ALL’S quiet in the Bruree countryside on this positively balmy late-September afternoon, save for two horses being put through their paces.
Cusack and Geraghty are limbering up, getting in some practice, because, in four weeks’ time, these hunters will be up to their elbows in mud, splashing through rivers, ditches and dikes as part of a five-hour, 15 mile, cross-country trek.
Today, however, it’s all about looking good for the camera as they pose for some publicity shots on the grounds of trainer Enda Bolger’s farm, ahead of the big event – the Dromin-Athlacca Charity Ride.
“That’s a good shot now, with their ears pricked, look at that,” shouts Enda to the Leader lensman.
The immaculately kept yard, banks, and sand gallops at Howardstown, coupled with the chorus of precise instructions to jockeys Ryan Cusack and Christopher Furness, are proof, if any were needed, that in the horse racing industry, attention to detail is everything.
Enda is one of the chief organisers of the Dromin-Athlacca Chartiy Ride which takes place on Monday, October 28, a bank holiday.
The former point-to-point champion jockey will tackle what’s deemed to be “one of the toughest rides in the country” with a host of well-known riders including top jockey Paul Carberry, former European show-jumping champion, Brian McMahon, current point-to-point champion rider, Derek O’Connor, and Ted Walsh Jnr.
“It got its name for being difficult because the jumps that we jump are big, but, surprisingly, horses jump them better than they jump smaller ones,” says Enda, momentarily taking off his trainer’s hat to rest against a rock on the riverbank to give an outline of this year’s event.
“Over the years,” he continues, “we normally only have people getting scratches from the briars and things like that. There is no speed involved.”
Running the bones of 20 years, the Dromin-Athlacca Charity Ride – which was the brainchild of Rathcannon’s Brian McMahon - is an opportunity for local riders, their friends, and the wider community of south Limerick, to raise funds for a worthy cause.
This year, the ride is in aid of Croom man, JT McNamara, who was seriously injured in a fall during the Cheltenham Festival last March. “I think there will be a marvellous turnout due to the JT connection,” says Enda with a quiet determination.
JT has been a familiar figure in these fields having ridden for Enda as his amateur jockey for many years, landing several high-profile wins during that time, in the green and gold hoops of JP McManus.
He remains in the Mater Hospital in Dublin. “I was with him last Friday,” says Enda. “He is in unbelievable spirits and is inundated with visitors and well wishes.”
The charity ride promises to be “a good ride across the countryside to clear the heads” as many of those taking part will also be attending the Limerick Harrier’s Point-to-Point which takes place at Lemonfield, Crecora, the day before the ride, on October 27, again in aid of JT.
“I think a lot of people are going to make a weekend of it,” says Enda, “people are coming from the UK and other parts of the country. We will have an unbelievable amount of cross-country riders and hunting people, as well as a good few from the locality.”
“It’s a fun day out and, also, for people with young horses, it’s a great schooling ground for them. Ponies of 12 hands to horses of 17 hands – they are all going to be catered for.”
While the experienced riding folk with lap it up – the main ride is not for everyone - especially not for the faint-hearted. It covers approximately 70 jumps across 20 farms, running to over five hours on the stopwatch.
“There will be another ride running parallel to the main ride,” explains Sue Foley, another of the organisers.
“The reason we are doing that is to get a bigger crowd out to support the charity. People do as much or as little and they are able for. It is open to ponies and novice horses. We are hoping that we will get a lot of the pony clubs out. We will have a number of places where the two rides will meet up.”
None of this, of course, would be possible without the goodwill of the local farmers who, each year, turn a blind eye to the hundreds of horse hooves that plod through their lands during the annual outing.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” Enda points out. “It’s all down to the farmers at the end of the day for allowing this to happen. Year after year, they allow us to go through their land for charity.”
The event is not just a great day for the riders - members of the public are welcome to come along and enjoy the action from various vantage points along the route. Brian McMahon is renowned for having a fierce knack for picking out a nice bank where people on the road and the folks following on foot can see the horses jump.
Then, there is the half-way break at Tierney’s in Dromin where the first-half is analysed before thoughts turn to the final furlong. “It’s great craic,” says Enda. “Everyone will have a thrill. We pull up half way and everyone gets their refreshments. The horses get a break for half an hour and we set off again for the last six or seven miles of it.”
Typically, the ride is wrapped up at five or half five in Athlacca where this year, the riders will return to the aroma of a pig roasting on a spit in the village green.
“It’s a fun day out. Everyone will be looked after. There will be great support for JT,” says Enda putting back on his trainer’s hat to head back to the stable yard to check on the horses.
While some are having a gander at the visitors through their stable gates more are enjoying some TLC in the courtyard at the hands of the stable staff.
Small white name tags on each stable door reveal who sleeps where. There’s Love Rory, On The Fringe, and in the corner, the aptly named, Be Positive.
n The Dromin-Athlacca Charity ride will leave Athlacca at 12:30pm on October 28.
All proceeds to the JT McNamara Fund and the local community. Donation is €100 for adults and €30 for children.
For further details see the Dromin-Athlacca Community Ride Facebook page or contact Sue on 086 2433917.