Travels & Trials by Horseback
Traveling on horseback is a life changing experience, even though it’s often far from a “vacation.” We caught up with equestrian travel veteran Krystal Kelly of Equestrian Adventuresses about her riding trip across Ireland with her husband and two horses.
Keep reading to learn more about Krystal and in our interview!
Q: Is Ireland a very “horse-friendly” country?
This isn’t the answer you want to hear… but ABSOLUTELY NOT! I was surprised when we arrived in Ireland only to discover there are basically ZERO horseback riding trails in the Irish countryside. Sure, there were a few places here and there with quiet “green roads” (i.e. paved country roads with a patch of green grass growing in the middle), but all-in-all there unfortunately aren’t many places for many equestrian enthusiasts to ride off-road.
We did all 400 miles of our cross country trip entirely on roads. Although we tried to stick to the quiet country roads, we couldn’t avoid the busier roads completely and had near-daily close calls with dangerous semi-trucks, tractor, or van-drivers.
I had definitely envisioned Ireland being more horse-friendly than it turned out to be.
That said, there ARE plenty of horses, horse lovers, and horseback riders in Ireland! As we discovered, though, many of them ride in arenas, cross country trail ride on green roads, or join the local hunt if they want more of a horseback riding adventure.
It used to be common in the Irish culture to allow “travelers” an empty stable or plot of land for their horses for the night, as well as a place in the barn for riders to rest their heads. We soon learned that culture has starting to fade for a few reasons.
- Cars: They’ve simply taken over the planet!
- Cities: More and more young people are moving to cities for work opportunities and education. While we definitely met a lot of friendly people in the Irish countryside who still stand by old traditions, we noticed a clear change in attitudes whenever we got closer to cities, like Galway City.
We had a few scary times when we almost didn’t find a place to stay for the night. (We ended up knocking on strangers’ doors asking for a field for our horses and a place to pitch our tent.) But we were always rescued by someone with a big heart who remembered and honored the old Irish traditions.
Q: Did you plan your entire trip ahead of time?
Actually, we had never looked at a map of Ireland until the night before our departure. We had a rough destination (North), but that was about it.
Each evening we would ask our current hosts if they had any route recommendations. We changed route several times and in fact if you were to look at our map of our route, you’ll see a lot of zig zagging!
Often, we’d try an alternative route only to be pointed in the opposite direction by a local. I think that was a lot of the fun though.
Maps only tell you so much — like if there’s a motor-way type road or not. If you want real information, though, you have to speak to the locals. They suggested we take roads we never would have considered otherwise, and their guidance helped us find some pretty amazing places with spectacular scenery.
Q: What was it like hiring a horse box?
We had to hire a horse box to transport our horses from England to Ireland. A horse box is basically a big van-style horse transporter. We also managed to find a random guy (thanks to networking with the locals) who met us at the roadside and loaded up our horses so we could then cross the Shannon River.
He dropped the four of us off in the parking lot on the other side and headed back across the ferry without much ado.
It was a funny situation to find ourselves in — in an empty car park of the ferry terminal holding two horses.
Our horses were not phased by much, to be honest, despite the fact that they are both hot-blooded horse breeds. Q is an off-the-track thoroughbred, and Lilly is a little fiery part Arabian mare. They both settled into a routine during our horseback riding adventure. Lilly would lead with me in the front, and Christian and Q plodded along behind at their own pace. Q was in charge of carrying the tent and a few small saddle bags. Lilly carried our sleeping bags and couple items stuffed into her saddle bags.
Every evening, Lilly would begin her search for the perfect field. “This one!” she would indicate to me by steering toward the nearest house so I could begin knocking on doors.
The horses LOVED having new places to stay every night — especially Lilly. I think Q was just happy to have some food in her belly and a good roll. But Lilly? She would gallop around the fields, paddocks, or stalls to investigate every little thing. On the very few occasions that accommodation were not up to her standards, she was eager to get going in the morning and didn’t like us sleeping in!
Q: How did the Irish weather treat you?
We knew Ireland was going to be tricky weather wise. After all, it (probably) rains 99% of the time. We packed two heavy-duty rain ponchos we had found in a gaucho shop in Brazil.
Chief Rookie Aside: I have a waterproof Outback Pack a Roo Duster and love it!
We also bought cheap but waterproof-ish saddlebags in the hopes that our things would remain dry. The sleeping bags were kept in a sealed motorcycle dry-bag so, if all else failed, at least our beds wouldn’t be wet.
When we first arrived in Ireland, it was sunny with rainbows everywhere. It was magical and perfect, and we couldn’t believe our luck.
Later in our trek, though, we encountered a couple hail storms mid-ride. Lilly and Q immediately stopped in the road, turned their butts to the hail, and there we sat. Christian and I got most of the hail (and bruises) while our horses enjoyed a good nibble on the roadside grass until the storm passed.
We had quite a few soggy days where even the ponchos couldn’t protect us and our boots filled with water. Plus, packing a wet tent every morning meant that it didn’t have a chance to dry off. Going to sleep wet, waking up wet, and riding all day wet wasn’t much fun.
Q: Do you have any tips for finding lodging when traveling with horses?
We didn’t know anyone in Ireland before arriving. As we rode and talked to people, we found someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who had a place for us that night. Facebook helped a lot, as well! If not for Facebook, we wouldn’t have met quite a few awesome people who learned about our journey on our page and reached out to offer us lodging.
Most often, we were offered a warm bed and a hot meal and spent almost every evening laughing and swapping stories with a new local family.
That is the BEST thing about Ireland — the wonderful people!
They are extremely friendly, and I’d encourage anyone traveling with horses in Ireland to spend some quality time getting to know the locals.
Note: If you want to ride horses in Ireland (and aren’t taking your own), you’ll find all the best options in my book Horse Riding in Every Country. It’s like a phone book for people searching for horse riding holiday or places to ride, and includes 400+ stables in 180+ countries around the world. Grab a copy below!
Q: What are you MOST glad you packed?
Our rain ponchos — definitely! We also loved having our Go-Pro so we could document our adventures on video.
Another item I’ll never trail ride without is our sturdy Leatherman pocket knife. Q got her shoe caught in fence wiring (don’t ask me how horse’s get themselves into these messes!) early on in our horseback riding adventure. Luckily it happened while I was also in the field, so she just stood there patiently and waited for me to come rescue her.
Her shoe was so tangled in the wire that Christian had to use the Leatherman (which had wire cutters) to cut the fencing wire and free her! I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t have those wire cutters, but I am so thankful we had that pocket knife.
Another item we each carried was a pair of “bombashas,” which are basically riding pants for gauchos. The reason I fell in love with riding in these bombashas was that they were sturdier than breeches material, but still softer and more flexible than jeans. Plus, they have HUGE POCKETS since they are designed for men. Having big pockets as a woman is a real treat, and I can no longer go back to wearing women’s pants!
Q: What makes trail riding in Ireland unique?
The scenery of the western coast is simply spectacular and the is breathtaking. We enjoyed a lot of beautiful days, even riding on roads!
Also, as I mentioned before, the Irish people are truly special. I have never met as many friendly people in all my travels, and I feel like every day we gained new family members, not just friends.
Q: What advice do you have for a novice rider struggling with confidence?
Confidence is an easy fix! I’m an FEI II Certified coach who has taught thousands of riders on five different continents over 15 years. Confidence increases when you understand how to have a “sticky butt” (i.e. how to stay on despite spooks, bucks, or other antics) and how to speak the horse’s language and really connect with them. Even an can lack confidence and need help.
We even have a complete video course masterclass covering exactly this topic.
My suggestion is to take your education seriously and take riding lessons from a professional (not a backyard trainer who read a book about horses once and now calls herself a coach).
Or, seek mentors to help work with you to develop your seat and confidence. That’s the great thing about online coaching — you can literally learn this stuff from home, something I wish I would have had access to when I was a kid growing up in a small town in California.
Q: What’s the biggest takeaway you’ve heard from other equestrian adventuresses?
When most “normal people” travel, they go for a vacation. They swim in the pool at the resort, they walk around and take photos of old buildings, and they sit in cafe’s and order food which is familiar to them. That simply isn’t for me.
I believe something magical happens when you travel by horseback and engage in true adventures. Suddenly, you begin to see the world differently.
Locals smile when they see you riding by, and they stop you and invite you over for a cup of tea. You taste local food, and you see rural and remote places that most foreigners never see. Riding horses exposes you to the world in a way that no other mode of transportation can.
There are no glass windows between you and the spectacular scenery, the people, or the elements. Landscape doesn’t flash by at highway speeds… time slows.
After taking a grand adventure to Ireland with my own horses, I can definitely say that there is no greater feeling in the world than building a bond with your animals that is so strong you know they would circle the ends of the Earth and go through fire for you.
That is what we experienced, and it’s something I hope all riders can experience at least once in their lives!
Want to learn more or follow my adventures?
I’ve also started a podcast about horse women and for women. Give it a listen on iTunes!
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Ranch Roundup: 10 Best Horseback Riding Vacations in Montana
- Packing for Paradise: What to Wear Horse Riding on Vacation
- Big Sky Yoga Retreats Review: Loved It So Much I Moved Here
- B Luxe Cowgirl Yoga Retreat: What Each Day is Really Like
- 8 Best Horse Cameras (Action, Helmet, Trailer, Barn, Drone)