Many people either choose to ride in warmer climes (very nice) or wait until spring or summer to head out on a riding holiday, which makes sense in many ways. However, if you live in Ireland, the UK or even further afield, Zara Stassin of Zara’s Planet Worldwide Horse Riding Holidays is encouraging everyone to take a short riding break in Ireland this winter.
Winter is the season for hunting in Ireland and Zara can put you in touch with the very best hosts and organise top hirelings. If you don’t like hunting, there is fantastic cross-country riding, drag hunting (following a scent) and what “charity rides” (group hacks with plenty of jumping options).
Olivia and Eoin Sharkey in Kells, Co. Meath started off as clients of Zara’s. She organised their honeymoon to South Africa — a riding safari, of course — some 10 years ago. They rode with Steven Rufus in Songivelmo Game Park in South Africa. Sadly Steven no longer guides and Songivelmo isn’t open to riders any more, but for a very similar fantastic game experience adventurous honeymooners should consider a safari in Botswana with Botswana-Limpopo safaris.
The couple became firm friends with Zara; she borrowed Olivia’s hunting Connemara, Harvey, one summer to get back in the saddle. Then Jill Dolan, who works alongside Zara, rode him at the Dublin Horse Show in the Connemara ridden class. The pair are now Zara’s Planet partners too.
Along with her brother and mother, Olivia is the co-owner of the Headfort Arms in Kells, a historic heritage town; it’s a real family-managed operation. Eoin is a certified free-range farmer and the couple are passionate horse people, spending as much of the winter as possible hunting with the famous Meath Hunt.
Olivia hosts and organises for Zara’s Planet customers to go hunting with the Meath or another more casual local pack, the Ballymacads. Guests stay at the Headfort Arms.
Zara has hunted in Ireland several times and has enjoyed some great days out, but as a self-confessed “chicken” when it comes to big drains. She recently declined Eoin’s offer to hunt his horse. However, she did take up Olivia’s offer to experience the “hospitality” side of the holiday.
Bringing along her non-horsey husband, John, to the Headfort Arms seemed the perfect solution too, as he is always lamenting that when she’s not away on a horsey holiday, she’s off with the kids and their ponies!
Heaven in Headfort
Last Saturday the couple headed up to Kells. For anyone seeking a short break, Kells is only 45 minutes from Dublin — but a world apart. A quaint little heritage town, the Headfort Arms is the centre of life in the village’s heart. After a friendly and welcoming reception Zara and John checked in and headed to their room. It was clean and recently decorated with tasteful, quite traditional décor, and a lovely mosaic tiled bathroom with bath and luxurious rain shower head.
They took a stroll round the town, which is full of character. Then it was off for a pint at the pub adjoining the hotel as they — understandably — had to sample the Guinness (which was excellent). Later they visited the Vanilla Pod restaurant, also owned by the Headfort Arms, which is a cosy little restaurant full of buzz and atmosphere.
After lingering a long time in the restaurant, Zara and John headed to the hotel’s open seating bar area where the real party was. With live music and great service, the party lasts as long as you like. The hotel feels like it far exceeds its three-star rating.
The next morning, they headed to Olivia and Eoin’s for coffee. After a tour of their free-range small holding, Zara met their fantastic hirelings: a gorgeous grey Irish draught and a sporty coloured sports horse. The horses were fit and ready for hunting with either the Meath or Ballymacad — both of which Zara recommends highly.
Hurry, the season’s end is drawing near
So, if you want to treat yourself to a great day’s hunting, sumptuous hotel room and dinner, then get in touch with Zara’s Planet. But be quick, as there are only a few weeks of the season left. The Meath hunting area is mostly drain country, so if you want stone walls then try heading to Galway, where another characterful place with lots of great hirelings awaits in the form of Flowerhill — with Oliver Walsh to host you.
For more on hunting holidays and local specials visit www.zarasplanet.com