So there I am. Irish visa in hand. What now?
Breakfast of championsIn the fieldPolly and Percy competing
Well, I had one reason to get back to Ireland. Nay, I lie, two reasons. One, to search for an Irish husband. Two, to ride horses.
I’d ridden horses all my life so I wasn’t jumping in cold but I was jumping in deep. I’d been in contact with a number of yards through the site Yard and Groom, an excellent free membership site with work all over the world if you have any type of horse experience. So, when I boarded my plane to Dublin I was actually en route to Tipperary.
I was going to work for Olivia and John Holohan at Boolagh Stud.
I landed in Dublin early in the morning, it was still dark as I made my way through the parking lot towards the bus that would get me to Fethard, Tipperary. I was on that bus for a long time. Everyone else slowly got off but I kept going. The landscape, as it tends to do in Ireland, only got more and more perfect as we trucked deep into county Tipperary.
At last, we arrived, I stumbled off the bus in my long, purple wool jacket rolling my two red suitcases behind me. The bus pulled away and there I was, on the street corner in Fethard.
John and Olivia knew I was coming that day but they didn’t really know exactly when, so no one was there waiting for me nor were they on their way. I had the house number but I had no phone. I stopped an old man on the street and asked to use his. No problem. I rang and a little while later, John, in his old, red and steady farm car rolled up. Off we went to Boolagh.
A property with old stone stables and more rolling, green hills than you’d know what to do with. There were old tractors strewn about and apple trees here and there. The horses grazed off in the distance and a house sat atop the hill. Boolagh stud. And its people.
Olivia, or Polly, originally from England, was strict and tough and liked things done her way. The horse’s hooves had to be picked out before they left their stalls, even though we, not her, were the ones who swept the aisles afterwards. The shavings had to be banked against the stall walls just so, the blankets had to be scrubbed meticulously by hand. The tack had to be cleaned with a soap that turned your hands red and raw. Polly had a temper on her and when things got messy she wasn’t afraid to give us a real good talking to. But when it came down to it she was a mother who baked a mean pie.
John, originally from the very plot of land Boolagh stands on now, was everything Polly was not. He was quiet, and steady. He was level headed and patient. He was kind and never, ever raised his voice. John had a way with the horses that was impossible to explain. The craziest, wildest most hot-headed piece of animal could dance in backwards on its hind legs and John would take one look at it and have it lapping out of the palm of his hand like an old dog in seconds. John lived and breathed horse from the day he was born. He long lined the babies around the property day in and day out but I never once saw him get on the back of one.
That was our job.
After we’d fed the horses and finished mucking out the 12 shavings stalls and the 8 straw stalls, after we’d turned the horses out and then mucked out their stalls again. After we’d delivered water to the fields and drove the tractor around to fill up the shavings. After we’d pitchforked through the round bale of hay and after we’d swept up the aisles and folded the blankets. We rode.
There was Ellis, Aitor and Tanja. Those were the other riders. English, Spanish and German they came and went over the time I was there.
Then there was Hally, Romeo, Buster, Snickers, Dora, Biddy and Percy. Those were just a few of the horses. They too came and went over the time I was there.
We’d jump atop the ponies that had never been jumped atop. We’d go for walks up the hill and trots through the forest. We’d school over downed logs and open ditches. We’d get bucked off. We’d get back on.
Ellis and I would take Buster and Romeo, the two, fancy show jumping ponies, each for sale for approximately €40,000 and gallop them through the forest. A race that they enjoyed perhaps even more than we did.
We’d eat Polly’s pie for lunch and drink John’s beer for dinner.
We never had days off. When John and Polly’s boys went showing we were up at 4:00 AM doing our regular chores before setting off for a day grooming for them.
We’d listen to TippFM in the morning and watch Irish soap operas at night.
We’d sit out in the big, open, green field at dusk with the cows.
We’d throw aerosol containers into the rubbish burns from afar.
We’d wander up the hill into John’s herd of extra horses, no less than 50 of them.
We’d sometimes shower and rarely sleep.
We’d work our asses off every day but then in the end we’d be happy and we’d be alright and we’d wake up and do it again the next day.
I was in Fethard for three long months of hard labor, calloused hands, swollen fingers, dirty hair, tough love, and learning a thing or two about horses and a thing or three about myself.