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. http://www.ballyduffhouse.ie
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.
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!