So many people either choose to ride in warmer climes (very nice) or wait until spring or summer to head out on a riding holiday, which makes sense in many ways. However, if you live in Ireland, UK or even further afield, I encourage you to at least take a short break horse riding in Ireland this winter.
Winter is the season for hunting in Ireland and we can put you in touch with the very best hosts and organise the best horse hirelings. If you don’t like hunting there is fantastic cross country riding, drag hunting (chasing a scent) and what we call “charity rides” (these are basically ride-outs with tons of jumping on option). For sure, winter is the season in Ireland where you can ride across lots of farmland and do lots of jumping and it’s pretty unique in that regard.
Olivia and Eoin Sharkey in Kells, Co. Meath started off as clients of mine (I organised their honeymoon to South Africa, a riding safari, of course, some 10 years ago – they rode with Steven Rufus in Songivelmo game park in South Africa. Sadly Steven no longer guides and Songivelmo is no longer open to riders but for a very similar fantastic game experience adventurous honeymooners should consider a safari in Botswana with Limpopo safaris: check it out here: Botswana-Limpopo safaris), then we became friends (I borrowed Olivia’s hunting Connemara, Harvey, one summer to get back in the saddle. Then Jill rode him at the Dublin Horse Show in the Connemara ridden class!- dam I can’t find the photo!) and now they are Zara’s Planet partners too!
Olivia is co-owner, along with her brother and mother, of the Headfort Arms in Kells, a historic heritage town; it’s a real family/owner managed operation which I love. Eoin is a certified free-range farmer and the couple are passionate horsemen/women and spend as much of the winter as they can hunting with the famous Meath Hunt. Olivia hosts and organises for our clients to go hunting with the Meaths or another more casual local pack, the Ballymacads, with guests staying at the Headfort Arms.
I’ve hunted in Ireland several times and have enjoyed some great days out, but as a self-confessed “chicken” when it comes to big drains, recently I declined Eoin’s offer to hunt his horse, however I took up Olivia’s offer to experience the “hospitality” side of the holiday on offer. Bringing my non-horsey husband, John, to the Headfort Arms seemed the perfect solution too, as he is always lamenting that when I’m not away on a horsey holiday, I’m off with the kids and their ponies!
So last Saturday we headed up to Kells. For those of you wishing a short break, Kells is only 45 minutes from Dublin and a world apart. A quaint little heritage town, the centre of life is the family run Headfort Arms right in the centre of the village. With friendly and welcoming staff at reception, we checked in and headed to our room. It was recently decorated with clean, fresh carpets, tasteful, quite traditional bedding and curtains and a lovely mosaic tiled bathroom with bath and rain shower head – just perfect!
We took a stroll round the town which is full of character and even met the local undertaker, who gave us a bit of a history lesson. Then it was off for a pint at the pub adjoining the hotel as we just had to sample the Guinness of course, which was excellent. Later we sat down in the Vanilla Pod restaurant, also owned by the Headfort Arms. It’s a really cosy, little restaurant which can only be described as full of “buzz” on account of its really great atmosphere. Again I liked the décor which is simple but classy. I can see why the Vanilla Pod has won good food awards as our meal was delicious – sort of top of the range, Gastro pub style with a local twist and locally sourced ingredients. Of course, Olivia is passionate about good food, being an artisan producer herself with Eoin, and she has represented the county internationally as a food ambassador, so her influence is clearly there. I had fried goat’s cheese and rocket to start with, followed by local duck sitting on a bed of red cabbage and the most creamy delicious potato gratin I’ve had in decades! John went for the steak which was perfectly done. We went for the house wine which was a Chilean Sauvignon, excellent value and served at the perfect temperature, really a great wine for a house one. Feeling full after all that, I opted for a little brown bread ice cream and John enjoyed a double whiskey! Had we been hunting, the meal would most certainly have revived us extremely well.
After lingering a long time in the restaurant, we headed to the hotel’s big open seating bar area where the real party was. With live music and great service, you can party here for as long as you like, but we decided to be boring and had an early night.
It was fantastic to sample this family owned hotel which is FAR better than the 3 star rating suggests!
The next morning, we headed to Olivia and Eoin’s for coffee and met their three delightful daughters – Anna, Kate and Sage. After a tour of their free-range small holding, we met their fantastic hirelings:a gorgeous grey Irish draught and sporty coloured sports horse. These horses are fit and ready for hunting with either the Meaths or Ballymacads and I can’t recommend them enough. So, if you want to treat yourself to a great day’s hunting, sumptuous hotel room and dinner, then just get in touch. But quick! There are only a few weeks before the season is over. The Meath hunting area is mostly drain country and so if you want stone walls then you should head to Galway, where another characterful place with lots of great hirelings is Flowerhill with Oliver Walsh to host you.
For more on our hunting holidays, have a look here on our website and please contact us for some local specials
Next to review will be some new options we are adding in Ireland to keep a watch on our blog.