The Kingdom on a horse: views of Kerry from a saddle | The Yes Woman
It was old hat to the horses, but to the humans the scenery was awe-inspiring
Horseplay in Kerry. Photograph: Thinkstock
I’ve always wanted to go horse-riding, but it wasn’t an activity readily available to poor children growing up in urban Limerick in the 1990s. The idea of horses called to me: their elegance, their cumbersome teeth, their big soft eyes with lashes full as box hedges.
As a child, it seemed to me those eyes were full of mysterious secrets, and I’ve always been charmed by the idea of big, strong, gentle-tempered creatures. They could buck and smash and rave, but they generally just blink at you wetly, keeping their secrets, giving an occasional flash of square teeth as they munch on something.
This week, I said yes to horse-riding, but it came about only as the result of saying yes to wild abandon. On a Monday morning, before the week had clutched me in its fist, I left Dublin behind, jumped on the train to Killarney and went to stay at Muckross Park with my partner. There, we learned about Killarney riding stables, which had sat by the country’s largest national park for some 40 years, taking riders of all experience levels through the park.
I couldn’t imagine anything more idyllic, and said so. My partner was reluctant. He referenced a childhood incident involving an independent-minded donkey that, during a beach ride, cantered off into the sea, much to the horror of the small boy on his back. “It was quite traumatic,” he said. I tried to comfort him, saying the delinquent donkey had certainly long since died of old age, and that the people at the stables would pair him with a horse that could control itself. He capitulated.
Hay and fetlocks
The moment we arrived, the smell permeated deeply enough to reach my inner child: that horsey smell of hay and fetlocks and manure. My horse was called Jimmy, a sweet little fellow with short, stubby legs and an ego complex. He was small enough to manage all 5ft of me on his back, and I think he was a little ashamed about it.
My partner, being very tall, was paired with James, a Clydesdale with hooves the size of dinner plates. James was unbearably regal and had a fringe that sat just so over his lovely eyes. The horse was fully aware of his good looks, and seemed to think about them a great deal.
Our guide, Yvonne, led us out on Martina; a very elegant white pony. I was behind on Jimmy, which, like some small people, was brimming with bravado and wanted to be at the front. At the back came James, carrying his cargo with reluctance. Neither of us had been on a horse before, and so, although we had been paired with relatively sanguine creatures, they did what they wanted.
At first, Jimmy seemed reluctant to engage in the exercise. I asked Yvonne if perhaps he was tired.
“Oh no,” she replied. “He’s just Jimmy.” She informed me that the horses never worked more than three hours a day, and had at least one day off every week. Suddenly I envied Jimmy.
A glance behind frequently revealed James off in the distance, fondly chomping great mouthfuls of grass, or some tree or other, with my partner sitting frustrated on his back. Jimmy had a fondness for thistles, and stopped often to wander into them. He left them again at his leisure, or the urging of our guide, who would occasionally shout back at him to hurry up.
Suddenly we came through a gate, and there were deer everywhere. They were 10ft away and completely unperturbed as they lounged about or walked slowly with their little noses pointed snootily at the sky. I was quite moved; Jimmy wasn’t.
We moved past the deer and into a view that set my whole being at ease. The Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range loomed out of the mist. In the distance, Ross Castle and Ross Island could be seen as we passed by Lough Lein.
It was old hat to the horses, but for someone who has grown accustomed to Dublin’s paving and clamour, it was wonderfully peaceful.
We ambled back to the stable, James chewing a large branch the whole way. The sun broke through the mist, and for a moment, everything was entirely peaceful.