Side Saddle hack at Borris House, 20th July

Having racked my brains to see where us side saddle riders could ‘invade’ next, I suddenly realised the answer lay very close, less than two miles away from my parents house- Borris House in Co. Carlow.

It’s nice to go to stately homes as I feel that the setting really lends itself to the whole side saddle experience. Borris House is the ancestral home to the MacMurrough Kavanagh family, and I knew one of the family members from our time in the pony club as children. Mr Morgan Kavanagh readily gave his permission so with the baby on my hip, off I went and started organising again. Borris House was different to Mount Juliet in that there is no equestrian centre on site so there was no possibility of hire horses, everyone had to have their own gear, habits, saddles and horses this time around! We had the run of a square mile of land with hundreds of acres of forestry to explore so I drove my dad’s jeep around the trails first so that we wouldn’t get lost on the day. The intact walled estate has been the ancestral home of the Mac Murrough Kavanagh family, the high kings of Leinster, for the past  five hundred years. I knew it would be the perfect backdrop for our next hack.


Tex and I led out another eight ladies in full side saddle attire across the estate riding on cross country tracks through the woods and fields. The sun was beaming down and I thought I was going to melt in my habit, which felt absolutely sewn on to me! Hubby in the meantime was minding baby Charlotte 🙂  The wooded areas provided welcome shade from the sun and a splash through the river was glorious too. Tex splashed so much that everyone else had to dive for cover.

We enjoyed the company of a member of the Spanish Side Saddle Association on the day.  Andrea Muro Nebreda who was over in Ireland working for Susan Oakes, joined us on Susan’s Connemara stallion Coral Misty’s Comic,


while Susan rode on her impressive grey stallion SIEC Atlas with whom she is in training to break the side saddle high jump world record.


The other riders were Sarah Conway (who is HOYS bound after winning the Ladies Hunter Class at Tattersalls), Niamh Drea, Aine Dagg, Sarah Moran, Lorna Keogh and Jennifer Maher Mulcahy.




A baby side saddle!

My daughter Charlotte was born on the 30th of May 2013. Straight away, I started imagining her on a pony of course, and within two weeks of her birth I had bought a tiny saddle for her. I saw this on and snapped it up! 



it was so exciting when it arrived, I had to try her toy pony straight away!




My new Owen saddle

I blame Verity. She sent me an eBay link on Facebook of the most beautiful side saddle I had ever seen with the quote “Ciara, this has your name on it”. Verity is my ‘enabler’ (every side saddle rider has an enabler). The second I saw it, I knew it was perfect! Hubby was sick and tired of hearing me go on and on about getting a new saddle so when I told him, he said ” go get it, and I never want to hear about you getting another one ever again”. 🙂

I deleted the link immediately in case someone else saw it and clicked on ‘buy it now’ before I had a chance to! I was really worried that it was a scam as there was no option to pay via PayPal, so to minimise the risk I agreed the sale, I wired the money to money over to my friend Charlie in Yorkshire and she went to collect it in person for me. I then had an anxious wait as she had to wrap it up in her mum’s blankets and post it over to me in a big box. It is a thing of great beauty indeed but I was nearly full term pregnant so had to make do with having a sit on it on the arm of the couch! Much to my mother’s disgust 🙂

To my huge delight it is a fully rebuilt Owen saddle ( known as the Rolls Royce of side saddles), it is practically brand new and strong enough to last another hundred years!


Side Saddle Pony Camp! 4th May 2013

As a child, I was a member of the Kilkenny Hunt Pony Club. We used to have our pony club camp in the grounds of Gowran Park Racecourse in Co. Kilkenny but when the extra land was turned into a golf course, Mrs Breda Thomas of Ballyduff House in Thomastown stepped in to offer her house and farm as a venue for camp.

Some of my happiest memories were made at Ballyduff! It is really a remarkable and very special place with hundreds of years of history surrounding you. I am very good friends with Breda’s daughter Rachel and when we were talking about pony camp one day, I came up with the idea of a ‘side saddle pony camp weekend!’ for ALL ages. I asked Breda whether it would be possible to run something like this at Ballyduff and she readily agreed. Image

Now that I had a venue with accommodation and stabling sorted, I needed an instructor! Luckily, I knew of just the right person, a certain Jennifer Torrance 🙂 Jennifer thought it was a great idea so we nailed down the dates and I started to advertise the weekend as top quality instruction on the flat and over jumps, followed by advice on showing and attire, a question and answer session, a chance to perform an individual display and a hack the next morning. There was a great response to the idea (I think it appealed to the inner child in us all!) so Rachel and I set to work organising a dressage arena and show jumps, and then cajoled her cousin Edward into making cross country jumps for us 🙂


We had six riders for the weekend – Ann Shouldice, Dani Murphy, Lorna Keogh, Karen Gibney, Rosemary Caplice and Sarah Furney. Once the horses had been introduced to their stables, the saddle fitting took place and we were good to go!


Rachel was making me slow down a bit as at this stage I was only three weeks away from my due date so she wouldn’t let me do anything! Rachel had been looking after and exercising my horse Tex for me, so one of the riders actually ended up taking Tex for the lessons as she was unable to get her own horse down on time.

Morning lessons with Jennifer kicked off in the dressage arena, and before long she had every one going nicely :

Below is Lorna Keogh on Dolly, and underneath is Rosemary and Karen. Karen is riding my chestnut mare Tex.



Above: Ann Shouldice on Lia (Ann supports all of the SSAI activities and must surely be the member of the year!)

And Below is Dani Murphy on her Connemara gelding Steve


After a very successful morning of instruction, everyone untacked and went to the walled garden for a picnic lunch, with diluted orange to drink! Jennifer slipped away and changed into her full showing attire and tacked up her horse Sylvester. She gave a complete showing demonstration including how to ride an individual display for the judge, how to mount, dismount, trot up the horse in hand, explained about her attire etc. This was very informative and I think we all gained a lot from it!

After wards, the jumping lesson took place. Unfortunately, Ann’s horse pulled a shoe and went very lame so she couldn’t take part and ended up going home with Lia, who sadly is now retired after being a very very faithful horse indeed! Lorna nearly gave Jennifer a heart attack by turning a sharp left after her horse decided to take off and jump the trotting poles, it was pretty funny! (note it is very difficult to stay on a side saddle if you take an unexpected left turn so don’t try it at home!) Sarah flew around the jumps giving a real exhibition of horse womanship, it was amazing to watch! After the jumping, everyone put on their gladrags and posed for photos in front of the house. I was very pleased with how well Tex had gone for Karen , testamount to all the ground work and school that Rachel had been doing on her!


That evening, we were supposed to go for dinner in Thomastown but the craic and conversation (not to mention the wine) in Ballyduff was so good that we ended up ordering a chinese takeaway and staying there the night. The house was booked up but thankfully Breda had kept a bedroom for me as trying to drag myself around in a heavily pregnant state was not much fun!


The next morning, everyone dressed up in their full showing attire to have photos taken in front of the house. (again!)  At this stage, Sarah and Karen had both gone home.

Below are Lorna Keogh, Dani Murphy and Rosemary Caplice




And Rachel led everyone out on the hack on my lovely faithful Tex 🙂

It was a hugely enjoyable weekend, made even sweeter by the fact that Lorna wrote an article about it which was published in The Irish Field!


The three remaining musketeers were joined by Thalia Smithwick O’Brien, one of the Thomas’ neighbours, who was one of my instructors at pony club camp years ago in Ballyduff!


Castle Leslie side saddle hack 23rd March 2013

Following on from two successful side saddle hacks at Mount Juliet the previous year, Kalindi organised a hack on behalf of the SSA Ireland at Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan. Unfortunately the weather was not great (snow!) and therefore numbers dropped a bit, but we still had a lovely time! We were hoping that some of the ladies from Northern Ireland would join in but unfortunately the roads were so icy that it would have been dangerous for them to attempt joining us. In the end, only one person brought their own horse and the rest ended up hiring horses from the lovely equestrian centre on site.

Kalindi had organised lots of saddles so we brought them into the mews cottage where we were staying and had a good look at all of them, we tried some of them out on the arm of the couch!

Next morning dawned cold and frosty, we went up to the stable yard where we met the horses that had been allocated to the SSAI hack and fitted them for their saddles. The staff were busy mucking out and haying so I started plaiting up and grooming immediately,

Before long our riders started to arrive so we kitted them out in all the habits that we had brought


Before long everyone was mounting up!


And led by Michelle Clancy on Twotone, the riders headed off around the huge estate, popping many of the cross country fences on the way!


Michelle had even organised that hot port would be served at Castle Leslie so feeling like ladies of the manor every one lined up for a group shot while they sipped their drink


At this stage I was 7 months pregnant! And absolutely missed my horse riding so much 😦 I loved being there to witness the elegance and splendour of the ladies riding out, it was like a scene from a hundred years ago. Well done to Kalindi for organising a fabulous weekend, she made a great video of it too which is available here:

The battery went in my camera so unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the second ride out. We should definitely go back there again!

Hip Flask Recipes

While hunting: the more of this stuff you drink now, the smaller the fences will seem. And the more you drink in the pub afterward, the bigger the fences have been!

My friend Lorna ( maintains that if you ride side saddle then you must learn how to make a potentially lethal combination of wild berries, sugar and alcohol and swap drinking vodka out of a glass in night clubs for drinking said lethal combination out of a hip flask in a tent/horse lorry/on horse back. so here goes:

Gather your equipment and ingredients!

sloescaster sugarscalekilner jarginjug


  • 450g/1lb berries (sloes/blackberries/ gooseberries/ raspberries/damsons) or other fruit (e.g. damsons, cherries, plums, peaches)
  • 225g/8oz caster sugar
  • 1 litre/1¾ pint spirit (vodka/gina/brandy/whiskey)

Particularly good combinations are: Sloe gin, gooseberry gin, damson vodka, raspberry vodka, blackberry brandy, cherry brandy, but you can try which ever you want!

Preparation method

  1. Pick and wash the fruit.
  2. Put in a large sterilised kilner jar. (If using sloes put them in the freezer for a couple of hours first so that the skins burst on them)
  3. Pour in the sugar and the alcohol, seal tightly and shake well.
  4. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for at least two months. Try to resist for as long as possible- the longer you leave it the more delicious/potent it will be!
  5. Strain through muslin into a sterilised bottle
  6. Enjoy- and drink responsibly! har har har!!!

sloe gin

Other combinations: 

The percy special: equal parts whiskey and cherry brandy

Whisky mac: Scottish whisky and ginger wine.

Port and brandy: half and half.

Hot buttered rum: Warm a glass of cider in a pan with some cloves, a cinnamon stick and a spoonful of honey or molasses sugar, add a good slug of dark rum and float a pat of unsalted butter on the top.

Hot spiced port: with cloves and hot whisky with sugar.

Mulled wine: a long standing favourite.

Lovage liqueur and brandy, two parts to one, is scrummy

Home-made Drambue recipe, described as “a lethal concoction”: “Half a bottle of whisky or brandy, 1 bottle of Strongbow, 1 pound of sugar, 1 medium sized bottle of rosehip syrup (if you have trouble getting hold of this you can use apple and pear concentrated baby juice instead). Mix together until the sugar is dissolved and decant it into suitable receptacles”

Equal parts of blackberry brandy + vodka

2 parts whisky to 1 part cherry brandy

Another option is a 1/2 and 1/2 mix of Butterscotch Schnapps and Apple Pucker Schnapps. Tastes like a tart caramel apple.

An excellent flask filler to warm the cockles of your heart (and oh-so-trendy!): 2 parts Cognac (or whiskey, bourbon, or rye) 1 part St Germaine (elder flower liqour that is lovely. Not overly floral or sweet, just yummy

Morning “coffee”. Two parts whipped cream flavored vodka to one part kahlua.

Equal parts (or slightly more whiskey) of scotch whiskey and amaretto

1/2 Sherry 1/2 port (hound’s blood)

Meath Side Saddle Hunt photo report January 2013

I was so jealous of all the lucky riders that got to take part this time around! (Feeling slightly like a beached whale, at only 5 months pregnant) I was just on foot this year but I really enjoyed the whole weekend! Verity and I shared a room again in the hotel where all the riders were staying, and it was great to meet in person with so many of my ‘virtual friends’ who I know from our “sidesaddle riders!” facebook page.

There was a cocktail party and raffle on the night before the hunt, where much to my absolute AMAZEMENT I won a pair of Dubarry boots that I had wanted for at least 4 years but which I could never bring myself to spend so much money on!


The morning of the hunt was very very cold, rainy and windy, on any normal hunting day the hunt would have been called off as land was so wet but luckily all of the landowners were absolutely amazing and let it go ahead! The ladies all congregated in the lobby of the hotel, suited, booted, lipsticked and veiled…



before having a group shot taken on the stairs which displayed gorgeous traditional hunting habits from various countries.

The French style was simply magnifique and the Americans were also very glamourous but I don’t think anything could beat old school British elegance as displayed by Amy Jane Bryan and Lorna Pearson in the photo below!!ImageImageImageImage

The ladies were bused to the meet where they were met by countless horse lorries, where horse after horse was unloaded, gleaming, plaited and tacked up to be handed over to their jockey for the day:


I met Caroline Wilkins and Martha Sitwell from England, who were two of the riders in the Downton Abbey Hunt Scene; and Antoinette de la Boullerie from France who I hunted with last year:

ImageImageImageImage I also met Trish Daly from Wales (above) who made my tweed habit!  And below: Ashleigh Kirkpatrick from Northern Ireland looking very smart!


Loads of my friends were there including Kalindi who had a habit to DIE for made by Alexander James Image

and roving reporter from the Horse and Hound magazine George Bowyer: Image

(click on the link for the video!) the oakes sisters led the way :


Verity and I got into her jeep along with Sarah Parry (who is in the process of designing and manufacturing side saddles!) to follow the hunt. It was absolutely FREEZING with snow and rain milling down! Image


I don;t think any of the international riders knew what they were in for !

ImageImageThe hunt took off over some fairly crazy banks

and we lost them for a while, during a quick check we helped Anne Beatrice Muller from France who had lost her stirrup leather and was absolutely saturated too, while others who were slightly shell shocked at their first Irish hunting experience took out their flasks for a quick sip! ImageImage



The hunt had a very fast run of one and a half hours over extremely challenging country



but no matter how scary and muddy it was, people falling off all over the place, Image

there were still grins from ear to ear!



and everyone came back to the hotel absolutely filthy :



Louise Allen, Clare Simper and Lucinda Pennington made it back in one piece! (below)Image


While Susan Oakes who organised the whole day still looked as fresh as a daisy!

A huge thank you must go to all of those who helped Susan on the day , fencing, opening the country and ferrying people and photographers around, Image

as well as all the landowners whose generous hospitality was absolutely incredible given the weather conditions. A huge thank you must also go to all those who lent horses to the overseas visitors, and thus giving up their own day’s hunting!

Photos by Jennifer O’Sullivan, Nadina Ironia, Olivia Shannon Eyers, Middleburg Photos, Ciara O’Connell