Forget long-haul flights for finding your perfect winter horse riding holiday. We’ve dug out three options for hunting holidays in Ireland that will make this season one you won’t forget — whether you buck up the courage to tackle the big ditch country of the Meath or opt for something more laid back.

The experience will let you see how Irish horses start their careers and you’ll begin to understand why they always manage to find that extra leg…

“The Irish are true horsemen — but they don’t mollycoddle their horses, and they actually use them for a purpose,” says H&H’s hunting editor Polly Portwin.

“They have to cross things, often at speed, that many English riders wouldn’t even consider. And the horses take their confidence from the riders and rarely do you see one refusing to jump or cross a bank.”

“Admiring the Irish horsemen and women is another pleasure — everyone seems to have a horse and they hunt from a very young age and ‘just get on with it’, without any fuss or nonsense,” Polly adds.

“Everything is so much more relaxed, yet they still take their hunting very seriously and derive a lot of pleasure from it.”

“People just hunt because they want to go hunting.”

And with opening meets fast approaching, it’s time you got booked up — and headed to the gym in preparation for a holiday that is likely to put you through your paces.

2 hunts in 1 weekend
Equestrian travel company Zara’s Planet puts together personalised trips in Ireland, from hunting taster days to a full week experiencing some of the best country on offer, depending on your level of fitness and experience. On an example itinerary in County Galway you will follow 2 hunts in 1 weekend. Having arrived on Thursday afternoon you will help exercise hounds twice on the Friday, hunt with the Ormond on Saturday and with the Roscommon on Sunday, before heading home — exhausted — on the Monday.

Price: £495 per person for 4 nights including B&B (visitor’s cap not included)
Visit: www.zarasplanet.co.uk

Catering for beginners
Regardless of the level of your riding you can join the thrill of the hunt with Slieve Aughty Riding Centre, which aims to cater for riders hunting for the first time, families and novice riders. Guests stay in the Three Towers Eco House or a private eco-lodge, and will enjoy organic, homegrown food. A long-weekend includes cross-country training, a forest hack, hunting with the Galway Blazers, as well as a day with the Roscommon Hunt.

Price: €750 (£631) per person for 4 days (visitor’s cap not included)
Visit: www.riding-centre.com

Pick of the packs
The 4-star Dunraven Arms in County Limerick is a big hit among visitors from the UK. It is central to a number of packs, including the Limerick and the Scarteen, which means there’s plenty of choice. “They will valet clean your hunting boots and coats — all you do is strip off in the lobby when you return and they will turn them around for the next morning,” says Polly Portwin, who enjoyed a weekend there in January.  “It is also designed with a separate dressing room — not every hotel room has the capabilities of coping with all the clobber that goes with hunting people. And it’s great you can hide everything away without tripping over your boot trees in the night.”

Price: Contact for full price details
Visit: www.dunravenhotel.com/equestrian-holidays.html

H&H’s hunting editor Polly Portwin’s top tips for hunting in Ireland:
1. Take your own stirrups if you can — I ride very short and normally have to wrap the leathers round Pony Club style.
2. Ask for a neck strap — much better to pull on that when grappling for your balance than to pull on the horse’s mouth.
3. Don’t bother travelling on the plane with your hunting whip — most of the Irish use a short “beater” (an ordinary whip to you and me).
4. Don’t worry if you fall off — practically everybody does!

Never been hunting but would like to give it a go? Take a look at our tips for first timers