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The Best Horse Riding Trails in Ireland

by Octavia Drughi

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For a small nation, the Emerald Isle sure comes out on top. It has given the world Saint Patrick, Guinness, U2, and leprechauns. Yet Ireland’s greatest asset remains its raw natural beauty.

Its charming rural countryside and contrasting landscapes – green fields, vast bogs, rolling hills, mountains, and open beaches – have inspired artists for centuries and continue to draw visitors looking for an experience beyond the ordinary.

Ireland is also known as “the land of the horse”. Horseback riding and horse racing are deeply woven into the country’s culture, and Irish horses are renowned for their stamina, intelligence, jumping abilities, and gentleness.

On a horse riding holiday in Ireland, you can choose to go mountain trekking, beach galloping, or post-to-post trail riding atop Connemara Ponies, Irish Draughts, Irish Cobs, or Irish Sport Horses.

There are numerous horse riding trails in Ireland worth considering, but by far the most spectacular ones can be found along the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

The Wild Atlantic Way

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Image credit: Island View Riding Stables

The Wild Atlantic Way runs the length of Ireland’s west coast, passing through nine counties and three provinces, summing up over 2,700km (1,680mi). It is one of the world’s longest defined coastal routes, a mesmerizing patchwork of remote valleys, bogs, lakes, mountains, and sandy beaches.

But the true beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way lies beyond the pavement. Its remote beaches, deep valleys, oak and pine forests, rocky mountains, castles, ancient ruins, Celtic trails, and rare wildlife are best discovered by foot, bicycle, or horseback.

Ireland is home to six national parks, five of which are found on the Wild Atlantic Way.

The Wild Atlantic Way can be broken down into several shorter sections, which are best explored via post-to-post trails, moving from one location to the other each day.

Let’s take a look at the best horse riding trails in Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way:

 

Ring of Kerry Ride, County Kerry

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In the southwest corner of Ireland, County Kerry has been referred to as The Kingdom ever since the first century AD. It is home to some of Ireland’s finest countryside, complete with misty mountains, sparkling lakes, rugged peninsulas, secluded hamlets, and windswept beaches. And what better way to experience this mythical Celtic kingdom than on horseback?

In the heart of Kerry, Killarney is a popular destination for nature lovers. Located on the shores of Lough Lein, it is a stop on the famous Ring of Kerry, a 179km (111mi) circular scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. It is also the gateway to Killarney National Park.

From Killarney, you can embark on a number of horse riding trails, ranging from a couple of hours to an entire week. You’ll cover a variety of terrain, from country lanes and forestry to mountain trails, bogs, and beaches.

One of the most popular post-to-post trails in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry Ride will take you through the highlands of Kerry and across the majestic MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, all the way to the beaches at Waterville and Rossbeigh.

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Killarney National Park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981 and includes woodland, lakes, and waterfalls. MacGillycuddy’s Reeks flanks three main lakes, Lough Lein being the largest. You’ll travel across vast areas of green and native oak wood, and maybe even get the chance to spot the largest herd of wild red deer in Ireland.

The trail takes around a week to complete, depending on the detours you wish to take or skip, and is recommended for intermediate and advanced riders. You’ll be accommodated in Killarney, Glenbeigh, and Waterville.

 

Connemara Trail, County Galway

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Image credit: Connemara Equestrian Escapes

In the northwest corner of County Galway, the Connemara region is famous for its distinctive coastal landscape, the Connemara National Park, a rich Gaelic heritage, and its native breed – the Connemara Pony.

Ride the Connemara Pony in its natural habitat! These hardy and sure-footed ponies are famous for their compact-build, versatility, and gentle temper.

They are one of the larger pony breeds and have both Scandinavian and Spanish ancestry. It is believed that the Vikings brought the ponies to Ireland in the 8th century. In the 16th century, when a Spanish Armada ship ran ashore, the Spanish horses onboard were set loose and began to breed with the wild ponies.

The Connemara Trail is the best way to discover the mountains and beaches of the iconic Connemara region, part of the Wild Atlantic Way, where the mountains meet the sea.

The weeklong ride will take you through an ever-changing landscape along the rugged coastline of the Connemara region, with the Twelve Bens mountain range as your backdrop.

connemara-national-park-ireland

You’ll travel through vast expanses of rust-colored bogs, heather-covered moors, and wide valleys. You’ll pass by shimmering lakes, stately manors, castle ruins, and rocky mountainside, reaching long sandy beaches that beckon you to canter.

The region is dotted with historical landmarks, including megalithic tombs estimated to be 4,000 years old. The landscape and terrain are constantly changing, from bog and heath to grassland, forests, and long unspoiled beaches.

The Connemara Trail is suitable for all levels of riders as long as they are fit enough to withstand being in the saddle for four to six hours a day.

 

Atlantic Way Beach Trails, County Donegal

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Image credit: Donegal Equestrian Centre

Donegal is Ireland’s most northerly county. It is also considered the wildest and most romantic one. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path horse riding holiday, this is the place to go.

Explore the most northwesterly part of Ireland on horseback! Gallop along pristine beaches, climb high into the mountains, and cover a variety of terrain.

Two of the most preferred base camps for horse riding in Donegal are Bundoran and Dunfanaghy, both of which are excellent starting points for brisk beach rides along the Wild Atlantic Way.

If you opt to stay in Bundoran, you’ll enjoy beach trail rides along the nearby Tullan Strand, Trawalud Strand, and Rossnowlagh Strand.

horse-riding-donegal

Image credit: Donegal Equestrian Center

Another popular base camp for horseback riding in northern Donegal is Dunfanaghy, a small seaside town on the shores of Sheephaven Bay. Here you can spend an entire week riding a different trail each day.

During your one-week stay in Dunfanaghy, you’ll traverse moors, forests, and bogs, riding along rugged coastlines, dark blue lakes, and sandy beaches. You’ll climb the Muckish Mountain on the Famine Trail – 150-year-old tracks built during the famine – and gallop on Killahoey and Tramore beaches.

Dunfanaghy is close to Glenveagh National Park, Ireland’s second largest, famous for its remoteness, rugged mountains, pristine lakes, glens, woods, valleys, and bogs, as well as the 19th-century Glenveagh Castle Estate.

On the Inishowen Peninsula, you can trek to Tullagh Point, which offers stunning panoramic views, and enjoy brisk canters on the dark sands of Tullagh Beach.

 

Galway-Clare-Burren Trail, Co Galway & Co Clare

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Image credit: Irish Horse Riding 

Follow ancient Celtic trails from Galway to County Clare and The Burren. Finish the trail at the Cliffs of Moher, where you’ll ride along a section of the Wild Atlantic Way overlooking the Aran Islands.

Ride through the rolling hills and forests of the Slieve Aughty Mountains, through heather-covered bogs, pass by old farms, ancient Celtic tombs, castles, and monastic ruins, learning a bit more about the rich history of Ireland.

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Image credit: Irish Horse Riding 

Reach The Burren National Park, a karst limestone region littered with archaeological sites. It is one of Ireland’s most bewildering landscapes, widely regarded as one of the most fascinating regions in Western Europe.

The Galway-Clare-Burren Trail is a point-to-point trail that covers roughly 225km (140mi) and takes a week to complete. You’ll spend each night in a different location. Riders must be fit and have an intermediate to advanced riding level. Four to six hours per day will be spent in the saddle.

 

Dingle Peninsula Trails, County Kerry

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National Geographic called the Dingle Peninsula “the most beautiful place on earth.” Set along the Wild Atlantic Way, ride across rolling hills to the most westerly points in Ireland.

The postcard-perfect town of Dingle is an excellent starting point for day-treks or weeklong treks around the mountain and beaches of the Dingle Peninsula.

The Shamrock Trail is a two-hour trek for all levels, which takes you up in the mountains behind Dingle, with fantastic panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, Mount Eagle, and the Great Blasket Islands.

Gaeltacht River and Beach Trail is a half-day trek that crosses Cnoc an Ghóigin Mountain, offering breathtaking views of the Atlantic and Brandon Mountain. You’ll also get to Muiríoch Beach for a thrilling gallop.

Wild Atlantic and Great Blasket Islands Trail is a full-day trail that follows parts of the Pilgrim’s Route along rugged shorelines and pristine beaches.

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Image credit: Phil

From Dunquin to Brandon Bay, a weeklong point-to-point trail will take you along the southwest coast of the Dingle Peninsula, through the dramatic Conor Pass, one of Ireland’s highest mountain passes, and over Mount Brandon on the north coast of the peninsula. The shorter trail rides mentioned above are included in this weeklong trek.

 

Clew Bay Trail, County Mayo

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Image credit: Pat O'Malley

Clew Bay is a spectacular sea inlet in County Mayo that has been inhabited for over 6,000 years. Home to numerous small islands, it’s said that there’s one for each day of the year. The most famous of them is Clare Island, once home to Grace O’Malley, the legendary pirate queen of the 16th century.

The Clew Bay Trail is a seven-day ride that will take you along a spectacular section of the Wild Atlantic Way, past small villages and historic cities, on mountain trails, country lanes, and sandy beaches.

Clew Bay is dominated by Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain, where Saint Patrick spent 40 days fasting in 441 AD. Follow in the footsteps of Saint Patrick as you trek through the Bangor mountain range, past Furnace Lake, and cross over the Salmon Leap Bridge into Buckagh Mountain. You’ll pass by Shramore church, the smallest church in Ireland, and through Keenagh Woods.

Near Clew Bay, take some time to visit Ballycroy National Park, a place of uninhabited and unspoiled wilderness dominated by the Nephin Beg mountain range. Within the Ballycroy National Park, Owenduff Bog is one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Western Europe.

*Cover image credit: Irish Horse Riding


Discover an unspoiled countryside and untamed wilderness on a mountain horse riding holiday in Ireland.

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