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19Sep 15

Ireland: the best place to buy a brave horse

Only two weeks ago a good friend called and invited me to join her on the search for a smallish and quiet hunter in Ireland. I couldn't resist the invitation as the previous visit some years ago left me with some very fond memories.

Yet again, on arrival, we were welcomed by the most wonderfully varied group of dogs one could possibly imagine. All of them being an important part of the Norris household. Ned and Mary Norris have been dear friends of my friend for a very long time which therefore put me in an extremely fortunate position. Ned has been very involved with the Kilkenny Hunt for over fifty years, knows everybody, is liked by everybody, has bred and produced many a decent hunter and if he does not have anything suitable for you he will find it somewhere else.

Ned learned his skills from his uncle Jimmy. Jimmy was a one of a kind, a great Irish horseman with a wonderful cheeky side. Some thirty years ago, just after I had moved to Cornwall, my friends brought Jimmy for dinner. It was an unforgettable evening as Jimmy told many a great story, only problem was: I couldn't understand a word as his broad Irish accent was more than I could handle. It didn't keep me from liking him as he was just such a 'great character' as the English put it. The one word I did pick up was: dram. We had many 'drams' that evening.

We had many drams on this trip. The evening when we arrived at least three, the next day a 'wee one' with our lunch. In the afternoon when visiting Larry Burns on his sweet and wonderfully old-fashioned  smallholding in order to see some of his hunters we were invited in and his two sisters had already put the bottle and glasses on the table ready for us..... Say no more.

Larry hunted the the Mullinavat Hounds for some ten years and had a reputation to find his way through complex countryside in a most inventive way which gave his followers a most exciting day out. He had some lovely hunters there, which were shown to us by his nephew Jim. Although we had to continue our search as none of them were suitable, Larry was just as warm to us and with his twinkly eyes assured us that on our next visit we would go hunting, he would organize it. I dared not tell him that I would die a thousand deaths just thinking about it but thanked him as he was the kindest and most hospitable man.

The next day Ned took us to the Wexford country, in order to see some hunters at at John Stafford's yard. This keen and experienced horseman, who was master of his local hunt for 19 years, showed us around the large barn where a great mix of horses were happily standing in their boxes which contained very few walls and doors. Poles and chains seemed to do the job just fine. 

John's daughter was asked to lead a smaller grey out and trot him up. It didn't anything for any of us, he looked backward and stiff if not lame. His feet were not great so that could be a reason as the path was a bit gravelly. Still, a disappointing performance. The next one we all thought was weak behind. All the rest were too big. Oh well, might as well see the ugly grey ridden as we are here. John and his daughter looked at each other and owed up that he hadn't been ridden since previous hunting season. The small but chirpy daughter decided it would be fine so saddle and bridle were thrown on and off the two went into a great big field. After one round of trot they pushed into a surprisingly lovely and well-balanced canter; as if the horse had been ridden the day before. He was a completely different horse under saddle. Could we see him jump? Not a problem, John told his daughter to jump a big plastic drainpipe. The horse pointed and jumped. Can he jump a ditch? Of course, there is one over there. In Ireland a ditch is over a meter deep, generally with a bank on one side, in this case overgrown with nasty brambles right at the height of the horse's head. He wasn't bothered in the slightest and jumped it one way, and then the other. John was getting excited now and told his daughter to jump a nasty iron gate which was hanging crookedly on its hinges. 'Noe, daddy, noe!' But off she went and the grey jumped, no, flew it both ways. Please, no more, we've seen enough, he's 'a grand little harse' as the Irish say. John pointed his daughter towards a thin electric wire. Again a 'noe, noe!' and again they jumped it in both directions. To cut a long story short, after the grey gave my friend and me a wonderful ride, the deal was made, and yes, we had to 'make it a lucky horse'. You can guess, more drams.

The next morning we bid farewell with a promise to come back. Not difficult, as the Irish horse people (I haven't yet had the opportunity to meet any others) are the warmest most welcoming people in the world. Their horses are brave, uncomplicated and strong. As John Stafford said: 'if they don't jump they die.' It sounds a bit rough but it's a serious hunting country and that is how it  works.

So the little grey will soon go on the ferry and hopefully not too long from now an other friend will want to buy a horse in Ireland. I'm up for it! 

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Top picture: Ned with his great collection of dogs.

Middle: Larry Burns with nephew Jim and their hound pups.

Bottom: some of Ned's young stock with the grey broodmare behind.

 

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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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