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Fancy a ride?

I did. And I found a really nice one, says Sylvia Harrison.

I didn’t find it by accident. It was more of a long, winding challenge where you end up chasing your tail. The years of child rearing, keeping up with the day job, meeting and maintaining new friends and relationships – is there no end to the ‘have to do’ of life?
There are some short but precious escapes. An odd couple of hours that you can claim to be yours. What to do with them is the thing. When the kids hit the teens, you need to get some space. Time for a hobby. Remember those? They change periodically through the course of your life. If you’re anything like me, hobbies became a thing of the past when the mortgage kicked in. Social life dissolved into the sofa with the remote control always within easy reach. Saving extra energy that is required for precious coffee making and dialling the well memorised numbers of the Chinese across the way (hopefully they do deliveries, because the three minute walk and the ten minute wait for excellent food is too much time away from the remote control). And jeez, the energy you need for a conversation. Realising that the remote control has precedence in your life, you spend hours pondering on how exactly that happened, and your belly size tells you to get more active. The nights in with the girls have become a habit and the fresh air doesn’t recognise you any more except for the brisk walks to the car. To get to the Chinese (the delivery guy is on an evening off). And no, you are not alone.
Me, I went looking for a hobby. Struggled on the path to social acceptance for a few years and having eventually decided that a regular hobby, preferably exercise, was what was required (or at least my belly did), I turned to an old hobby I had held in my teens. Horse riding. I called a number of places and found that most of them don’t cater for people just looking for an occasional trek or lesson. Most, in fact, would prefer you to pay for ten lessons up front. But this wasn’t suitable for me, not knowing whether I would like to continue it or not, not knowing whether it was going to be a weekly, fortnightly, monthly hobby. I needed somewhere I could just go to when I wanted to, just to start off. It wasn’t long before I was headed towards Annamoe, Co Wicklow.
My first journey to the Glendalough Equestrian Centre was challenging. The road is well surfaced, (well done, Wicklow County Council) and the bends are something to be calculated. You are advised to stick to the speed limit. Cyclists are plentiful on the weekends, and the rear views in the windscreen are worth the short delay on the journey. But what the hell? It’s the weekend. And what do they expect when they wear those tight shorts? The drive to Annamoe is itself worth the trip. Even if you weren’t going to the Equestrian Centre. For stressed out working people who need some refreshment and a change of scenery at the weekend, it is one of the most beautiful landscapes available. About 40 minutes from Dun Laoghaire, I arrived in one piece. Excellent going so far. After buzzing at the main gate, I entered the Glendalough Estate. And there, tangled in the beauty of the green, I found a little piece of heaven.
In fairness, horse riding is not really a sport that you might consider to be sociable. I mean, what are the chances of actually going to the local on a Saturday night and hearing a wail of ‘whose going trekking tomorrow?’. But a lot depends on the running of the establishment and the people involved in the management. And of course, the horses.
I made a mistake. Thinking that horse riding is like riding a bike. I booked onto a two-hour trek, sure that I still have the skills I had developed in my teens. Not so. Horse riding is a skill that you will need to rebuild if you’ve been out of it for a while. And a skill that needs to be learned if you’re new to it – as plenty of adults are. Naturally, I didn’t fully appreciate this until I realised 30 minutes into the trek that the horse was taking me for a walk, rather than the other way around. CJ is a chestnut-coloured well behaved horse. He’s old and wise. He was the same when he returned two hours later, although slightly confused at the movement of the reins. The stirrups had also taken on a whole new meaning for CJ. He had previously been of the opinion that whatever it was that he felt occasionally on his back was quiet and well behaved. Still, CJ realised you’re just never too old to learn. He had no problem deciding that it was me that was behaving badly. Well, not badly. But I was nervous. I hadn’t done this for a while. And I knew the next day I would be walking John Wayne style. Who wouldn’t be? If you haven’t been horse riding for a while, it’s not a good idea to take a two hour trek. You will walk funny for a week, be very sore, and probably won’t enjoy it the first time round. It makes absolutely no odds to CJ. He’s been doing it all his life and is quite happy on the usual stroll.
I decided to take a few lessons. And private ones, at that. The extra cost wasn’t a problem when it came to saving what was left of my honour (CJ was pleased with this decision). Just a pity I found out when I was out on the trek with three other people of similar age, all of whom had returned to saddling up after their child rearing years.
What’s great is the sense of independence, the sense of excitement and finding a new and challenging pastime that gets you plenty of fresh air. Does it actually get any better than that? It’s not like driving a car. When you learn how to drive, you always appreciate that someone else will be in that car one day. When you cycle a bike, you will always cycle to a friend’s house, or home. But with horse riding, it’s something you do for yourself. Nobody else (except perhaps CJ) will benefit from what you learn. It’s one of the hobbies that you can hug and keep personal. You do have to behave (at least until you know what you’re doing). And it’s an environmentally safe pastime (groan). A horse doesn’t require fuel, and believe you me they do a serious amount of fertilising the earth when they’re out!
The lessons at Glendalough Equestrian Centre are given by Madeline or Daragh, both fully qualified instructors and take it from me, both very anxious to share their expertise. Just to be clear, there will be no sympathy given by either. As much as possible, you will be teamed up with people of a similar skill for the lessons and the treks. A few private lessons to start off is a good idea. Treks are available as well for the beginner rider and it can be a good way to get you introduced to the hobby. Horse riding is, luckily for me, no longer a sport that is only available to the rich and famous, and an hour’s trek will cost you less than a round in the local pub. Boots, hats and other equipment are supplied, but it is better if you decide to keep it up to purchase your own. I waited for two months and then asked owner Kevin Davy to collect it all for me on his visit to his usual haunts.
Glendalough Equestrian Centre operates either a pre-pay lessons or pay as you go, which gives you the chance to decide yourself what suits you. Of course, it’s better to get the pre-paid book of ten but let’s face it, starting a new and hopefully regular hobby is an unsure thing. But for the most part, when you’ve dealt with teenagers through the years, how difficult can it be? CJ agrees.

All information is available on the website www.glendaloughadvenure.ie.

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