Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Little Irish Adventure Begins

Here I sit, typing away at my laptop from the dark corner table of a pub in the city of Kilkenny, Ireland, minutes away from my new home at Fernhill Sport Horse Centre. If you are surprised or a bit confused, don’t worry, you haven’t missed much… Let me catch you up. I first came to Ireland about two months ago to look for a new horse. Phillip Dutton connected me with Carol Gee, the owner of Fernhill Sport Horses. We really hit it off and she offered me the opportunity to move to Ireland and ride horses for her. Once I got back home, I gave the idea some thought (for about 30 seconds) and then started packing up my bags! With the support and a fabulous send off from everybody, I flew to Ireland about 2 weeks ago.

At the arrivals gate at the airport, I kept repeating in my head, “Do not go to the right side of the car. Passengers ride on the left. Do not go…” So of course, I tried to climb into the driver’s side door at the airport. It was at this point I knew that no matter how prepared I was for working on a farm, I was going to make an idiot out of myself on a regular basis. And I can tell you I was right. For example, apparently in Ireland they don’t get on the horse by putting your foot in the stirrup and climbing on from the ground. They either get a leg up or they do this scary, strange leap. This ‘leap’ involves a superhuman ability to jump and extreme upper body strength… two things I am seriously lacking. Now you might be thinking, why is this a problem, she can just get a leg up right? Wrong. I am not sure where I go wrong in my technique but when someone gives me a leg up, they get me about a foot off the ground and I awkwardly flop my stomach about halfway up the saddle. Go ahead. Take a moment and create a visual image of this. So here I am in Ireland, considering myself well prepared for this job after years of working in barns, and I am unable to get on the horses. How do you say embarrassing in Irish?

Lucky for me, Carol did not send me home straight away after this evident failure. Instead, we headed off the day after I arrived to Millstreet, a jumper show where we would be scouting for new horses. There was also a 4 and 5-year-old Event Horse Class that I was to compete in the first day. Terrifying! Let me break it down for you: I had no idea what I was doing; I had never ridden the horse before; the horse had also never done an event before; and I was feeling good for just being able to get on the horse… The horse was fabulous though and despite being a little bit damp (oh yes, it rained) it was a great first competition in Ireland.

For the next couple of days we watched the classes and tried dozens of horses. It was at this point that my inability to get a leg up really hit home. I would awkwardly apologize in advance to each guy that had to literally lift me on to his horse. Add to that my other major handicap here, my inability to understand anyone, and you can imagine that all of these gentlemen probably thought I was a bit short of a full box.... Now, I have always had trouble deciphering people with accents. But these Irishmen not only speak with a thick brogue but they also mumble. Seriously, they barely open their mouths. I stare at them while they talk to me and think, “come on Lillian, try this time to understand”. My most often used word up to this point in this country is, “pardon?”

After a very fun week at Millstreet, we headed back to Carol’s yard (that’s “farm” for all you Yanks) to begin riding and training and getting into the routine. I have about 8 horses that I am in charge of training every day and competing when the occasion arises with the ultimate goal of selling. Days are filled with riding, grooming, and showing horses to clients. The horses I have been assigned are all top quality so even though I will probably only ride them for a short while (if I do my job right), it is a pleasure training them now. I will be able to go to my first real event in Ireland soon and I am looking forward to a whole new environment that I don’t know anything about!

There isn’t as much to report about my “non-horse” life. I have not stopped since I jumped into the car at the airport thanks in large part to the whirlwind of energy that is Carol Gee. I have ventured into town only a few times so far. Driving on the wrong side of the road, in a manual car, when I don’t know where I am going proves challenging but I am sure I will figure it out soon enough. I guess its just another example of something else I can’t do in this country that I could do at home!

That’s all for now, I will keep everyone updated on my seemingly slow assimilation to Irish culture. Maybe next week I will be able to get on the horses I am supposed to ride…

Monday, August 22, 2011