Horseback Riding Vacations at the Horse Holiday Farm

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Thunder on the Strand
"Weekend" Magazine 20.5.2000
Peter Cunning

To Ben Bulben

Riding by the Sea

Horse Holiday Farm

View from the Horse Holiday Farm

There are still smidgens of snow, sparkling geometric shapes, up on Benwiskin, Ben Bulben's mountain neighbour. Although the late spring sunshine has coaxed out primproses along every bank, down on Cliffony strand you can see the wind is swirling in from Donegal Bay and unsettling flocks of oyster catchers. It's midday and down in the village of Grange, a little more than a mile away, the Angelus is marked by a taped rendition of "Ave Maria" with bells, relayed through the local church's tannoy system.

"Grange is a great village," says Tilman Anhold as we walk from his house to the stable yeard. "Everyone here pulls together."

There is little trace of a German accent. 28 years ago he came here from Celle, near Hannover, and married Colette, a local Irish girl who spoke a little German. He never went back.

The sound of a blacksmith's hammer on steel rings all around us. It's the day before Tilman and Colette open for the 2000 season; tomorrow they're expecting an influx of Germans and Scandinavians to their quaintly named Horse Holiday Farm, the enterprise to which they've devoted their lives. Yardmen direct power hoses to sluice down the last signs of winter from the stables and walkways. Charlie McNulty, the blacksmith from Donegal, whose noble face looks as if it were fashioned on an anvil, is shooing a large number of the 103 horses that make up his establishment. He stoops and picks up a hoof and lays it upon his leather apron. Then he files down the hoof in deft, rasping strokes until the horse's foot is flat and even to receive the metal shoe.

Tilman's farm - everyone around here refers to "Tilman's" - is found in a setting of exceptional natural beauty. His house over the great Donegal Bay looks out to the Slieve League peninsula. To the distant right, looking over Mullaghmore Castle, are the crowded peaks of the Blue Stack Mountains. To the left is Sligo Bay and beyond it, in the distance, the primal hump of stones that is Queen Medb's tomb on Knocknarea. Directly behind Tilman's is Ben Bulben, flat headed, timeless, enthralling. Directly below Tilman's is Streedagh strand. Cliffony strand is a mile further on. If you're a walker or hiker, this is heaven. If you ride horses, then it is truly kingdom come.

Tilman gives me a leg-up on Beaker, an eight-year old gelding. Sun is drenching down as I leave the yard and am met by Elke, Tilman's neighbour, a Cologne girl who is married to Tommy Wymbs, a local man. Elke has volunteered to be my guide for the morning. She is riding Stonepark, a grey gelding, on its toes. We trot down the lane past a cottage whose colour scheme and plastic window flowers somehow manage to make the term kitsch appealing.


Miles of Beaches

Gallop at the Sea

Riding on the Beach

From Beach to Beach at Low Tide

"You've got four strands," Elke says, "starting with Mullaghmore, then Cliffony, Streedagh and Lissadell. At low tide you can ride on all four, from one to the other."

The place names, spoken in Elke's lilting Cliffony accent, sound like blank verse. I remember how Yeats used these local place names:
Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliffe Churchyard Yeats is laid

The strand at Cliffony provides the horses with irresistible open space. Snorting in the ozone, they take off through the incoming white caps. Beaker is stretching out, trying to let me give him another inch of rein. The sound of our hooves in the tide is curiously muted. Gulls on the sand ahead cling to their territory until the last minute as we thunder towards them. I can taste salt and sea, feel sun, hear water and gulls, smell horse. We pull up and trot in a circle, catching our breaths. We've cantered about a mile. Ahead is the gothic starkness of  Mullaghmore. Sand dunes roll back from the high-tide mark, great, towering craggy hills of sand and pampas grass. There are no other humans in sight.


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

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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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