Cleggan Beach Ride.
After completing a travel writing course with Perry Garfinkel at the Noepe center of the Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard, Photographer Adrianne Ryan and novelist Lara O’Brien took off to discover the best place to ride when visiting Ireland. They chose Cleggan riding stables for its location to ride freely on the strand surrounded by the beauty of the Wild West of Connemara.
When Judy Cazabon met fisherman Enda Keane, over twenty years ago, they developed a mutual vision to create the premiere beach riding school in Ireland. They bought a small property, they built a stable, barn, office, all tucked in off the main road in the small town of Cleggan, located 11 km from Clifden and an hour and a half from Galway city, and they got to work.
Judy is a gentle woman who speaks softly as she tells us about the beginning of the stables, acquiring ponies for her children to compete with, and the big one, having the most expensive outdoor arena in Ireland.
“We blasted it out of rock,” she said, and you can see the determination in her eyes as she nods to the wall of thick granite that remained after the rock was blown to pieces, to make way for the training arena. Her fortitude shows in her yard, strong walls and strong horses, with years of growth as a small stable and solid operation. Judy runs a neat and safe operation. The horses are in great nick and she is very much the orchestrator of this fun adventure stable offering not just beach rides but private lessons and summer pony camps. Judy, a dressage trainer, speaks most proudly of her daughters' accomplishments on the national youth circuit.
There are many reasons to visit Cleggan stables whether a novice or experienced rider but the gem that makes this yard different than any other is Omey strand.
Omey is a tidal island located near Cleggan on the western edge of Connemara. Once a year at the end of July or beginning of August, people come from all over Ireland to watch with great excitement the race horses compete at the annual Omey beach races when the tide is out and the flag goes up.
But when the tide turns and the fanfare of the races is over, Cleggan stables remains. They are willing and able to bring you there to let your hair and stirrups down and gallop into the wind, any day of the year, weather and tide permitting. They also offer shorter rides 60 minutes beach rides to Sellerna beach with a 30 minute arena training for beginners and youths.
The beach trekking is Judy and Enda’s bread and butter and the horses seem to get the idea fairly handily, meandering along the road through town, past the pub and shop and along stone walled fields full of grazing horses and a few cows. Black bushes are heavy with berries and the verges thick with grass. These horses know how much distance to keep from cars and each other, when to turn, and when to increase the tempo. They are sound stable masters, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Happy to be the passenger, I ask nothing from my huge Henry, a shire/piebald mix with a whooping mustache. He seems content I’m not asking. We have a bonded agreement from the start. My horse training days are well over, no more cross-country, dressage, show-jumping, those days are behind me and he understands, I’m here to enjoy the scenery. I’m grateful for his easy manner and willingness to watch out for me. He has a gentle love of his surroundings, lifting his head when he sees a friend in the field or increasing the pace at his own time, or a gentle flick of an ear in recognition for a pat on his neck, as I show my appreciation. Every time... every time, I pat him, he flicks his ear to let me know, he got it.
It’s a love story. I fall for him. I think it’s his mustache that wins me.
At the beach we transition from trot to canter along the shore where the waves gently break and roll. He sets a steady rhythm and soon the canter becomes a rocking cloud. My man Henry, he’s a charmer.
Behind us lie the Twelve Pins, huge majestic mountains and a hundred shades of greens. He canters on, the wind whistles across my ear, my shoulders and seat relax as his hooves strike the waves and send salty spray in a million different directions.
Henry is the type of horse your non-horsey friends would also love. He’s out to please, to take gentle care of a child or an elder. Henry is at ease in his own world. Only a happy horse is so chilled.
After a wonderful blow-out of Atlantic air for both of us, Henry knows it’s time to head home. He has it down without a clock or watch this horse, and we begin our trek back through town and to the barn. Perfection personified, if this is your type of horse adventure. The key is to enjoy while remembering why you are here. Here and now… I am.
It’s not to join the races or national show jumping team, but to enjoy the most spectacular scenery with a horse who sees it everyday, and still enjoys it, too.
While Judy and Enda have much to be proud of; their children have brought home more ribbons than they can hang, I can’t help but think they have created more than they envisioned, the stables is a perfect balance of horse heaven for both horse and rider. Visit if you can, give Henry a hug for me.
Let me know your favorite place to ride and why it makes for a great visit?