Saddle Up: The Top Riding Destinations

Ireland's West Coast: Riding Country Supreme

In an era of jet travel and superhighways, riding on horseback is admittedly old-fashioned. But it is still the best way to travel the wild backcountry, where roads are few and far between. And riding is one of the few forms of adventure that allows you to work with animals, not just watch them. Most riding tours are gentle, slow-paced outings suitable for the whole family, but if you're an experienced rider, a host of challenging adventures are available, from roping steers in Wyoming to galloping across the pampas of South America.
Ireland's western coastal terrain plunges from craggy hillsides into steep emerald valleys, past whitewashed cottages and stone castles on the shores of wooded lakes to golden beaches and the deep blue Atlantic.

The rugged landscape, quick-change weather, and a traditional Celtic culture add to the region's charm and mystique. The Connemara Peninsula, the setting of John Ford's classic film, The Quiet Man, is a near-legendary center for Irish horse breeding. To sample the best of Connemara riding, head to County Galway, home of the Aille Cross Equestrian Center. Here, noted horseman Willie Leahy maintains a stable of a hundred horses, which he matches to the individual likes and abilities of his guests. One of the best routs is the Connemara Trail Ride, which alternates between inland and coastal routes, following bridle paths, beaches, and mountain tracks at a moderate pace, with overnight stops at comfortable country inns. The highlight is a visit to Mweenish Island, a national wilderness preserve. Seaside fields with stone walls invite jumping, and the broad beach at low tide inspires informal racing. "Relaxed" versions of the Connemara ride are also available, where guests can go at their own leisurely pace and ride English or Western.
For roads a bit less traveled head north to Sligo, the trailhead for reasonably-priced, individualized trail ride. First get briefed at the stables, get a map of the terrain, and a list of farmhouses with bed-and-breakfast accommodations, and then set loose ently along well-marked paths and country roads. Continuing up the western coast from Sligo is Donegal, where the coastline is even more dramatic.
Practically Speaking
The best time to visit is in August, when Connemara's largest town, Clifton, hosts the annual Connemara pony show, an event which draws equine enthusiasts from around the world. In the winter, there are more adventurous tours for skilled riders—a week of cross-country jumping, with an optional days of fox-hunting.

Published: 9 Mar 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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