Pony Up! Beach Riding in Ballyconneely, Connemara
We roll up to the little white cottage just as the sun finally, fully breaks through the light cloud that’s obscured it throughout our journey to Ballyconneely. To finally see the countryside, infamous for its wild, wet weather, bathed in warm sunshine… well, it’s something special. Connemara is even more beautiful than I remember, and The Point pony trekking centre – nestled right beside Ballyconneely beach – has front row seats. Galloping along a beach in Ireland’s wild west has been a long-held bucket list experience, and to have the opportunity to do it on a day like this is indescribably exciting.
Anne, our guide, comes out smiling to greet us as she hears the car pull up, then brings us to the tack room to get us geared up with our riding hats and boots. We wait in a small paddock in front of the stables to meet our trusty steeds. I’m not nervous and I’ve ridden quite a bit before, but I’m very aware that it’s been a long time since I’ve sat on horseback, and I’m far older and more full of nerves than I used to be. I hope for a well-behaved pony.
It’s as if Anne reads my mind. “They’re all very used to taking young children and total beginners, so you’ll have no trouble” she reassures me. The moment I meet Monty, I know I’ll be all right. He’s a beautiful boy, deep brown with calm, wise eyes. At 25 he’s been around the block (or along the beach) a few times, but he still looks pretty spritely to me. I spend a minute or two posturing as a horse whisperer, blowing gently into Monty’s nose and talking softly to him, and I soon feel like we’ve developed a bit of a bond.
That this bond is almost certainly a figment of my imagination is neither here nor there. The point is, I feel relaxed and I can’t wait to get started.
I mount Monty.
We set off at a relaxed pace, strolling towards the beach. Along the way, Anne asks us about ourselves and tells us a little about herself. She’s Belgian and has been here for 11 years since meeting her partner Sean, a true Connemara man whose family has lived right here on the edge of Ireland for 200 years. On a day like this, I can easily see why.
We reach the walkway to the beach. The tide’s out, and the sun is bouncing off a bathtub Atlantic. I don’t know what I expected – I haven’t been to Connemara in many years – but what I expected certainly isn’t this. This is something else. White sand, blue skies with cartoon clouds, and clear seas of the most beautiful aquamarine I’ve seen. It’s incredible, and I’m grinning like the village idiot as Monty leaves the road and we head for the sand. Anne reads my mind again, turning to tell me that although she’s seen this view every day for eleven years, it still gets her, every single time. Even old Monty gets a little spring in his step, and we break into a trot along the sand as we head for the water’s edge. I can feel his excitement to be on the beach.
There’s definitely life in this old pony yet. And Monty’s not doing to badly either.
We walk, at times leaving the beach where it gets too rocky or the tide’s come in. The ponies plod along happily as Anne tells us a little about our surroundings. We discuss Donald Trump’s recent purchase of a Galway golf club: Anne is less-than dazzled by his wealth. I can’t help but think, as we walk along the springy grass at the edge of the beach with the 12 Bens visible in the distance, that Anne measures wealth in a very different way to Mr Trump – and that she quite rightly feels rich beyond her wildest dreams.
At low tide, you can trek across the wet sand to some of the small islands just off the coast for a beautiful view back along the coast. We were a little late for that, but we still had plenty of space on the sand to enjoy a few long canters and let me tell you, there’s not much you can do in this life that will make you feel as free, and as alive, as cantering along a beach in the sun in Connemara, on a Connemara pony. Good old Monty was raring to go. I don’t know exactly what 25 in horse years is in human years, but I think it’s somewhere in the 70s, and if I can move like that at 70 I’ll be more than happy.
The ride-outs are available for riders of all abilities, from total novices and small children through to more experienced riders. If you’re particularly tall, they’ll pair you up with a horse rather than a Connemara Pony (for the sake of both you and the pony)! Rides can be an hour or two hours long, and there’s also the option for a half- or full-day ride. Connemara Ponies are hardy, and they’re used to the weather in the west, so treks go ahead even when the weather’s not so great.
It’s a really authentic and totally unforgettable Connemara experience, and it doesn’t just present you with the beauty and wildness of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, it allows you to actually be a part of it. If you’re at all like me, it may well turn out to be the highlight of your trip to Ireland’s Wild West.
A 2 hour beach trek with The Point Pony Trekking costs €60, and is worth every cent… See their website for more details.