COOLMORE AND A HEALTHY COUNTRYSIDE
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A PROPER IRISH HORSEMAN
Anyone ever heard of Coolmore? You’ve got to love racing to know about this extraordinary place. The racing world is very far from my bed, but when a good friend took me on a little trip to Ireland I was able to admire the stunning valley where Coolmore Stud is situated with my very own eyes and what a treat it was!
It came as a surprise. I have blogged about this trip before; we were staying with proper Irish horseman Ned Norris in County Kilkenny. A warm personality seems to be the norm in Ireland and this man certainly was that. Together with his stalwart wife they made our trip into a complete experience, including being treated as part of the family for the duration of our stay.
‘THE ARSE WILL TEK YE’
We had been looking at and trying quite a few horses during our visit, not only in Kilkenny itself but also in Wexford county which is known for its mean ditches. I have had to politely refuse several great invitations because of those monsters. They would tell me I didn’t have to worry, ‘the arse will tek ye’, which only made me more nervous. The thought to sit on an unstoppable horse in unknown terrain with hedges the size of small houses, a piece of rusty barbed wire here and there, and on top of it the odd ditch of a few metres deep did not at all appeal to me!
JAMESON IN THE MORNING, IN THE AFTERNOON AND IN THE EVENING
The Irish are incredibly hospitable and if I wasn’t going to ride, I had to drink, Jameson, very delicious, everywhere we went this ‘wee dram’ came out of the cupboard; in the morning,in the afternoon, in the evening. And out would come the old picture albums…beautiful black and white photo’s going back many years. Rugged faces with a bit of gentle mischief in it, completely at home in their beloved countryside on their brave steeds with their hounds and after the fox.
In Holland we only know the drag hunt. When fox hunting turned into drag hunting in England in 2004 it caused a lot of upset and controversy. Among my pupils and friends some were appalled, others took up hunting because of it. Drag hunting is possibly faster, not much waiting around the shrubbery and dens where the cunning fox might be hiding. A good friend, who was taken hunting by her parents as a small child did not like it for that reason. She once told me, ‘I hated it, you were either soaking wet, bored stiff or scared shitless.’
Other than the fact that the Irish love their hunting, they are equally proud of the world famous Irish thoroughbred and this brings us back to Coolmore.
On our last day, which happened to be a Sunday, the grandchild of our host was being baptized and of course we were invited. It was a grand occasion which, by the way, was in the town of Fethard in Tipperary. (Ever heard of McCarthy’s? This pub, being the regular of the racing fraternity, happened to be opposite the church. I had my first Irish Guinness there!)
So, on this beautifully sunny day, on our way to the service, the car passed through the last line of trees on the brow of a hill and there it was…basking in the autumnal sunshine. The entire valley laid out meticulously with immaculate fields, lanes lined with trees and perfectly trimmed hedges. Some fields had cows in them, others sheep and of course some with horses. Broodmares or youngsters presumably. I can only say, it was mind blowing and overwhelming.
HORSE SICK FIELDS AND MUD HOLES
What I found most impressive was that, with the Irish thoroughbred being the main interest, it is still run as a mixed farm for the sake of the quality of the fields. As much as I love horses, I do love a happy well-balanced agricultural landscape and have a hard time looking at horse sick fields, or worse, mud holes that don’t even recover anymore during the summer. When I was in Holland last month I saw a few of those there as well and it wasn’t pretty. Not only does it look terrible, colics and worm infections are difficult to avoid when horses have to live like that.
THE ULTIMATE BREEDING STATION IN THE WHOLE WORLD
The brave fighter pilot Tim Vigors was the original brain behind Coolmore and responsible for extending the farm into a breeding station for race horses. He began after the Second World War with the 175 hectare farm. In 1975 famous horse trainer Vincent O’Brien, together with son-in-law John Magnier and Robert Mangster took over the helm in order to develop the business even further with the vision of creating the ultimate breeding station in the world. The decision to keep the cattle and sheep as a by-product is what makes this valley so extra special and healthy, at the same time still maintaining some of its originality.
PROUD HOBBY FARMER
For many years I did this myself on a very small scale. On my 20 acres, other than some horses, I had a small flock of sheep and a few beef cows, plus I made haylage to sell. The first and last thing of the day was a walk with my dogs across the fields to check whether everyone was still where they were supposed to be. It was a joy and I took great pride in the fact that my land looked clean and well-managed.
I love riding and looking at horses, but I do also love a well-maintained farmland…
Top picture: Coolmore Stud
Middle: some of the cattle at Coolmore Stud
Bottom: My rescue sheepdog Travel rounding my small flock of Suffolk Mule crosses
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
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