The Easter Pony & Activity Camp was a little bit crazy, and a whole lot of fun. It was just five days long, with fifteen residential campers – all Irish girls between the ages of 12 and 14… I think – and then various day-campers who came for just one or two days and included a couple of boys as well. The campers only did horsey activities in the morning and then went with Athos and Sonny to do other activities in the afternoon, except for on the Wednesday when we had them at the stables all day.
We got two new stable “interns” for the camp. Caoimhe (pronounced Quee-va), Sonny’s lovely girlfriend from Cork who – similarly to me – had grown up riding horses and had been in Pony Club as a teenager but wasn’t riding much currently. And Sophie, an old student of Karens who was in her first year of an Equine course at college. The campers were split into three groups based on ability and had lessons with Karen each morning. Whilst one group was having a riding lesson, the other two groups had a workshop/lecture of some kind with either Sophie, or me and Caoimhe as a double-act. This was a bit of a test for me because although I know how to ride and how to look after a horse, I haven’t needed to think about all the correct rules and names of equipment etc for a good four years or so. I think I pulled it off though…
After two weeks of freak sunshine, on the first day of camp it bucketed down with rain. The poor campers had to try and clean soaking wet, muddy horses and then have riding lessons in the rain – but they did it all in good spirits, probably with less moaning than the staff. After the first day the weather did ease up a bit though, and by the last afternoon when we doing organised ‘pony games’ it was pretty warm, and seemed warmer as I spent a lot of the time running besides ponies zig-zagging in and out of cones. The Irish kids enjoyed my British accent and especially enjoyed asking me to say “beer can” about a hundred times a day. They also came up with nicknames for us – Juicy Josie, Super Sophie and Cool Caoimhe. The days were longer than normal during Pony Camp because we ate lunch and dinner with the campers so had to keep chirpy and approachable for more consecutive hours than usual. But in a lot of ways, it was nice to be so busy all the time and I was sad when camp was over.
One of things I was most excited about before I came to Eclipse was learning a little about Natural Horsemanship. I got to have a few lessons on the basics with Karen and it was fascinating stuff. Its basically a way of training horses that mimics some of the ways horses behave with each other in the wild. The other new horsey thing I got to try out was vaulting – which is basically gymnastics on a horse and was done on one big black cob called Buddy. It’s a lot of fun and being able to do it properly is a real skill! John was pretty good at it and had got to the stage of making up new tricks to do. Before I left I could jump on, do an “around the world” and even stand up for a few seconds – all in trot.
Here’s some pictures of me doing some silly things on horses…
After being told by Karen and Anita that it was perfectly safe, I hitch-hiked on my days off. The people were so friendly and I never had to wait more than twenty minutes for a lift and usually got one in five. There are three hitching stories in particular that I’m going to share…
The first is from my first day off when I was hitching back from the little town, just a fifteen minute drive from Eclipse, Kenmare. I thought I was stood in the perfect place, I also thought I knew the way back. It turns out I wasn’t, and I didn’t. So this tanned Irish man in an expensive looking car, wearing a salmon shirt with cigarette paraphernalia strewn all over the car stopped and asked me where I was going.
“To the Eclipse Centre in Blackwater,” I said, smiling at him through the window.
“Is that on the way to Killarney?”He asked. Now, I knew that if you came out of Eclipse, Kenmare was one way and Killarney was the other. So I thought, yeah, it must be on the way to Killarney… so I got in the car and off we went.
Once I was in the car, Mr Salmon-Shirt and I got to know each other. He was a GP from a county about five hours north of Kerry, just visiting Killarney for a Buddhist weekend retreat. He was learning how to remain calm in all situations that his busy working life presented him with. Driving was the biggest test, he told me, as we were stuck behind a tractor.
“See, normally I would speed up and over-take this tractor just because it’s annoying me. But actually, I’m not in any rush. Are you?”
I told him I wasn’t. Looking out of the window, a good ten minutes into the journey, it began to dawn on me that we were definitely not going the way I had come to Kenmare that morning. Feeling pretty stupid, I told Mr Salmon-Shirt and said he could just drop me and I’d hitch back to Kenmare and start again but he refused and turned around, even stopping to ask someone for directions on my behalf before driving a good fifteen minutes out of his way. He drove me all the way to the door of Anita and Athos’ house and on the way he told me more about his retreat and I told him about my travelling plans and he wrote down information to find my book online.
The second hitching journey that I wanted to mention was just funny because Patti and I basically dictated the holiday plans of an American couple. We’d had a day off together and had gone into Killarney (a forty minute drive from Eclipse) to do various touristy things. The last place we went to was the Torc Waterfall and by the time we left it was about seven in the evening and had started to drizzle. So we were stood by the waterfall car park for a good twenty minutes, and were going to give it twenty more before trying to hitch back to Killarney instead to get some food. Then, a couple appeared from the waterfall and were walking towards their car when I pounced.
“Hi, excuse me, which direction are you driving in?”
It turned out they didn’t really have any plans. They were an American couple who were staying in Dublin with a group of friends but had just come down south for a couple of days (being American, a five hour drive was nothing for them). So, me and Patti turned on the charm and told them about what a lovely little town Kenmare was and how they simply had to check it out. And off we went!
It was quite a nice change to be driving the road from Killarney to Kenmare with tourists because the views are breath-taking and we even stopped to take pictures at the famous ‘Ladies View’. The journey certainly took a lot longer than if Athos had been driving, but it was quite enjoyable and we were able to tell the couple a little about the area – like limited knowledge tour guides – so it felt more like an exchange than just them giving us a lift.
The other particularly memorable hitching experience happened when I was hitching a lift to a place called Gleninchaquin Park a huge park with beautiful views, walking paths and a big waterfall. I didn’t really know exactly how far it was from Kenmare and was just walking in the general direction, stopping to stick my thumb out every now and again. After I’d already walked for about fifteen minutes along quite a fast moving road, a car stopped and a grey-haired Irish man greeted me, I told him where I was trying to get to.
“Oh, I grew up in Gleninchaquin Park,” he said, as if it weren’t a huge coincidence, “my brother owns the waterfall.”
So in the car I got. It turned that the man, named Johnnie, hadn’t actually been planning on going to the park just then, but he saw meeting me as a sign that perhaps he should. So he insisted on driving me there and showing me around. As the journey (which turned out to be a good twenty minute drive or so) went on, it became obvious that Johnnie picked up hitch-hikers and tourists a lot as he happened to have a car filled with several copies of old photographs. Just a few minutes into the journey, he gave me a photograph of him and a tourist on top of the waterfall we were going to, from 1964:
I ended up spending most of that afternoon with Johnnie. He told me his life story, about how he was a recovered alcoholic and how God had saved him. (He still continued to be friendly after finding out I wasn’t Christened and followed no religion, so that was a relief.) We went to Gleninchaquin Park and to the waterfall and took some pictures and walked around…
He then showed me the house he grew up in, just below the waterfall… and on the way back to Kenmare took me to his current house to show me the only painting he’d ever bought, which was a really interesting piece of a little girl drawing a typically innocent picture. I could see why he liked it so much, the contrast of the perfectly realistic painting of a little girl against her childish scribbles was very effective. Whilst there, he also showed me pictures of him with several different tourists, from all over the world, spanning at least ten years or so. I promised to post him the picture we got someone to take of us at the waterfall to add to his collection.
He was a bit of a strange man in some ways, but harmless. And I really think I improved his day by spending a few hours with him, and he was so chatty and full of stories that it definitely added to my day too.
So, there’s a couple of blog posts with an extremely brief over-view of six weeks in Ireland… Talking about the people more than the place was unintentional, I guess I’m a people person….. There’s so much more I could write about my experiences, which I should have written at the time but I was too busy having them! I’m now in France – although it often feels more like Holland – at ECOlonie and am having an amazing time. I’m going to try and do more regular updates now, although I do have limited internet access again…. but I promise a post about this incredible place before the week is out!