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He was a really good ride

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Deirdre Conroy

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The phone rings ‘It’s your lucky day! They’ve got a horse for you.’ I look at the screen, it’s 7.30am. I’ve had five hours sleep after the birthday dinner and now there’s a prospect of riding a horse for three hours in the snow-covered Wicklow mountains, with people I don’t know. I’ll have to resuscitate the social gene.

 En route we need petrol and Annie decides on a breakfast roll, I’ve never had one, but it seems like a great idea, bacon and sausages in a carb-loaded wedge of bread, slathered with ketchup. Yes, we do look like two city girls in jodhpurs, gone wrong.
Annie is wide awake and regaling me with shooting stories and the fine specimens who shoot with her. She comes out with a cracker of a word; it will find its place here one day soon, but not yet. Hmmm. I’m supposed to be in bed, fast asleep, maybe I’m dreaming. I’m trying to keep my eye on the road while working my core muscles, breathing evenly and mentally preparing for the canter ahead.
As we arrive at the farm, my phone alarm goes off at the time I’d set to wake up. And here I am surrounded by horses, sheep, chickens, fields and even actual sunshine, not bad going at all.
We’re here to join the ladies who lunch and ride. They’re the riding angels. Annie and I are getting our horses from the G&T Angel. I’m given a very large grey mare called Queen Maeve, well there’s some sort of synergy in our legendary names I thought. They tell me she likes to bolt and jump gates, whatever my expression, they changed me to a smaller piebald, Apache, a much better fit. There’s a lot of heaving saddles, blankets, bridles and all, then getting them into the actual horse box, G&T husband comes to the aid and we’re away.
The women are different in Kildare 4. Without doubt they can justify driving a 4X4, unlike the mummies in south Dublin who just clog up the roads and take up two spaces in carparks. We arrive at the Sunshine Angel’s house where we will reconvene for lunch. There’s a modern wagon train, with jeeps and horseboxes circling the yard and everyone being busy and useful, except me. The house is a great example of a newly built farmhouse, no temptation to wander into dormer bungalow territory and cleverly has an identical side and front elevation with three bays and a central door, giving it double the depth of a traditional farmhouse. We meet the Mother Ship Angel here and two other cow gals, one has a horse recovering from injury so it’s a trot and canter ride, no jumping. I never believe that.
breakback mountain
Sunshine Angel isn’t riding with us, she’s injured and hobbles around her kitchen with a swish of a golden mane. It turns out her injury isn’t sustained on our four legged friends, but skiing in Switzerland after a recently well publicised wedding. Another Angel is also hobbling after a fall. Our woman, the G&T Angel broke her shoulder in two places at Christmas; they all take the injuries in their stride. I won’t.
Six of us are mounted and clip clop towards Church Mountain, two by two. I love my horse, it’s the smallest one I’ve ever ridden so I feel I can control it rather than it having it’s own way with me. I’ve worn double socks so I don’t freeze, the birthday blow-dry will turn into helmet hair, but you know, sacrifices. Calories will be burnt and fresh air will be partaken as compensation. What’s great about horseback is you get up a mountain faster, see over hedgerows and navigate grikes and woodland without spraining an ankle. Nice little trot and the next thing mother ship and g&t take off, no warning, my hat slips inconveniently over my eyes, but I can do this, I whisper as I hang on with one hand and push the hat up, over and over. We stop on the mountain where the snow is still thick, the air is colder, the sky is blue and the lake below like is wide and flat, heather is about to bloom, it’s a silent and empty landscape, no walkers, bikers or cars, just us. Someone says we could be in the Alps, much better, we didn’t have to take off shoes, belts, go through security and endure a flight. The girls recommend I loosen the hat; next time we canter it’s utterly brilliant.
The cold has set into my knees and ankles and the next time we trot it’s a gruelling mission to maintain the stride. With all the opening and closing of gates, thankfully by G&T, as I don’t think I could bend a leg to remount, I’ve ended up leading the group. With a panoramic spread of Kildare and Wicklow in front of me, probably Carlow too, it’s time to appreciate a bit of health and agility, not to mention being an under-self-employed landlady.
We begin our descent and wend our way through farmland; a flock of pure white-fleeced ewes stand and stare at us, hoggets about to yean. My second new word of the day, these women are full of info. Two and a half hours later we’re back at sunshine angel’s house. Everybody has brought something, but other angels have set out a great spread in our absence, there’s no nonsense changing into finery, it’s boots off and padding around in our socks. Raspberry Angel has turned up with some bottles of pink bubbly, the honorary girl, let’s call him Jock, wears pink cords to live up to his name. He hasn’t been riding with us because, well, he was carted off in an ambulance last week. I’m beginning to feel I got away lightly. As we pose for a group photo, one of the girls has to move because she’s standing behind Jock and the gash in his head is so gory. I’d still go back. If I’m invited. As Charlie would say, ‘Thank you Angels’.
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