat amongst themselves.
The final leg of our trek brought us to a rapidly running creek bed. The horses all stopped for a drink before be walked into the creek to follow it’s route uphill for a bit. By this time, my screaming thighs, my aching arms, tired shoulders and chaffed other parts were scanning the hillside for a glimpse of our destination. One last turn and I caught sight of Mike in the stable yard, waiting to hear about my day. Thank God he was there because there was no way I could have found the strength to remove my boots. He may have thought it was a sense of camaraderie that made me take his arm for the walk to the car, but truthfully I did not really trust my legs to hold me upright until I could fall into the car.
A shower, a nap and a fine dinner of roasted sausage and salad waited. Mary asked if I minded if she simply prepared the meal while I tried to move as little as possible. What a silly girl she is!