A trip through the island offers lovely landscapes, and the opportunity to learn more about these beautiful creatures

The fire is dancing in the open hearth as the Jack Russell terrier jumps into the lap of Mark Molloy, the owner of Thurles in County Tipperary. From the outside, the house, built in 1865, has a modest appearance, but the interior is well furnished. The Molloy family has lived in Thurles for five generations, and horses have always been part of their lives. "Children and young people come in the summer to our riding camp to spend some time in the saddle every day," Molloy says. 

Life in the countryside

Apart from being lord of the manor, he is also runs the Crossogue Equestrian Centre. "We let our guests take part in our life with horses in the countryside," Molloy says. Experienced riders have a high regard for the cross-country rides with opportunities for jumping. Jumps have been specially set up in the fields, with the Irish hunters on the estate particularly well suited to skilful riders. This horse breed is highly regarded for jumping and fox hunting. But the meadows here are also home to ponies and breeding stallions. Molloy says that he also breeds thoroughbreds for the racetrack - a passion that is shared with other horse lovers in the region. 

Horses everywhere

Horse breeding is big business in Ireland and has tax-free status. The trip through the south of the island passes through rich pastures divided by hedges, which are protected under Irish law. Small villages, mediaeval ruins, castles, country houses and monasteries are also in evidence. Everywhere horses are grazing, the chalky soils providing for strong growth. Riding out into the woodlands and fields on the large estate of Mount Juliet in County Kilkenny, the rider gains an impression of what life was like for the upper classes in centuries past. The Earl of Carrick built his seat in the 18th century, and today it is one of the country's top hotels, complete with park, golf course and stables. 

For those who are not proficient in the saddle, Brennanstown Equestrian Centre in the Wicklow Mountains on the south-eastern coast provides the opportunity for an excursion on horseback. "Beginners can manage our tour on the Little Sugar Loaf Mountain," says riding instructor Louise Bloomer as she helps tourists mount. "The view out over the hilly landscape is fantastic from the saddle."

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