Nestled in beautiful countryside we both got acquainted with the City of Derry Equestrian Centre and two gentle giants: MacGinley & Domino. Together with Pauline and Deborah, we spent three mindful hours in Northern Irish nature. The rocking sensation was soothing and we both felt time disappear as we enjoyed panoramic views, farm animals and a light mist that shrouded the land in mystery. In this post you can read about slow adventuring in Northern Ireland by horse, and how horses dictate the rhythm of your adventure, enabling you to see the countryside in a very different way.
This post was made possible with help from the Slow Adventure in the Northern Territories (SAINT) project. Read more about our fantastic new sponsor here! Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are our own.
Day hack at the City of Derry Equestrian Centre
From their centre at the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains, Pauline and Deborah provide a riding school offering quality lessons, hacks and other activities. It's easily reached from Derry, just check-out this map.
We went on a countryside hack tailored to our basic, newbie level. For experienced riders, they would tailor the activity to suit your skill level.
Pauline and Deborah walked with us the whole way, talking about nature, local folklore and countryside fun facts as we immersed in the landscape.
This tour is about relaxing and making a connection with our horses. Having the experts by our side made us comfortable as we learned about the horse's behaviour, and the dos and don'ts to make for a smooth journey. For the most part Thea didn't even hold the reins. Being a riding photographer wasn't easy, and letting go of the reins made it a little easier, thanks to our wonderful guides. It should also be said that free hands are also good for cuddling and stroking the soft horse!
Meeting the animals
We've seen a lot of horses during our slow adventures in Scotland, Ireland, on the Faroe Islands and now here in Northern Ireland. It's one thing to admire them in the countryside, but the idea of actually being on a horse of our own, was thrilling. We started the adventure at the centre by getting all our gear sorted and then meeting the animals. Horses, ponies and dogs were all competing for our attention. The place had a positive, buzzing feeling and we felt for a while that it would be hard to leave the others behind. Especially the little white pony, who just about managed to reach for a look over the gate.
We set off for the hill, with helmets and a horse each.
The Northern Irish countryside from horseback
From our towering hill, "Slievekirk" (meaning the hill of the hen), we had a panorama view of the surrounding landscape. Green fields, lush woods, and barren hill tops were all moving into view with the ebbing mist.
The average horse is over 1.5 meters tall, so it was amazing how much the extra height improves your view. Where the road or track is fenced with hedgerows, we'd tower over them, providing glimpses of wildlife and farm animals that we'd otherwise have missed. We're sure we gave some entertainment to them too, as they wondered where these helmeted giants suddenly came from.
Connecting with other animals from horseback
We're not sure if this is true, but we both had a feeling that the horses made other animals more comfortable with our presence.
Other horses, farm animals and even a hawk seemed to behave toward the horse, rather than the human. One of the fields we passed had a wonderful small (yet random) group of animals grazing on it: a little white donkey, a fluffy chocolate-coloured lama with a white face, and a tiny brown pony. They all got noticeably excited as we approached, the little brown pony reaching full gallop as the three of them raced us on the other side of the fence.
Their friendly gesture finally sent us on our way with one long, rusty bray from the donkey: heeee-haw. Mark insisted the donkey must be from Glasgow and we moved on.
MacGinley & Domino; two gentle giants
Mark was riding on MacGinley and Thea had Domino. Two mild tempered, soft and gentle horses. Their only weakness being fresh green grass growing in the hedgerow. The rocking sensation of horse-riding came as a surprise. More experienced riders must be used to this and see it as a matter of fact, but we were surprised at how it made us feel relaxed, and with a physical connection to the horse's movement. MacGinley & Domino followed Pauline and Deborah, leaving us sitting tall with a spectacular view and no particular responsibility - just a deep respect for these wonderful animals.
Pauline's tips for beginners to horse riding
If you - like us, consider yourself a new-beginner around horses, Pauline gave us three things to think about before our tour.
- Think about being nice and balanced: Sit nice, proud and tall.
- Go with the 1-2-3-4 motion of the animal
- Relax and enjoy the experience. Someone from City of Derry Equestrian Centre walks with you the whole way making sure you feel safe.
Connecting landscape and local people
Slow Adventure is about finding your own way to be comfortable in nature. It's about experiencing a place in an authentic way, immersing you with it.
This tour was about connecting with an animal, but it was also about learning. We learned about the surrounding nature, culture and people that come from this rural place. By slowing down and traveling by horse we went back in time, to the traditional form of transport by horseback.
Finding a natural and authentic way of traveling is a corner stone of our passion for slow adventure. It's strange how moving the same way as the people who shaped the place you're in, deepens your experience.
Hiking in Scotland, paddling in Finland, skiing in Sweden and riding through the hills of Northern Ireland have been eye-opening experiences. They've given us immersive moments where we've truly experienced a place.
Thank you so much for reading about them and for following our Slow Adventures.
To learn more about the horses and activities at the City of Derry Equestrian Centre, have a look here: https://www.cityofderryequestrian.com