Sunday, we arrived up in McKee Barracks, where we were welcomed in by our Supervisor Cpl. Burke. We settled in and packed our things away and headed off to check in to our hotel.
On Monday, we woke early at 7am in order to be at the Barracks for 7:45am, with a 20-minute walk from the hotel. We mucked out our horses to our best standard and then fed up. Our supervisor came in to inspect our work and give us a few tips on how to have things in better order and to a higher standard of cleanliness for the Army Equitation School. After our brief on cleaning, we had a talk to run over the history of the Barracks. Then we set out for our first lesson with Commandant Sharon Crean, where we worked on flexion and our rider position. We then got a break, following a tour of the army equitation grounds. Then we had a jumping lesson with Geoff Curran where we did a grid and focused on straightness and the rider and horse going over fences. We finished at 4:30 and headed back to the hotel.
Tuesday, we woke a bit earlier to make time for the lovely breakfast the hotel provided! When we got to the Army Equitation School, we did the normal cleaning of the stable area. We then got a lesson with Lt. Col. Tom Freyne, jumped a few fences and did some trotting poles. Then we had a talk with Cpl. Burke about our horse’s food. After lunch we made a course with Lt. Whyte (a rider) and we also did a lunging lesson with him where we sat on Lt. Whyte’s horse while being lunged with and without stirrups. We were testing our balance and confidence on a new horse. After this, we had a dressage lesson with Comdt. Crean, where we worked on using our aids more and how they affect our horse’s way of going. We finished the day by dusting down our stable area.
Wednesday, we had a very interesting lesson with Captain Charlene Kehoe (a rider) on canter poles and how to set them out properly and how to ride quiet distances and longer distances. We then got mounted on our own horses and took part in the exercise ourselves. We learned how to add strides and use our aids to help shorten the stride. After lunch, we had a brief talk with Cpl. Burke to prepare for our vets visit and then headed to the army's veterinary clinic in Meath where we got a few talks by a vet there and we got shown around their practice. They gave us a few valuable tips about horse sicknesses and other problems. We got to see the surgery rooms and how they do operations. Cpl. Burke was very pleased by how much we listened and remembered some answers from his little lecture with us before the vets visit.
On Thursday, we had to do the usual clean-up for inspection with Cpl. Burke by 8:30. We then had to do an overall wash of our horses where everything had to be spotless for our horse inspection later that day. We got a dressage lesson by Comdt. Crean where we practised shoulder ins and we were able to watch a lesson given by Gerry Flynn to Capt. Curran which was fabulous to watch as he was riding one of his top horses Gabhran. After lunch we weighed our horses and they were both healthy just under 600kg mine was 596kg to be exact! Then we had to turn out our horses to the best of our ability to be inspected by Comdt. Crean who did a very detailed inspection. She had commented on my horse saying she is in very good condition and had a lovely coat on her but she could have a more even mane and a better clip. We both passed with flying colours still! Then we had a jumping lesson with Comdt. Crean and practised bending lines and on our rhythm in a smaller arena.
Friday, we had our final inspection on our stables by Lt. Whyte and he said they were up to a top-quality standard. We then went out to make our course with Comdt. Crean that we would be jumping later on in the day. Following that we had a lecture on horse travelling with Cpl. Burke and we then got ready for our final jumping lesson where our family and friends had come up to watch us. We finished and got a run down on how we did in our lesson and then we thanked all of our supervisors and mentors for the week. After that we went to the front of the Barracks to get photos with everybody! We also got a few little goodies from Cpl. Burke!
It was a great experience that surpassed all of my expectations. The lessons were very helpful for me and my horse and I will use their little tips in my jumping season to come, which hopefully they will be to my advantage. Everybody was so lovely, chatty and helpful and we were well looked after. The hotel was really top class and had everything I needed; the very nice food was a bonus also!
I would like to thank you and all that had organised this bursary for myself and Yousef. It was really a once in a lifetime opportunity and unforgettable experience.
By Sarah O'Donnell, Kilkenny Hunt Branch