“Have you been on a horse before?” the lady on the phone asked.
“Yes. I have,” I answered. “But only a few times. And it’s been a while. And the last time didn’t go so well. I would not call myself a seasoned rider. There’s a story there, you know… for another time…”
I thought she might laugh, but she didn’t. Instead, I heard the sound of a pencil scrape across the page. “I shall put you down as ‘beginner’ then.”
“Yes… th-that would be best,” I stammered. I made a mental note to answer the rest of the questions in a straightforward manner.
There was a long pause. I thought we lost the connection, but the lady cleared her throat and continued. “I have a horse available for you this afternoon. About 3:30pm. He’s a gentle fellow. He’s getting on in years, but friendly and doesn’t spook. I use him for my first-timers.”
“That sounds perfect,” I said. I had initially thought an hour would be enough time on a horse, but then I had second thoughts. An hour didn’t seem nearly long enough to be considered a successful ride. “Do you think an hour will be good?” I asked. “Or should I look at two or three hours?”
“Oh… I think an hour is plenty – especially if you haven’t ridden in a while. Two or three hours seem a fine idea now, but it can seem like a bloody eternity if you start to get sore. Trust me, an hour is good and plenty. This way you’ll be able to walk the next day. Maybe.” This made her laugh.
“Okay,” I said.
“Do you need directions? Do you know where we’re located?”
I looked at the brochure, faded from too much sun through the windows of the breakfast room, and spied the simple map at the bottom of the page. “It looks like you’re just past the roundabout on the west side of town. At the Ventry Estate?” I asked.
“That’s right, yeah. Look for the sign, drive down a bit and you’ll see the stables. You won’t miss it, I’m sure.”
“Alright. See you at 3:30pm.”
I hung up the phone, handed it back to Pat, and thanked him for making the call.
“So you’re to be on a horse this afternoon, then? Ah, wonderful. It’ll be grand, I’m sure.”
“I’m sure it will,” I agreed.
Pat and his wife Anne ran Dúinín House, a small B&B up the hill from the town centre. It would serve as my base while I stumbled my way around the Dingle Peninsula.
I had only been in Dingle for a couple days when I had spied the brochure for horse riding in the plastic stand by the window and asked Pat if he knew anything about it.
“Not too much, no,” he replied. “But the Ventry Estate – where the stables are – is certainly worth a look. I’ll give them a call, if you like, and you can see what’s what.”
avonfg After I hung up, Pat grinned in the way I’d come to expect from the older generation of Irishmen. His eyes twinkled with a hint of mischief. And, as he scurried off, he giggled just loud enough for me to hear. Pat always seemed like he was up to something, much to the chagrin of his patient wife. “I’ll leave you to finish your breakfast,” he said as he left the room.
“Thank you,” I replied, wondering, as I did every morning, if I was going to finish the entire plate. A traditional Irish breakfast was a considerable amount of food.
As I left the table, Anne greeted me and wished me good morning. She was a little shorter than Pat and looked to be in good shape for a woman in her later years. She had a ruddy Irish complexion and her golden blonde hair swooped across her forehead. I noticed she was in her exercise clothes. “On me way to do the Pilates,” she said. I couldn’t find a decent cappuccino to save my life, but Anne was off to her Pilates class. “Twice a week,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”
I looked out towards the town of Dingle through the large windows of the breakfast room as the sun started to break through the morning fog. Wildflowers clung to the old rock wall and, as it was March, I could hear the sound of newborn lambs where Pat’s brother tended his flock. The room had quickly warmed up and I knew it was time to get on with my day. As I walked through the parlour, I wondered why I was paying to ride a horse. It seemed like a silly thing to do. Horse riding was not something I naturally gravitated towards, and it was only on a whim that I even asked about it. I was perfectly content to spend the day driving into little villages or poking around the archeological sites that dotted the peninsula, but a little voice in the back of my head told me this was something I needed to do. Part of the reason I was in Ireland was to do things I wouldn’t normally do, and horse riding (even for just an hour) fell into that category.