So last year after many years in the ‘planning’ stage (for us that meant forever saying we needed to go on a riding holiday) my mate and I finally did our horse riding holiday. We opted for Ireland to experience some cross-country riding and we were recommended Annaharvey Farm. It is in County Offaly and not a long drive from Dublin although to be fair it wasn’t me doing the driving! As an aside we stopped at a service station for some food and I was pretty impressed, home-made soup, fresh fruit and lovely coffee. I reckon the service stations in the UK should follow their example.
Initially we were having problems locating the farm but I think out satnav took us a slightly obscure route and once we followed the printed instructions we located it pretty easily. We received such a warm welcome and our room was beautiful. We were staying in the farmhouse, all cosy with open fires and big windows with a view across their fields.
We were talked through the timings of our lessons and hacks for the next two days, given all the information we needed and left to settle in. We ended up heading to the nearby town for dinner and afterwards falling into bed apprehensive of the next two days!
I should also mention here that I hadn’t been jumping for nearly two years and had done only two jumping lessons in preparation for this holiday. I am happy to jump but I am always slightly relieved when I clear the fence and my exit from the jump is still not particularly great.
After an amazing breakfast (the food at Annaharvey was fantastic) we collected our riding gear and headed over to the stables. At this stables we were required to wear body protectors for jumping, I had been wearing one for around a year following my three falls at my previous stables but had recently taken it off in an attempt to improve my posture and my confidence (totally personal reasons here). It felt strange putting it on and almost immediately my nerves were heightened again. We had a discussion with our instructor about our levels of ability and what we were hoping to get out of the lesson (this had all been done prior to travelling as well but it was good to go over things and be able to ask questions).
So on to the real part I know you all want reviewed, the riding!
Both days we did two lessons combining jumping and flatwork then we did another hour ride in the afternoon out into the fields both were cross-country style rides. We were told we would be riding different horses for each lesson with our various needs taken into account and constantly assessed. For example my friend tended to have more forward going horses while I had steadier ones due to my nerves. I have to say as well my nerves were always treated so well with the instructors helping me through various situations and never making me feel silly for being nervous.
Our first lesson was a jumping lesson, after a good warm up where Sarah and I were being constantly assessed. It was clear to me that I was out of practise with jumping, even though I had been given a couple of jumping lessons with my instructor back home. I used to jump most weeks and still trying to do it by eye, which does not work. I am quite tall and was given a handsome massive grey horse called Ollie who was an absolute gentleman. After warming up we started jumping, each time I successfully completed a jump I was so pleased. As I started off on another try I put Ollie into a beautiful smooth canter and we approached the jump I watched to gauge when I should move to jump position. Well I miss judged, I was thrown forward onto Ollie’s neck and given a real dunt up the arse. It did give me a shock and I was a bit shaken. The instructor chatted to me about what I had done wrong and then asked me to jump again, I was nervous but she was very calm and considerate and asked if I would prefer to go for it in trot – I said I thought I would but then put Ollie into canter as it is much easier to jump in canter (again that’s a total personal opinion there by the way!). We flew over it beautifully and I came out the lesson feeling better but still a bit shaken – lots to work on there then!
Half an hour later and we were back for our second lesson – this time flat work and we have another couple of women joining us. I was given another massive paler grey horse called Jacob. He was very tall and also very slim, I felt perched on top him and after my first canter had to ask for a swap – I just felt out of control.
The instructor was very understanding and pointed out all she wanted was for me to enjoy myself and that me being nervous was not something she wanted. They brought out a lovely dark bay horse called Serengeti for me and she was brilliant. She really helped with my confidence responding to everything I asked of her. It was quite a nice set up for the lesson with the instructor getting us all to warm together then taking us individually to on end of the school to work on something specific while the rest of us were told to work on something else at the other end. It worked well, although we got told off for chatting a couple of times – not working hard enough 🙂
After this lesson we headed to the farmhouse to get something to eat and a cup of tea (or twenty – I do love tea). They were busy making cakes for the competition the next day and we received a couple of free samples while we chatted in the conservatory. Next up the part I had been apprehensive of…..cross-country!
There was a much bigger group of us for this outing. There were some of the kids we had seen helping out and also a couple of riders with their own horses. A different instructor again, she seemed scarily efficient initially – barking out orders to all of us. I was given another grey horse, Simbad, this time and told he was an old hand and would look after me. Great, I thought because quite frankly I have no idea what I am doing here! Nerves mounting we went into the arena to warm up, the kids weren’t helping my nerves as one boy shot past me on a pony shouting that he had no control. We were amazed to find out that the boy was riding Jack, a pony my friend had been riding in the previous lesson and who hadn’t seemed to want to move at all.
We moved off from the stables up the dirt tracks with everyone riding side by side chatting away. I started to relax as I got chatting to others on the ride and the instructor made sure to talk to my friend and I. The call came from the instructor that we would all have a quick trot up the hill to get to the warm-up field. I’m not used to trotting alongside other horses so this felt a little strange to me when all of a sudden two boys shot past on their ponies, one being the aforementioned Jack, with the instructor shouting at them. As a punishment for letting Jack get out of control one of the boys was told to hop off and undo the gate to the field for us, watching him trying to get back on gave everyone a laugh not least the boy himself who twice fell over because he had a fit of the giggles.
Once in the field the instructor told us to go and warm up our horse, I was totally confused as normally I am given a bit more instruction than that also this field was filled with dips and hills. Basically I watched the others then copied some of what they were doing, the instructor came over to chat to me and explained I should try up hill canters, get used to Simbad and how to slow him, when to kick on etc. So while I was getting to grips with SImbad the others were off around the gallops, wow! I was far too nervous initially, kept convincing myself i could try them tomorrow then on the tenth time of the instructor asking I bit the bullet and said I would give it a go. Two horses went at once (well Jack went alone but that was to try to tire him out) so I got put with an experienced kid who explained we could just canter round. So off I went, the kid looked back and asked if I was happy to go faster, I nodded and we kicked on. Then she shouted that if I wanted to really go for it I should pull alongside, with my confidence growing with each stride I pulled Simbad alongside and my god! It was like an accelerator had been hit we flew along overtaking the other horse and flying back up into the field. Pure exhilaration! After that excitement we went to a set of tyre jumps (I was too nervous for that) but I did do the drop off, which felt huge at the time. It was so difficult not to look down but Simbad knew what he was doing. Everyone was so sweet to me all encouraging me to have a go and not being phased if I wimped out. We meandered back to the stables with me feeling pretty pleased with myself and Simbad. Not a bad day’s riding at all!
A well deserved delicious meal in the nearby town then back to the farmhouse for some cider and a seat in front of the fire.
I was a little stiff the next day but not bad, my poor mate hadn’t been riding regularly for a while and watching her getting down the stairs for breakfast was a little amusing (I know I am a terrible friend). Another brilliant breakfast, served with a bit of chat from our hosts and then out for another day of riding.
Our first lesson was another jumping lesson. I had a lovely cob called Dougal, great fun but ooft he was hard going. I really had to pester him into canter then keep reminding him to canter. There was one great jump that we did where he took off from canter and landed in trot, I’m still not sure how he did that. We were working on doings lots of jumps including double jumps which was lots of fun. I have videos but this blog currently does not allow me to post these.
On to the second lesson of the day and more jumping – seriously after this you would have thought I would be pretty good at jumping or at least better than I am. This time I was on a beautiful lad called Warpaint, I was told I should ride him with light hands and as I apparently do this they thought we would work well together. I have to say I really enjoyed this lesson and although I was told off as we had a bit of a ‘Sunday canter’ going on I did feel that I probably did some of my best riding on Warpaint. He was a brilliant jumper so it was nice to practise getting my position correct, I didn’t have enough compulsion at times and I think this contributed to my second dunt out of the saddle and again I got a bit of a fright (embarrassingly I burst into tears which I wasn’t expecting and the instructor was so lovely about it all). I have a video of that jump which is actually really helpful as I can quite clearly see how far behind the movement I actually am with him. Lesson hammered home that time, judge the jump timing on the horse’s stride.
Saddling up for the third and final time it was another cross-country ride. Unfortunately, the stables had a junior cross-country competition going on so we couldn’t use the cross-country course that they have. Instead we headed to the other sets of cross-country jumps in the fields on the other side of the stables. While waiting to mount we watched the youngsters warming up, they were brilliant. We actually headed out round the course to watch properly after our ride and it looked such good fun.
I had Serengeti again and I found that I had quite a high level of trust in her (strange for me as often I am very nervous with unfamiliar horses). We had a great instructor, in fact she had taken us all day on the Sunday but was still full of energy and giving us tips and pointers as we walked and trotted out to the fields. One incredible fast canter in forward seat and we were are a row of seven tyre jumps! We each jumped the last one to show our jump position and get the feel for the horse jumping then it was time to line up. As always getting the horses to head away from their friends was the trickiest part and while I only managed to do two jumps – and Serengeti ran out on the second – my mate did all seven and I was so impressed.
As we were heading back our instructor suddenly turned into what looked like a bush and disappeared from view, a little unnerved I followed only to discover a set of three jumps in this thicket. The jumpers were made from felled trees with branches and foliage still on them giving them a real authentic cross-country air – or is that just me. As usual I didn’t want to do all three so lined up for the first one. Serengeti did an amazing jump and it felt so natural in the canter that as I rode out of it I automatically lined up for the next one. However, I pulled her up just short as I realised that it was a double and I wasn’t sure about my positioning yet. Rather than be disappointed I had such a ridiculous grin on my face for the whole ride back, I had done cross-country fences!
This experience was something I will never forget and although this might be quite a long review it is as much for me writing my memories of the holiday as it was to recommend to others. I truly believe that holiday helped me overcome my fears of jumping, it has helped improve me as a rider and given me an appetite for cross-country that I didn’t think I would have. I can’t recommend Annaharvey enough, the instructors were great, the horses well looked after and great to ride (not always easy so a good balance), the accommodation was lovely and the hospitality I can’t rate highly enough. The local town was also friendly and the restaurants we ate in were good food for a decent price. All in all a 5* experience and since we can’t go this year (something about my friend getting married ;)) I hope to be back next year – I am desperate to do the water jump nerves or no nerves!!
*disclosure* The opinions expressed in this post are my own and I have not been paid for this review.
I would also welcome any comments or feedback about this review as it is the first I have done of a riding stables – is it too long? does it cover everything you would want to know? would it be helpful to have a summary of the review at the start? Any feedback appreciated.