Zara Stassin, Founder, Zaras Planet Riding Holidays.
I just wanted to say thank you to the team behind Connemara Equestrian Escapes for a spectacular holiday! I run a high end tour operator so tend to critique a lot having had the privilege of visiting many amazing places. Your trip is by far the best overall riding package I’ve experienced in Ireland and is up there with the best in the world. The quality of the horses, the rides, the hosts, the hospitality, the accommodation, the food, the scenery, the history, the whole Connemara experience…you’ve just brought top class everything together into a seamless package. This is the type of holiday where people will want to buy your horses (seriously!) and relocate to Connemara (just warning you!)…so hats off to Cathriona and Ciaron and the MASSIVE back up team and partners working with you making this all happen…you will be tremendously successful and I am privileged to be working with you…oh and already have at least 8 friends want to book before we even publish the trip!
10 out of 10, by Orla McCarthy, Equestrian Photographer
I visited Connemara in November 2013 on a Connemara Equestrian Escapes weekend away. We stayed in Renvyle House and Ballynahinch Castle, both of which have gorgeous accommodation to offer, as well as delicious food and wonderful ambiance. The Connemara Equestrian Escapes ponies have stabling just a stones throw from Renvyle House which meant that after a delicious breakfast it was a mere two minute stroll to meet our mounts. Each of the ponies and horses had fantastic personalities which were clearly well known to superb hosts Cathríona and Ciarán. With mounts ranging from traditional Connemara ponies to some larger Irish draughts each of whom were forward-going and responsive to any aids given. Ciarán and Cathriona’s wealth of knowledge of the area and what it has to offer is invaluable to any tourists or visitors. No questions were ever left unanswered. Aside from the wonderful gallops we had over the weekend on the white sandy beaches, my favourite visit of the weekend has got to have been the sheepdog demonstration and turf cutting experience. Both are activities which I had never previously experienced but found thoroughly enjoyable and extremely interesting. Other brilliant activities involved in the weekend included a trip to and a delicious lunch at Killary Fjord Seafood farm and Cashel House Hotel, a visit to the majestical Kylemore Abbey, an evening spent meeting the well-known Connemara pony breeder Henry O Toole and his beautiful broodmares and finally a visit to the Connemara Pony Museum where we learnt everything there is to know about the Connemara Pony from the highly knowledgable Tom MacLochlainn. Ultimately, the entire experience is one I wish to relive again very soon. 10/10.
Siobhán English, Irish Photo-Journalist
Cathriona and Ciarán – A quick note to say thank you for such a fantastic weekend in the west! As an Irish photo-journalist I didn’t realise how uncultured I was, and how little I knew about Connemara, but thanks to you I learned more about the place and saw so much in one weekend – that I did in my lifetime! As for the horses, they were all could you want on a riding holiday – well-behaved, forward-going and 100% reliable. The hospitality – food and accommodation – was second to none, and faultless. In fact the entire weekend was just that – faultless.
I am proud to be Irish, and, after this weekend, most proud of what you are showcasing to both the Irish people and visitors. We truly have a beautiful country and Connemara is up there with the best.
My Wild Atlantic Way – by Jill Dolan, Managing Director, Zara’s Planet
I had been to Ireland many times, my best friend lives in Dublin and I’d travelled, even all the way over to Galway – but this weekend I found Ireland………………Connemara, or did it find me! I have been a long time enthusiast for the Connemara pony and owned a couple in my lifetime, so I was thrilled to be heading out there to ride along the Wild Atlantic Way and experience the region in all its glory. But nothing had prepared me for it – it is so beautiful, even in November, it was still warm and the autumnal colours of the countryside were simply breath taking.
Our hosts for the trip were Cathriona Goaley and Ciarán Mac Con Iomaire – a fine couple full of warmth, enthusiasm and fun, I knew within that critical first 5 minutes we had clicked and were going to get along. Their herd of Connemara ponies and Irish Daughts, some homebred were excellent, well turned out, all were clipped and clean and all bursting with energy and spirit begging us to ride them forward and get on with their job trotting and cantering over tracks, over fields and on the beaches.
Then there was the accommodation, Renvyle House, Cashel House and Ballynahinch Castle – all unique, every one offering a warm welcome with teams of efficient friendly staff. And there was the food, I haven’t eaten so well EVER. Think fresh Killary mussels, local duck, huge fillet steaks, fall off the bone Connemara lamb, Atlantic cod, Dublin prawns, it was all so beautifully cooked and presented. Even the deserts were outrageous if you had the room!
On top of the riding we also got to go off piste and take part in some of the local traditions, which meant we really got to mingle with the Connemara people and in my mind the beating heart of the land. This included mussel harvesting in Killary Fjord with Kate & Simon Kennedy, a sheepdog demonstration from Tom Nee and a meet with Henry O’Toole, one of Irelands most successful Connemara pony breeders out on the beaches with his herd of 7 prize mares.
I did not want to leave – I want to go back and back I’ll go, very very soon!