Horseback Riding Vacations at the Horse Holiday Farm

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Discovering the Donegal Trail
Diana Wray reports on a unique trail riding holiday where you are given a horse and a map and sent out to explore the wilds of Donegal...

It‘s called simply Horse Holiday Farm, but it‘s more than just a farm, it‘s more than just another holiday and the horses offer much more than the average riding holiday animal.
In fact Horse Holiday Farm is quite simply unique - and for all the best reasons! Where else would you get the chance to create your own adventure on horseback - given your own horse for a week, saddlebags for your belongings and a map with which to find your way riding through breathtakingly scenic Irish trails, stopping off each evening at a welcoming guesthouse in the wilds of Donegal before moving on the next day to explore new trails.
No guide or leader to set the pace -you make your own. No stable staff to feed and groom your horse - you do that yourself. No restrictions or schedules to stick to other than that you treat your horse with care and respect and turn up at the guesthouse some time before dinner. No need to ‘check in‘ each evening to report how the day went, you‘re trusted to get on with it - although help, should you ever need it, is only a phone call away.


Consulting the expert - Astra
“We‘re the only people we know who offer these self-led trails,“ says Tilman Anhold, who along with his wife Colette has been running riding holidays from their base in Sligo for over 25 years. “Others have tried it, but it hasn‘t worked out for them.“ And indeed it‘s a daring concept – how do they know if their guests are even capable of spending long hours in the saddle, let alone taking care of a horse? What if there‘s an accident? How can they be sure the riders will actually find their way to the guesthouse each night? And in return, what if, far from the farm, a rider becomes dissatisfied with or is unsuited to their horse? What if a rider pushes their horse‘s pace unfairly, or treats him harshly in other ways? So many ifs and buts...

The success of Horse Holiday Farm - and it undoubtedly is a huge success, especially with visitors from America and Europe - is in no small way down to the singular talents of this exceptional husband and wife team. Tilman and Colette are the archetypal amiable Irish hosts, although Tilman still carries a strong hint of his Germanic roots in his lilting brogue and German is spoken frequently in the yard as he converses with his hard working staff, many of whom come from Germany or other Eastern European countries.
He and Colette are welcoming, relaxed and keen to do everything they can to make you feel at ease at Horse Holiday Farm.
Behind the scenes, however, they and their staff work hard to ensure everything runs smoothly. In reality, not much is left to chance. On the day of your arrival, Tilman takes you out for a beach ride (the farm looks out over the sweeping sands of Trawalud Strand) and quietly assesses your riding ability. You must be a competent, experienced rider to do the self-led trail, and Tilman will be the judge. But don‘t be put off -‘rusty‘ riders or average ‘leisure‘ riders like myself are fine.

Tilman and Colette have built up a good working relationship with the owners of the various guesthouses you stay at and the warm welcome and fabulous food we received at each was superb.
You will be shown what to do with the horses on arrival, offered help if you need it, and given some useful advice about the next day‘s trail. This network of hospitable hosts keeps an eye out for their guests: should you not arrive by evening, it would not be long before the ‘jungle drums‘ alerted the local countryside - and Tilman. And if the horses came in totally sweated and exhausted, I would image that a quiet word might be had with Tilman.

The routes are well worked out and much of the riding is off road. Riders are given detailed maps of the area and helpful arrows providing directions have been painted on paths and wooden posts to help keep you right. Besides, just about everyone you meet along the way knows Tilman and his horses so you‘d never be lost for long.

And what of the horses themselves? It was rude of me not to mention them earlier, for the part they play is critical to the enjoyment of the whole holiday! Perhaps the very fact that I have taken their role for granted is a sign that all was well.
My trail-riding partner for the week, Megan, was given a young chestnut gelding called Busky while 1 rode the more experienced ‘ginger‘ mare Astra. Both fine looking Irish hunters, they knew their job inside out (Astra even guided us into the correct guesthouse each evening) and were an absolute joy to ride.
So much so, that we soon took their co-operation and good manners as a given, allowing us to enjoy the wonderful scenery to the full, to chat easily riding side by side, to be able (while holding our horses) to eat a picnic lunch in peace, to stop off at a pub for a refreshing drink, knowing our horses were happy to stand tethered, to ride safely past the odd traffic we did encounter and to give us glorious gallops across deserted beeches and tracks.
And this is largely the secret of Tilman‘s success. The horses are exceptionally well trained and selected by Tilman specially for the purpose. Some he breeds (he now has over 100 horses) and others he buys as young horses and trains up himself. This, he feels is essential in developing the particular kind of animal he - and his clients - require.
The horses are not used for hourly rides with beg inner and novice riders as they sometimes are at other establishments, and remain unspoilt and responsive, with a reputation for easy handling and safe riding, combined with the spirit to give you an unforgettable, exhilarating beech ride the moment their hooves touch the sand.

Various trail riding options are available, staying at guesthouses or pubs en route, or basing your riding from the farm it self, from which you can venture out each day either on your own or with a leader for some great riding, which also includes cross country and hunting.
Getting out on trail, meandering across remote bogs and mountains (on tracks inaccessible to only the most enthusiastic walkers) brings its own sense of tranquillity and solitude. The ever-changing landscapes are mood enhancing and the challenge of finding the trail an added adventure. (If only we‘d listened to Astra at the first fork in the trail we would not have added those few extra miles on the first day!).
The highlight however, must surely be riding by the sea - equally loved by riders and horses and part of the package, whichever one you choose.


Tilman and Colette Anhold
Horse Holiday Farm Ltd.
Grange County Sligo Ireland
Telephone : (071) 9166152
Fax : (071) 9166400
From Europe Telephone : 00 353 71 9166152
Fax : 00 353 71 9166400

The Horse Holiday Farm is Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board) approved and
a member of A.I.R.E., the Association of Irish Riding Establishments.

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