Not only does Ashford Castle have Ireland’s School of Falconry on its premises, but it also has Ashford Outdoors, which leads activities such as archery, clay shooting, zip lining, and off roading. When CJ and I visited the medieval castle, we drove straight to the equestrian centre for our one hour trail riding adventure. Ashford Outdoors also offers private horse rides for two and even three hours. Please refer to their website for additional durations and rates.
Advance bookings are highly recommended. Once I made our reservation, I was asked to disclose approximate weights and heights of CJ and me, along with any prior equestrian experience (trail riding, lessons, pony camp, competition, English or Western style saddle, etc.) It is important to convey as much or as little exposure you have had in order for Ashford Outdoors to provide you with suitable horses for your trail ride.
When we arrived, we were fitted with hard hats and Jodhpur boots. (Hair nets are given and required so that the hats remain hygienic.) Then we met our horses! I have absolutely zero experience whatsoever with horses, so I was paired with a gentle soul named Bob, who was a Cob breed! Cobs are traditionally small horses, and because I am super short, Bob and I were the perfect match. CJ has dabbled a bit in horseback riding and is a foot taller than me, so he was given Emerald, a large mare who has both Irish Draught and Thoroughbred in her, and a mind of her own!
Before heading out on the trail, we were given a little tutorial on how to guide the horses to the right and left, how to stop the horses, and how to get them going again! We were also taught how to hold the reins (as if you were holding two mugs of coffee) and how to sit up on the horse (shoulders back, heels down). After that, we were off! I felt bad for Bob because as soon as we were on the trail, flies swarmed him. Luckily the horses are sprayed with a repellant so that the flies will not land on them, but I could see how annoying it must be for the horses to have flies buzz around. The flies absolutely do not go near the riders, so you are in the clear.
We started off on a paved path and then did some off roading ourselves into the thick of the woodlands. The scene around us looked as bewitching as a forest from The Chronicles of Narnia. It felt like an absolute fairytale. It was just me, Bob, CJ, Emerald, and our instructor on her horse named Holly. Similarly to our falconry excursion at the castle, our trail riding was completely private. Our guide was incredibly experienced, having ridden since she was able to sit up on a horse! I trotted along next to her and chatted, as CJ wrestled with Emerald who kept trying to eat the leaves along the path (which was quite a hilarious sight!)
Our instructor eventually led us to the front of the castle, and took the most wonderful picture of us shown above. We passed a tour group admiring a hawk in a tree, when they spotted us. The group was in awe of our horses, and I couldn’t agree more. Bob was so sweet, and both of our horses were incredibly beautiful. After we strode over to the castle, we returned back to the stables and the arena where we learned our tips and tricks. It was a highly enjoyable activity, for all ages and all experience levels. Thank you, Ashford Outdoors, for giving me my first horse riding experience ever!