Wednesday 28 September 2016

Bring your own horse on holiday...

Siobhán English profiles three women making their mark in the business side of the equestrian industry

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30

Cathriona Goaley runs Connemara Equestrian Escapes, an equestrian holiday company in the West of Ireland.
Cathriona Goaley runs Connemara Equestrian Escapes, an equestrian holiday company in the West of Ireland.

A love for her birthplace of Galway and dedication to Ireland's native breed of pony gave Cathriona Goaley the inspiration to set up her dream business - the specialist equestrian holiday company Connemara Equestrian Escapes - in 2013.

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The brainchild of the former IT consultant and her late husband Ciarán, it came after many years of research which showed the need for an upmarket service offering unique riding holidays across Connemara, while also taking in the many tourist aspects of this wild and rugged landscape.

"After studying the market I felt the need to offer something special to tourists when they visited here," commented Cathriona, who earlier this year was runner-up in the equestrian category in the Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards.

"In my opinion there is nothing nicer than enjoying Connemara and all it has to offer from the back of our native pony.

"I also want Irish people to enjoy the landscape on their own horses and ponies, and so we offer other packages whereby they can 'bring their own horse on holiday'."

The initial task of setting up the business was alleviated by the fact that Cathriona already had a small herd of ponies at home in Moycullen, but it was not long before that number grew once word spread of the popularity of the exciting new company.

Up to last year, guests were accommodated in a number of select hotels, but more recently she has opened up her own home, Teach Na Corra, for a more laid-back alternative.

This proved hugely popular this past summer with guests from as far afield as Canada, the US, China and New Zealand enjoying home cooking and a more hands-on approach with the ponies.

With ample stabling and an all-weather arena, it is the ideal option for both Irish guests and visitors who, if they wished, then have the option of spending a night or two at such luxurious hotels as Renvyle House, Ballynahinch Castle and Cashel House.

"We offer rides out of the hotels, so it is a nice option for riders who want to treat themselves for one or two nights," Cathriona said.

Following a morning beach ride on Omey Island, or through local woodlands, guests can then take in some cultural visits to the likes of Kylemore Abbey and Killary Fjord.

"This past summer has been particularly busy with guests and 2016 looks equally promising with many repeat bookings already confirmed.

"The fact that we vary the routes, accommodation and cultural activities makes it particularly appealing for those coming back next year."

Aside from the 2016 summer schedule Cathriona also has plans to expand the winter programme following its success last year. "We ran a series of riding clinics for Irish riders last winter and they proved very popular, and so we intend running several others this year with some of Ireland's top instructors.

"We will also cater for the hunting market and offer two and three nights' stays which include trail and beach riding and a day's hunting with the Galway Blazers.

"And next spring we are introducing a training course in collaboration with Horses Connect which offers wellness retreats for youth at risk and people in recovery."

"We cater for all levels of riders here and are lucky that we can diversify as we have such a great team of equine enthusiasts on the team," Cathriona concluded.

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