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Horsing about: ‘The first thing we learned is you can’t wear shorts on a horse!’

To celebrate families in the outdoors this summer, we sent father-son duo Peter and Turlough McDonnell to try horse riding in Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan

In an age of screens and playstations, finding the time to spend as a family has never been more important, as Peter McDonnell and his son Turlough (10) found out when they spent a day learning to ride horses at Castle Leslie equestrian centre in Monaghan.

Why did you choose horse-riding for a family day out?

As a father of four kids, my wife and I are constantly looking for different ways to entertain the kids and like any 10-year-old, our youngest child Turlough probably spends too much time on laptops, playstations and the Xbox.

However, Turlough has a fascination with wildlife so for that reason we chose horse-riding as a way to bond, as we thought it would get us out and bring Turlough closer to nature. While we can see animals in the zoo, horse-riding is very interactive and you form a real bond with the animal over the lesson.

What did you expect to get out of the day?

We really had no idea what to expect but hoped it would provide us with a fun day out, where it was just myself and Turlough together for a day without any distractions.

Do you do or try new things often, as a family?

While we try to get out as a family as often as possible, with four kids all taking part in different activities, it can be difficult. It usually takes the form of a trip to the cinema or a meal. The choice of horse riding was completely new and so we were both excited.

What did you learn from the day?

The first thing we learned from the day is that you can’t wear shorts on a horse! We also learned that you can have fun without televisions and screens.  After our lesson we returned to Castle Leslie for lunch and the conversation didn’t move from the horses, despite the fact a World Cup match was on in the background and we are both avid football fans.  I don’t think we looked at it once during the meal.

What did you learn about Turlough, through the experience and what did he learn about you?

Once the instructor had kitted us out, we were both given our horses. Turlough got Jigsaw, also 10 years old, a lovely pony that was very placid. I got Summer, who at 17 hands tall made me a little nervous, given the size.

I thought Turlough would be a little bit nervous but I didn’t realise his level of confidence. Once he got up on the horse he was the guy that wanted the instructor to let go of the ropes. The senior instructor held on to him but he wanted to get away and wander over to some cows that were in the field. There was a level of confidence there that I had never seen before. I think he learned that I’m not a boring old git!

What was the best part of the day?

After a couple of minutes down the trail, you could sense the relaxation levels increase and any nervousness drift away. The three of us started chatting about the estate and the background to the horses. Caste Leslie Estate is stunningly planted and has a real family history, which is evident at nearly every turn.

Turlough’s confidence grew with every step and the highlight of the day was taking the horses down into the lake opposite the castle, which involved a lot of splashing. Another highlight came when it was time to leave, Turlough wanted to go back to the equestrian centre to say goodbye to Jigsaw and I couldn’t resist wandering over to Summer’s box to say farewell too.

Would you try something like this again?

I think that is a resounding yes. We are down in Dingle in July and Turlough is now talking about climbing Mount Brandon. We go down there a lot and the last time we got three-quarters of the way up the mountain and Turlough was devastated that we didn’t finish it, so we will go for that this time.

Why do you think it’s important to make time to spend together as a family, especially trying new things?

The reality is that everyone is looking at a screen and there are so many distractions, there are very few times you sit together as a family. We try to make a point of it, even over meals. As a result of that, slowly you can drift apart which can lead to social issues down the line, so doing something like this is very important for everyone in the family.

Freddo is always ready for his next big adventure, and this summer Cadbury Ireland is following his example and throwing open the gates of Camp Freddo.

Camp Freddo is the perfect place for families to get out and get active, while spending quality time together in the beautiful surroundings of Blessington, Co Wicklow.

From July 31st to Aug 4th, families get the opportunity to take part in a full day of adventure including zip-lining, canoeing, raft building, biking, archery, arts and crafts and more. There is even a BBQ-style lunch for all families to enjoy.

Family tickets are priced at €20 with 100 per cent of all proceeds being donated to Barnardos. Tickets for Camp Freddo are available here.

Check out the Cadbury Ireland Facebook page for more details.

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