Monday, August 29, 2011

Aug 23rd - 29th, Part 1

The goat . . . IS BACK!!

I had to include that. It gave me the giggles. I’ve seriously come to hate that goat, though. Every time I muck the stalls it will inevitably find a way into one of them and start screwing things up. Once it actually climbed to the top of this built-in food stand that’s about four feet high and started smacking its head on the horses’ rump. No lie. Thankfully the horse didn’t move, because I was literally on the other side of it and it might have knocked me over. After that shenanigan I kept a watch out for that goat. Damned if it didn’t sneak in behind me once and take a piss RIGHT AFTER I had cleaned the stall. A goat nearly died that day.

Anyway, sorry I haven’t written in a while. My parents already gave me crap for it, so don’t worry. There was a mixture of no internet and extreme sightseeing going on. It was a fun week – and a better weekend. Also, this is a long post. You are forewarned.

For the first part of the week the weather couldn’t make up its mind. It alternated between raining for an hour, and then going very sunny and warm and then rainy again. This happened for a couple days in a row. I’ve learned to layer my clothing here because I’ll be cold one minute, warm and shedding layers the next, and then cold when the next cool breeze comes in. It’s a little annoying, but it’s way better than the Devil's armpit that is College Station, Texas.

Gross, I know, but it’s true. There are certain similarities that can’t be ignored.

So for the rainy bits of the week I was inside the tack room cleaning and oiling the tack. I did quite a bit of that this week. They have a radio in there, so the hours went by pretty smoothly. I would systematically take apart a bridle, clean it, rub oil into the leather, put it back together, and repeat. Every once in a while I’d switch and do a saddle. The leather smell kindles fond memories of my Pawpaw Rice, and the music and repetitious movements let my mind wander. I know that if I had to do it every day I’d go crazy (or “mad” as they say here) with boredom, but doing it for a few hours at a time is incredibly soothing, especially when it’s raining outside.

When it was sunny I would work the horses. However, Thursday Aoife gave me a huge job – weeding the arena. There are plants that grow along the edges. Some sprout yellow flowers that are poisonous to horses when the flowers die. The majority of the plants are these TERRIBLE nettles that make your skin burn like crazy for hours if they even barely brush you. I’ve had horrible itching welts on my hands and forearms each night where the nettles have caught me from when my shirt slipped or something. It’s crap, I tell you.

As if digging up these mile-long root plants isn’t bad enough, I was accosted while doing it. The Big O, by which I mean the turkey (one of the visiting children thought it was an ostrich) sneaked up beside me while I was pulling weeds. I didn’t really pay attention to him. You’d think I would learn to pay attention to the seemingly innocent, non-equine animals by now. The damn thing pecked my ear. It was probably going for my cartilage earring. It pecked me only once – I turned on that asshole so fast, he jumped back a foot. Then I beat the hell out of him. By which I mean I threw something in his general direction so he’d run away, and then shook my fist at him angrily while yelling that I’d see him on my plate at Christmas.

Damn turkey.

I have a new main character to introduce. Enter Donal Williamson, late 30s, everyone’s trusted neighbor, best friend, and knowledgeable horse breeder and construction worker. Great guy. Also has a ridiculously difficult to understand Cork accent, is redheaded, tells wild stories, smokes at least twenty “fags” a day, and is cruder and cusses worse than anyone I’ve ever been exposed to, which is saying something.

And yes, they constantly call cigarettes “fags” here. And yes, I smirk EVERY TIME anyone says “I’d like a fag right about now.” Especially when they say that right after talking about how gay people are weird.

So for the last week Donal has been my tour guide. He lives alone, so I think he’s been happy to have someone to show around. He is also a member of the Kilmacabea rowing club in Glandore, and while he was over visiting Teddy last Wednesday he mentioned going to practice the next day. After he learned that I had never rowed before, he invited me to come along and see what it’s all about. So I did. We drove down to the harbor after dinner with the O’Regans on Thursday evening.

The harbor was beautiful. Here are a few pictures to show you:

I walked around the harbor for a bit and took pictures while Donal visited with the club members. After a while I got bored and wandered down to see what was going on. I immediately felt kind of awkward. The club was very clannish. Everybody kind of stuck to their little groups. I walked up to Donal’s and he introduced me to the older members and included me in the conversation, so I felt better. However, when he went out to row everyone kind of ignored me. I didn’t really know what to do.

Donal’s team came back, and a few women got ready to go out. They invited me to join, so I decided to give it a try. Man, rowing is fun. It’s also a full-body workout. I tried a rowing machine at the gym once, but it’s nowhere near the real thing. There’s also something really exciting about moving in tandem with three other people at a fast pace through the water. It was pretty cool.

We went back the next day for practice because there was a regatta (a rowing competition) that they were getting ready for on Sunday. I rowed again, and people were a little more open in their conversation. I stood around being awkward for a while still, but I met a few new people and joined a group once or twice in conversation. After it was finished Donal took me to a pub in Rosscarbery, another nearby town. His niece and nephew were performing traditional Irish dances. The pub was packed. I was the only one wearing a cap, and it had the Freebirds symbol on it. I didn’t take it off. Represent, yo.

One thing I can say for the Irish: they definitely know how to treat a girl in a pub. We met up with Donal’s brother (forgot-his-name) and the brother’s wife (Grace, I think?). There were never any introductions, actually. Anyway, Donal bought me my first half-pint. Donal’s brother made sure I had another one waiting before I was finished with the first. THEN when I was only half way through the second, Donal dropped a third in front of me. I didn’t even have to ask. It was amazing.

No, I didn’t drink the entire third one, and no I didn’t get drunk.

Donal’s brother’s wife is from England. We had a few wonderful conversations about politics, same-sex relationships, the education system, London being sketchy, and the asshole Border Patrol people. I actually had a delightful time. Every once in a while the children would start dancing again and I would have to stand up on my chair to see them. Traditional Irish dancing is like river dancing. It was very fluid, swift, and beautiful, and it seemed like only their legs were moving. The music was very lively.

We didn’t stay out too late, and the next day I went with Teddy and his nephew Mikey to a horse fair in Rosscarbery. We took a couple of ponies, a foal, and an Irish cob (horse) to the fair to try and sell them. Mikey disappeared in a flash after we got there and tied the horses up, and Teddy told me to meet him in a few hours. I wandered around Ross and took pictures of the town. The fair wasn’t too great to look at. There were a lot of Indian vendors with clothing, Gypsy people with trinkets, and Irish farmers with crap horses for sale.

By the way, I’ve had at least four Irish people tell me to stay away from the “travelers”. Apparently they’ll steal the shoes off you while you’re standing in them if they can. They tell me the children are the worst. The “Pakis”, often referred to as “those bloody Pakis” will try to cheat you every time. Yes, all Middle Eastern people are from Pakistan. I had no idea. Irish people feel the need to warn me about all other suspicious groups of people every time I go out with them.

Anyway, I saw a little of the fair and then went down to the lake to read for a few hours. At the appointed time I went back to Teddy’s horses, but I didn’t see Teddy. I figured he might be making a deal or something, so I decided to wait. I stood between the Irish cob and the wall she was tied to, which was right next to this old man in a cart. This old man was your stereotypical old Irish grandfather. He was wearing the tweed jacket with slacks, and he had a thick accent and jaunty cap. There's a picture of the back of him to the left. He saw me next to him and asked if I wanted to buy Teddy’s horse. I explained that I was staying with Teddy’s family and was waiting for him to come back. At that he introduced himself as “Patty Flannigan” and sort of adopted me. Every time it looked like Gypsy (the Irish cob) was even thinking about moving closer to me and the wall, Paddy would poke her rump with this long stick he was holding and shout, “Don’t squish the girl!”

Other older people would approach him and say, “Are you buying or selling today, Patty?” and he’d kind of wave at them and reply, “Ehn. Leave me alone.” This was apparently perfectly normal, because nobody seemed offended at all. A drunk old man wobbled his way over and Patty talked to him for a while. I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying, except for at one point when the drunk guy looked over at me and mumbled something, and Patty replied, “She’s Teddy’s American. Leave her alone.” This was also perfectly acceptable, and they kept talking. I just sat there, amused.

It was about ten minutes after Teddy was supposed to meet me that I asked Patty if he had seen him. Patty replied, “At the pub. It’ll be a bit, girly.” I thought he might be exaggerating. But no, he wasn’t.

Thirty minutes went by before Mikey ran up with a bunch of foul-mouthed boys and said “Teddy told us to pack up the horses.”

I asked where Teddy was, and he said, “Pub. It’ll be a while.”

I’m totally not making this up.

I grabbed the more belligerent pony as Patty and I said our goodbyes. Rather, I said goodbye and he kind of grunted.

I then waited with the juveniles by the car and trailer after we packed in the horses. There was a 16 year old girl named Louise and her 11-year old brother named something-or-other that we had to take home. Mikey (who is also 16, by the way) beckoned his rowdy horde of friends over and they started strutting and asking around to see if anyone had “fags”. One of them ran up to Louise and started talking crap. She was giving it back, so I didn’t say anything to stop it. Then, I swear to God, he turned around, bent over, and dropped his pants to shove his bare ass in her face. Then he hikes his pants up and went running off down the street. Louise screamed, “that’s disgusting!” I just stared. That actually happened right in front of me. Oh My God.

A while later Teddy came down the road, perfectly fine. He grabbed a pony from the horse box and told me he had sold it. I guess dealing goes on in pubs now. When Teddy got back from delivering it, we piled into the car with the kids in the back. Then Teddy starts the car and puts it into first gear, proceeding forward. The most God-awful screeching noise starts coming out of the front of the car. Teddy keeps driving. The kids start going crazy in the back, and I look back and see that the horse box is practically parallel to the car. I tell Teddy to stop, and he slows down, looks out the back, and says it’ll be fine. The youngest kid actually opens the door and hops out to take a look, and Teddy starts moving forward again. Mind you, the god-awful noise is still going on. I tell Teddy to stop again, but he’s already accelerating, and the kid has to run to get in the back door and slam it closed before Teddy leaves him. I feel like the engine is going to explode, so I’m kind of squeezing myself as far back into the front seat as I can. After thirty more seconds of the kids going bonkers, the engine sounding like it’s about to crash and burn, and Teddy nonchalantly pressing on the accelerator, the noise stops. Everything goes quiet. I turned to Teddy and said, “I’m pretty sure your engine needs to be looked at.”

He replied, “Nah. It works fine.”

That was my horse fair experience.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A List and Summary

Things I think you should know:

  1. The O’Regans make fun of me incessantly for saying the word “awesome”, but only because they think it’s awesome. They now say “awesome” in an exaggerated surfer voice whenever they think something is cool. Or when I walk into the room. It’s hilarious.
  2. I have officially influenced Ciara. She says “badass” all the time now, and promises to go use it at school when she returns next week. I will have successfully influenced the next generation of Cork teenagers by this time next month.
  3. Every Irish farmer I meet is barely understandable and wants to go to Texas and be a “real life cowboy”.
  4. Every damn person the O’Regans know now knows that my Granny Rice sent me to Ireland with the express purpose of finding a husband. The O’Regans seriously tell this story to EVERY PERSON we see.
  5. They also tell the story of when I took pictures of a box of fruity condoms in the market and how the store clerk followed me around because she thought I was suspicious.
  6. For some reason Teddy calls me Tracy all the time. He doesn’t even know anyone named Tracy. He just forgets my name and is stuck on Tracy. Aoife yells at him for it. It’s funny.
  7. Every one we meet outside the house invites us to have a cup of tea or coffee at their place. The O’Regans also insist I have a cup of tea nearly any time they see me. Thus, I now drink at least five cups of hot tea a day. Also, every Irishman and Brit I have tea with thinks I’m a freak of nature because I take my tea “black”, as in without sugar or milk. This is apparently very, very weird in Ireland. I’m now “that American girl that likes her tea black.” This is another thing the O’Regans tell everyone we see after introducing me.
  8. The word “crack” means fun in Ireland. Ciara’s friend Shannon was talking about going to a teen club and she said they would have great crack. I was scandalized. I said, “you guys toke up in teen clubs here?!?!” Then I had to explain what “toke up” meant. Then they explained what “crack” meant. It was messed up.
  9. They also think it’s funny when I say “that’s messed up”. They say “that’s mad” instead. Instead of “that’s cool”, they say “that’s grand”.
  10. Every time they tell a story about a guy, they say “your man” in reference to the guy after he’s been first introduced. For instance, “so your man goes into a bar . . .” The first couple of times I had to remind myself that they weren’t talking about my ex-boyfriend or something.
  11. Light switches are only on the outside of every room, and it’s a code violation to have a light switch on the inside of a bathroom. Instead it’s on the wall outside the door or around the corner of the door. So EVERY FREAKING MORNING I stumble into the bathroom and feel around for the damn light switch before realizing it’s on the outside wall and around the corner of the doorway. Weird as hell? Yes.
  12. I walked into the backyard after mucking the stables this morning and Aoife was saying “Misty is in heat, and she’s got out and has been messing with the horses in the stables again. We’ll have to lock her up.” I asked Aoife if she was calling me some kind of bestial slut. Obviously she wasn’t. The O’Regans own a beautiful white mare named Misty. Apparently Misty is in heat. Now every time I walk by Misty the mare (now locked up), I say sotto voce “…..slut”.
  13. There’s other stuff, but I’ll have to tell you later. This shit happens all the time. No lie.

LOTS of stuff happened today, but it’s already midnight so I won’t write about all of it. Suffice to say I mucked stables, power-washed numnahs (English style horse blanket), saw a jockey paint the O’Regans chimney, had tea with a huge British family, went to the top of a hill and saw wind farms, had a wonderful lunging session with Skippy (my new favorite), had a terrible lunging session with Rocky (the asshole), had a terrible riding session with Rocky (the fucking asshole), cooked a freaking fabulous dinner of enchiladas for my host family, discussed geographical boundaries with a PhD student in visualization, and had a laugh over a terrible misconception concerning outside toilets.

It was both a horrible and a wonderful day. Maybe I’ll write about it tomorrow if I have a free minute.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Funday

I bought a Dr. Pepper from the store the other day in honor of Alicia. I told her about it. Today I cracked it open to drink it. That was NOT Dr. Pepper. It was a straight up Northern Ireland sugar water bastardization with their brand name. I was almost pissed. The rest was thrown out in disgust.

As I’m typing this Aoife, Ciara, and Aine are staring at me. They tell me they don’t know anyone who can type as fast as me. I feel accomplished. “You know horses, but I know how to type freakishly fast!” Right. Cause that’s comparable. I told them I’d trade.

Today is a relaxation day. Earlier we were sitting outside talking about stud horses and other things. The conversation turned to American tourists and cultural stereotypes. Apparently lots of Americans come to Kilkenny to see leprechauns. Yeah, I didn’t think that leprechauns exist either, but a lot of American tourists do. God. My fellow countrymen buy the “Irish clothing” and walk around wearing tweed and caps. Unbeknownst to them, they provide a huge laugh for the locals. Some of Ciara’s ginger friends dressed like leprechauns one time and offered to show a group of tourists where the fairy rings are. The tourists believed them. Good lord. I was ashamed. Their American tourists sound like our Asian tourists.

I asked Aoife if I fit any American stereotypes. She said there was one that she noticed right off the bat. A common stereotype for Americans around here is that they’re not very expressive. Aoife told me that she couldn’t really read me or determine how I was feeling or what I was thinking until she knew me a little better. She says that it’s still hard because I don’t express myself with my hands or big laughs or anything like they do. Needless to say I was pretty freaking surprised. Fellow Americans have told me that I’m very expressive. I told Aoife and Ciara that and they laughed. They had a very Irish, very crude friend named Donal over the other day. He was what we would think of as the stereotypical Irishman. Aoife and Ciara told me they were surprised that I didn’t react negatively to the racist things he was saying. I told them that first of all, I couldn’t understand half of what he was going on about. Secondly, I’m used to crude and/or jokingly racist comments, so it didn’t faze me when he said scandalizing things. They accepted that. They keep thinking I’m going to be scandalized. I don’t know if I should be proud or worried that I continue to surprise them.

Maybe when the next big ginger Irish guy comes around spewing obscenities, I’ll make a scene and be like “WHAT THE FUCK OH MY GOD HOW DARE HE SPEAK THUSLY IN FRONT OF ME?!?!”

They probably wouldn’t believe it at this point though. Dammit.

From August 20th, 2011

Just when you’re going strong and becoming really confident in your abilities, reality turns around and slaps you across the face for kicks. Reality slapped me today when I was lunging Smudge. I’ll tell you about that in a minute.

I worked with Skippy for a few hours this morning. I desensitized him to the whip and loud noises and made him stand still while I was swinging my jacket around. He got to the point where he would spook and lift his head up, but he stood still. I feel like that’s a great improvement from jumping back at the slightest movement. I made Aine jump and scream around the arena for a little while, both near Skippy’s head and toward his hindquarters. Skippy did really well and stopped moving away from her when I told him to “stand”. He still gets spooked but he’s managing better under pressure. I need to do a repeat of these exercises tomorrow to get them to stick.

Smudge gave me a reality check. I had relaxed my vigilance around him because he did so well on the line the last time I handled him. However, he had been in the stable for a few days and was rearing to go. I put a bridle and saddle on him before taking him out on the lunge line. Right after we got into the arena I grabbed the whip and asked him to start walking. He didn’t want any of that. Suddenly he made a break for the side of the arena and the lunge line slipped through my fingers. I dropped the whip, grabbed the line with both hands, and dug in my heels while yelling obscenities at him. He slowed down for a minute, and then dodged again and took off. This time he jumped to a canter so I had to let go of the line to keep from being dragged on behind him. We had bisected the arena earlier with wooden beams stacked on top of barrels to make a makeshift round pen, but he smashed through the beams and broke into the rest of the arena, bucking like a bronco the entire time. I backed off and said “woah” at him in a long, soothing tone. He bucked a little bit more before slowing down and moving to a corner. I followed him, calling his name and speaking in soothing tones, but he squeezed past me suddenly and went to bucking again. At this point I turned around and called for Teddy, the big Irishman. Teddy came in and helped me catch Smudge. We brought him back to the other side of the arena and put the beam back up, but when I began lunging Smudge again he pulled against me and tried to drag me off. Teddy took the reins and gave me the whip. With Teddy on the other end of the line, Smudge couldn’t run off. We tried to get him to trot in a circle that way, but Smudge still kept stopping and turning his hind quarters to me to try and kick me. Whenever he did that I wailed on him and told him to get his ass away from me. Teddy found that hilarious. He told me I was spunky.

Aoife heard the commotion and came outside to investigate. Now, I recently learned that Aoife has traveled all over the world showing horses. She was a stable hand for a few good companies back in her early twenties before she became a trainer. She’s also bred a few show winning stallions. This woman has some crazy awesome stories about everywhere from Milan, Italy to Tennessee. Anyway, she marched into the arena and took over, and suddenly Smudge was the easiest, sweetest pony in the world. She wound him down and gave him some directions to think about, and then turned him back over to me. After being subjected to Aoife, Smudge meekly listened to me and completed his routine.

Smudge wasn’t the only one who learned something. I got a good dose of humility. I knew I was lucky that I wasn’t hurt.

The rest of the day was really easy, though I went through lunch pretty shell-shocked. In the afternoon I took Murphy out and lunged him and he was very sweet, if a bit pushy. I made myself not be afraid and pushed back though. He behaved after that. Ciara and I took him off the line after a while of him doing well and let him jump over a barrier a few times.

When he was good and sweaty we took him in and bathed him. Ciara explained the certification system that Irish students have to go through to get out of “secondary school”. It’s like a broken down, complicated SAT type thing. The “certs” are what Irish universities and government jobs look at when evaluating a kid for entrance into their program/job/whatever. A lot of Irish students received their cert results in the last few days, so there’s been a ton of young people getting drunk and partying like crazy. The radio stations were talking about it.

Dinner consisted of roast beef, tons of mashed potatoes, and broccoli and carrots. The weather is cool and perfect for that sort of thing. I was in heaven. I praised Aoife’s cooking endlessly. She joked that they might keep me working here for a year and paying me in food. I told her I might just go for it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Town and Three Horses

Today was very eventful. I woke up and it was freezing cold as usual. No surprise there. It takes me a while to get up the courage to get out from under the duvet and run to the bathroom to turn on the hot water. Then there’s a little bouncing around a bit and sticking my hand in and out of the water because it has a tendency to heat straight to boiling, and there’s some adjusting that has to be done before I can jump in it. After I shower I generally stand under the water for a few minutes while building up the courage to get out into the freezing cold again. I’ll layer up, brush out my hair, put on my wellies, and venture out into the world. Usually after stepping outside I realize that the inside of my place is at least ten degrees cooler than the outside because the cold air gets trapped during the night, and the top layer is one too many. So I go back inside, shed a layer, don my rain jacket again, and move on to the farmhouse for a breakfast of toast and hot tea. This happens every morning. Sooner or later I’ll learn to stick my head out the window or something before putting on that extra layer.

For the past couple of days I’ve eaten breakfast and then headed out to muck the stables before lunging the horses. However, this morning Aoife decided to go into Skibbereen to get groceries, so I tagged along to finally exchange my American dollars for Euros. Aine and Ciara went with us, and on the way it started raining. I was glad I had dressed warmly and in wellies because the weather got considerably cooler.

The grocery store we went to was called “Lidl”, which is apparently equivalent to a small HEB. I’m told it’s found throughout Europe. It was one big room with several aisles of food and miscellaneous things. The food was along the walls, with vegetables on one wall, meats and cheeses on another, and yogurt on another. In the middle was bread and processed products. The very middle aisle consisted of “deals” on non-food items like baby clothes, motorcycle outfits, tools, and other things. There were very few brands that I recognized, and most had Irish names. There was one brand of popcorn called “McCenny” that was supposedly “American style”. That kind of cracked me up, so I took a picture. I found a package of 12 fruity condoms with flavors of strawberry, blueberry, and coconut. I took a picture of that too. The store people looked at me funny. Aoife laughed at me and explained to one clerk that I’m American. For some reason that made sense to her and she turned back to her job.

A few days ago I stupidly volunteered to make enchiladas for my host family because they had never really had Mexican food before. That was a huge mistake. We found red onions, but they’re half the size of the ones we have in Texas. We had to go to a specialty store to find jalapenos, and even then we only found a jar of them in the ethnic aisle. That kind of boggled my mind. My host family has never had black beans, either. I also have to figure out the best way to make Spanish rice. Aoife was laughing at me in the store because I was looking more and more scared of completely fucking these enchiladas up.

After shopping we went into the middle of town so that I could visit the bank. The traffic is completely backwards here, too. I rode on the left hand side of the car where the driver would normally sit. All the cars are manuals over here. I didn’t think that riding on the left hand side of the road would be so bad, but making sudden left turns onto a perpendicular street startled me. My mind can’t really make sense of the traffic at all just yet. The street signs are both in Irish and English, which is kind of cool. Ciara tried to teach me some Irish, but it’s hard as hell to pronounce and simply impossible to make sense of written. There’s tons of extra unnecessary letters. Ironically “hello” in Irish was probably the most difficult word I tried to pronounce today.

We parked a little ways from the town center and trekked inward. I went toward the bank while Aoife, Ciara, and Aine went into a hardware store to look at straighteners. The bank was serious about their security. You have to press a button to get from the outside into this little chamber, and then there’s a buzzing noise and you can push the door to get in. Then you have to push another button and wait to get through from the chamber into the actual bank. It’s almost like the place is quarantined. Then when I entered the bank I had to stop and look around like a lost idiot because I didn’t know where to exchange my currency. Eventually I went up to a teller and asked her, and she got this look of clarity on her face (I guess she had been watching me and wondering what the hell was going on) before saying “Oh yeah! Here!” and taking my money. I exchanged $229 for 153 Euros. Needless to say I was kind of disappointed by that.

Not only that, but when I got back into the car later I asked Ciara why their money was so flimsy. The euros are shorter than our bills and feel like regular paper. She asked what I meant. By this point it was raining pretty hard, so I asked her if it disintegrated in the rain or when run through the wash.

She was like, “Oh yeah, of course. That’s why we have coins with one euro, two euro, and the like. Don’t you Americans have coin equivalents of your dollars?”

I said, “No, Ciara. Our dollars don’t disintegrate. Our currency is built to survive.”

“Oh. That must be nice. Better not send those through the wash though.”

“Duly noted.”

There are lots of conversations like that around here.

We went back to the house shortly after. On the ride back I showed Ciara and Aine my passport and they exclaimed over it. They saw the lyrics to the star-spangled banner and asked what they were. Crazy.

After unloading the groceries Aoife fixed us a late lunch. It was still raining, cold, and windy at this point so she sent us to clean and oil the tack instead of doing anything with the horses. Ciara and I retreated to the tack room and turned on the radio before wrestling the bridles and saddles. We did three bridles and three saddles, and she told me about her boyfriend and her plans for the future. While rubbing down the saddles with vegetable oil, I told her about Michael and Texas A&M. We bonded. She took a picture of me with a saddle on my lap. I refreshed my knowledge on how to take a bridle fully apart and put it back together again. My hands are now super soft.

While in the tack room the sun had come out and the rain had stopped, so we took Skippy out and I started teaching him manners. I guess I should explain what my job is now. After observing me for a few days, Aoife has decided that I should be put in charge of training three different horses. She thinks my knowledge (and no-nonsense attitude) is sufficient enough to handle them by myself. Thank you Robin and Vanessa for your videos and pre-trip brush-up!

Anyway, I have three horses. Skippy is a young pony whose back comes up to the height of my shoulders. He’s absolutely beautiful and incredibly intelligent, but he’s easily spooked. Aoife and Teddy sold him a few days ago and he’s supposed to go to a children’s home, but he needs a little work before he can be sent off. I’m supposed to get him to the point where he doesn’t spook around children, sudden movements, screaming, hitting, etc. I’m also supposed to teach him manners and get him lunging comfortably on a line. He’s been ridden a little bit, but he needs more time with someone on his back. I worked with him a lot today. I’ll tell you about that in a little.

Rocky is a big brute of a horse. He’s seriously fucking huge. I think Ciara told me he’s 17 hands tall, which means his back is well above my full height. He’s well trained already, but he hasn’t been worked or ridden in about three months and Ciara wants him ready for the hunting season. When I met him for the first time he tried to knock me over, but I smacked him and he quickly conceded to my dominance. I think that’s when Aoife decided I was going to train him. He realized pretty quickly that I wouldn’t take his crap.

Smudge is another beautiful horse. He’s about four years old, but he still looks like an awkward foal. He hasn’t been handled much at all and he hasn’t been ridden. I’m supposed to train him from the ground up and get him riding and responding well to commands. I worked with him a little bit yesterday and he was very responsive and intelligent. He picked up on my commands after only a few mishaps. He’s definitely one of my favorites.

So I worked with Skippy for most of the afternoon, both before and after dinner. First I lunged him on his preferred side for a little while to get him tired and listening to me. For those of you that don’t know, horses generally do much better when learning things on one side of their body rather than the other. So you’ll find that they pick up on new things very easily when it occurs on one side, and then it’s a struggle for them to get to the same point on the other. Almost like a left handed person trying to write right handed. Anyway, I made Skippy trot and then canter for a bit before I called him to a halt and maked him think. I taught him to back up on command after a little while. He also got to where he would face me whenever he stopped moving, which is really good. I praised him liberally and he started trusting me. Then I moved around him and rubbed his back and hindquarters. He stood still for me, so I leaned over his back and patted him, and then jumped up and down and kicked pebbles near his feet. He spooked a little bit, but stayed in one place. I moved back up to his head and swung the crop around. He spooked at that, so I held him and scolded him whenever he started trying to rear or back up, and praised him when he stood still instead. It got to the point where he was standing still even when I was making very sudden movements near his face, smacking him lightly with the crop, throwing the crop past his head, and stomping around behind him. I felt pretty stoked at this point.

Next I asked Ciara to come over and jump around him, swing the crop, and flap her windbreaker. He spooked quite a bit at her movements, but he kept his nose near me and circled around me to get away from her. It was kind of cool to see how he trusted me like that. We did a repeat of her stomping and moving and me praising when he stood still and scolding and holding him when he moved after her sudden movements. He definitely made progress. Eventually I sent Ciara away and let him think about something else. I lunged him for a bit and tried to get him changing directions. It was really hard when he had to change from counterclockwise to clockwise. I had to chase after him a lot. After about half an hour of practicing he started turning more smoothly, but I’ll have to reinforce it tomorrow.

I’m really excited about getting up tomorrow and continuing the work on Skippy. I already have a plan for him and I can’t wait to get started. I hope he’ll be as responsive as he was today. I honestly haven’t felt this satisfied in my work in a long time. It’s really rewarding. Hopefully I’ll feel the same way after a full day of working tomorrow. We’ll see.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

First days in Keelinga

I’ll take this opportunity to introduce the cast of characters for this leg of my trip.

  • Aoife O’Regan – pronounced “Eee-fa”, mother of the family. Very cheerful lady.
  • Teddy O’Regan – father of the family and a “real West Cork man”, meaning he sounds a lot like Brad Pitt in Snatch, so even though he’s speaking English I need a translator whenever I talk to him.
  • Ciara O’Regan – 16-year old daughter and primary trainer of the horses. Her name is pronounced like our “Keira”, which is very odd. I’m used to it being the equivalent of our “Sierra”.
  • Aine O’Regan – 11-year old daughter. Her name is pronounced “Ahn-ya”, like the famous Russian princess.
  • Shannon Huequeen – another 16-year old and Ciara’s best friend. She’s staying with the family too for a bit.
  • Tara Something-or-other – unrelated 18-year old that comes around to ride the horses. She has a baby.

I got off the bus in Leap yesterday and was met by a cheerful Aoife and Aine. I think I was still a little dazed, because they mentioned how tired I looked and I had trouble understanding their fast speech. They took me back to the farmhouse and showed me the grounds. The farmhouse is very charming. I’ll have to post pictures. They have about three cement and wood stables with six to nine stalls each and lots of rolling hillside for pastures. My residence is actually a separate little house altogether. It’s surprisingly large, and has its own bathroom and kitchen area. Jealous? I know.

After walking the grounds and meeting the 30 chickens, 20 horses, two pomeranians, two german shepherds, two kittens, one cat, one cavalier terrier, and one turkey, I sat down to dinner. We ate a very hearty meal of chicken with gravy, roasted potatoes, boiled potatoes, stuffing (like we normally eat at Thanksgiving), and veggies. They’re pretty big on potatoes here.

Shortly after that I settled in to my new place. I got on Facebook for a bit and chatted with Alicia and my family. For a while there was a goat trying to break in through the back wall. I kind of ignored it. It was pretty cold by that time, so I figured it would eventually curl up. Note: goats are tenacious. It never got through my back wall, but that's only because I banged on the wall from the other side and scared it off. Bastard animal. Of course it's named "Millie". I don't think that could have been any more of a stereotypical goat situation.

It was freezing cold when I got out of bed this morning. The roof apparently has no insulation, so even though it starts warming up during the daytime it stays pretty cool in my place. However, according to Ciara it’s been “positively boiling” the last few days. Meaning it’s been 70 degrees Fahrenheit and absolutely perfect for me. Around 9 PM you have to start layering up again because the temperature plummets.

We didn’t get to work until late in the morning because the girls stayed up all night (as teenage girls are wont to do when they travel in packs). It’s pretty relaxed here. Teddy set me to painting the stable doors. I wore Aine’s castoffs for that job because the mix I was using was really smelly. I got all the stable doors finished in a few hours, but my arms were worn out by that point. Tara came through in the middle of it and took Tommy out for a ride. Her little brother (name unknown, but sports a mohawk) and Aine pushed the baby pram around the yard during that time. Teddy was busy chopping wood. Every once in a while I would look up and watch him cross the yard with the turkey trailing along behind him. Apparently the turkey has decided it really likes Teddy, because it freaks out whenever he walks off. It’s even started riding the tractor next to him.

After I finished the stables we sat down to lunch. I had tea and a sub sandwich, which they call a “roll” here. They drink hot tea all the time. It’s pretty common to see them adding sugar and milk to it. The entire family thinks I’m a little odd because I like my tea “black” (read: unadulterated). Anyway, we sat around the table after lunch and I told them stories about Texas. They were really fascinated by the Renaissance Festival. I found that ironic. Teddy is also very captivated by cowboys. He asked me if there were a lot of them in Texas, and if I rode horses everywhere.

The afternoon was filled mostly by mucking out the stables and changing the bedding. All the stables were pretty freaking gross; Ciara broke her wrist a few months ago and the stables had suffered for it. We changed out all the bedding and laid down fresh shavings. Then we cleaned up the stable yard. There was music in the background and a lot of people working so it went by relatively fast. I convinced Teddy I’m a hard worker. Score.

That evening we took a black and white gelding named George into the arena and I practiced my posting. It was weird being in an English saddle again. My feet felt too far forward and I felt like I was holding the reins way too short, but Ciara said I had a pretty good position. I finally got into the swing of posting the trot. It was amazing! Everything sort of clicked into place, and suddenly I was moving in perfect time with the horse! That was probably the highlight of my day.

Dinner consisted of a huge plate of pasta. I’m probably going to get fat just by the huge quantities of food they try to feed me. I also somehow got pulled into making enchiladas for dinner sometime in the future. They had never heard of cilantro! I think that’s pretty much a crime. The only Mexican food they’ve ever had is some kind of crappy frozen “El Paso” brand. Ick.

There’s a detailed account of my day. As I’ve told some of you over Facebook, the internet here is put out over long distances by a phone tower, so I have a good connection but it isn’t good enough to upload pictures with any reliability. I’ll have to upload a ton when I get into Bath in a few weeks. If I'm not swept up in the rioting that is. Harharhar.

My days from now on will most likely consist of getting up in the morning, mucking out the stables, feeding, and then doing groundwork with the horses. They want me to work on this big brute of a horse named Rocky for their hunting season. Yes, hunting. Like with a pack of dogs. And yes, this big brute of a horse is nearly twice as tall as me. We’ll see how that goes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


[Written on the bus from Cork to Leap (pronounced “Lehp”). Sorry for the terrible writing]

The last few days have been CRAZY.

I left for Houston on the 14th behind schedule. Dad was trying to jailbreak my phone so that I could use it in Ireland (just swap out pre-paid SIM cards), but he couldn’t finish it in time. I ended up rushing into the airport to catch my British Airways flight.

The flight itself was okay, if a little odd. The dinner and breakfast served was actually tasty and the flight attendants were very nice. Thankfully I had a window seat and nobody sat in the seat immediately next to me, so I got to stretch out when they turned the lights off and actually lay down a little. I’m thankful for the few hours of sleep I got.

There was a lovely Indian woman sitting two seats away. She was dressed in traditional garb. We tried to communicate a little, but we couldn’t really understand each other and it degenerated to hand gestures. I think she thought I was younger than I am or something because she adopted a motherly attitude toward me. I slept through the breakfast run, but she grabbed me a breakfast box and gave it to me when I woke up. She also asked me if I had my blanket and pillow and was doing okay. It was sweet. I’m sad we couldn’t communicate more.

Things went pretty smoothly until I got to the UK border patrol. Those people were freaking assholes. I had landed in London and was planning to catch a connecting flight to Edinburgh, Scotland, before switching airlines and moving on to Cork, Ireland. However, I didn’t have my Aer Lingus tickets in hand yet. On the Aer Lingus website it says that Americans just need a passport to check in and that it’s a ticketless flight. I had my connecting ticket to Edinburgh in hand and I also had a copy of the receipt for my return ticket in December to show that I was leaving England within the allotted six months. I stepped up to border patrol and they gave me a card to fill out that requested my name, address I was staying at, employment, etc. I put the Ireland address (which doesn’t have numbers, by the way, it’s just a series of words), and “unemployed”. This apparently caused the border patrol to think I was an American bum sneaking in to England to steal their jobs and men or something.

The border patrol officer (to henceforth be referred to as A. O. for asshole officer) proceeded to ask me tons of detailed questions about where I was going, why I was going there, how much money I had, etc. He was very suspicious about the fact that I was going to stay with people I had never met. He thought the Ireland address I gave was a fake. He was suspicious about my length of stay – he informed me that most tourists only stay for a few weeks. I pointed out that I had bought a return ticket for well before the six month tourist limit. He didn’t seem to care. He asked me to produce all the money I had and bank statements for my credit cards. He also was very suspicious about my unemployment status. He asked why I didn’t have a job yet. I told him I just graduated. Apparently that wasn’t good enough. Meanwhile, a group of elderly Americans gets passed through without any kind of questioning at all.

I mean, I totally get it. In hindsight I should have brought loads of information proving that I had a place to stay and money to support myself, etc. I thought having an address, return tickets, phone numbers, and my word would be good enough. Apparently not. But this next bit is what infuriates me.

Now, this whole time he’s been super skeptical and critical and talking to me like I’m being hostile or misleading. He tells me that my story paints a dim picture and that he’s going to flag me because I sound like I’m lying, but he’s still going to pass me through. He then proceeds to tell me that I need to bring more information through next time (duh), and that just because I’m American doesn’t mean I get a free ride wherever the hell I want. Furthermore, he turns away more Americans than any other nationality because we (read: arrogant Americans) believe regulations don’t apply to us. Oh, and it’s not his fault, it’s our government that upped the regulations, so I should take it up with them. But don’t expect to get through Irish border patrol without better proof of my identity, and if Irish border patrol doesn’t let me through then they’re going to ship me back to the UK where they’ll sure as hell deport me to the U.S. Also, the minute I leave the UK (so in half a day) my tourist visa is null and void, so if I expect to come back I’ll need to present loads of information because I’ve been flagged. I’ll be questioned even more intently and I run the very real risk of being denied entry. THEN A.O. tells me this story about and American who was denied access to the UK ten years ago, and A.O. had to turn him away a few weeks ago even though the guy was on a business trip with his boss because the denied access was still on his record. Said businessman begged and pleaded, but there was nothing A.O. could do. I should learn from this, says A.O., and not be an arrogant American in the future.

So finally A.O. stamps my passport and lets me through. I have to sprint to my Edinburgh connection. I have the fear of God in me, and I’m trying to figure out a way to print out all the stuff I need before I get to the Irish border patrol so they don’t deport me. I’m sitting there fretting on the plane, nearly in tears, wondering how it could have gotten to this so quickly.

Ironically the older Americans that were easily pushed through are sitting next to me. The lady asks me if I’m okay – she saw A.O. questioning me and was curious as to what happened. I told her. She was amazed and said that they didn’t really ask them for anything at all except an address. She tutted and fussed over me a bit and I felt a little better.

So I get to the Edinburgh airport, grab my bag, and head to the nearest ATM to see if I can print out my account totals. I can’t. Crap. I catch sight of a computer station and printer. I think Thank God. I walk up and the printer is out of order. I ask at an information counter to see if there’s any other place in the airport where I can print stuff out, and they say no. I ask if I can buy a phone in the airport anywhere. They say there’s only SIM cards available in the airport.

Fuck my life.

So I get on my computer and pay Boingo an exorbitant amount to have internet access. Then I talk to my parents, explain the situation, and then start taking screen shots of my bank account amounts, letters from the people I’ll be staying with, and airline receipts for between flights. I’m freaking the hell out, sitting by a window in the departure area of the Edinburgh airport in the middle of a huge amount of people speaking dozens of different languages. By the way, I smell sweaty and gross and I feel disgusting. I also apparently can’t check in to my Aer Lingus flight and get past security until two hours before my flight, which is at 10pm. So I sit there. For five hours. Freaking out.

Finally I get past security and go searching for a lounge to see if they maybe have a printer. No luck, and the Brits behind the counter were rude to me. I decide to just wing it and bust out my computer screen shots if the Irish ask for proof that I’m not some kind of job-stealing hussy. So I settle down to wait for my flight. My flight is delayed by two hours.


I get into Cork around 1AM. I go through Irish border patrol nearly trembling with trepidation. I imagine them asking endless questions, taking me in a back room, cuffing me, and telling me to get the hell out of their country. An old guy takes my passport, looks at me, and asks how long I’m staying and what I’m doing. I told him two weeks, and that I’m on holiday. Without any further ado, he stamps my passport and says “Welcome to Ireland.” There were nearly tears of relief at that point, but it quickly turned into a serious prejudice against A.O. and British border patrol.

Due to the flight delay, I get into Cork fifteen minutes after the last bus leaves the airport for downtown Cork (near my hostel). I have to go call a cab via the information desk because I only have American currency and a five British pound note, no Euros. The cabbie takes me into Cork to the hostel and makes me pay an exorbitant amount for a less-than ten minute car ride. At this point I’m completely beyond caring. I pay him and get out of the car. It’s about 1:30AM and there’s a big bruiser of a German guy banging at the door because his keycard doesn’t work. He’s pretty inebriated, but when he sees me he’s all smiles and cussing and “Pardon my Irish!”-ing. We stand there for a few minutes banging on the door before a gaggle of French chicks come up and open the door with their own key card. I go through the front bit and into the bar to check in. There the girl on duty tells me that my online booking (0:00 on August 16th) is actually considered to be the next night, not the midnight of the 15th. They’re all full. At this point I must have this really downtrodden look because a few of the other staff members come up and ask what’s going on. I say, “Look guys, I’ll sleep on the floor if you don’t have any room for me, but I have nowhere to go at this point.” Thankfully the Irish are super nice. They said they wouldn’t hear of it and set me up in their staff quarters on one of the extra beds. They offered me a beer after my shower and listened to my tails of traveling woe. Eventually most of them ran off to bed, and I stayed downstairs to get a good Wifi signal and shoot off a few e-mails to family so they knew that I wasn’t getting deported.

The bar was pretty empty at this point (except for one man of unknown nationality reading Xenocide by Orson Scott Card in the corner). The night worker came up and asked if I wanted to play a game of pool. I was surprised but delighted. Their billiards table is super small, by the way. Apparently the U.S. standard pool table is a lot larger than the Irish standard. So I ended up staying up most of the night with Jeff the Irishman, talking about the differences between the Irish and Americans, traveling, American music, etc., and generally shaming myself at billiards. He bought me a pint of Guinness and laughed when I choked on the first drink. I punched him in the arm. We bonded. The Irish substitute Guinness for a meal most days, according to him. He has a beautiful accent.

Oddly enough, Ireland seems to be dominated by American media. Jeff played music in the bar all night; mostly well-known U.S. bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mumford and Sons, Gorillaz, and so on. He’s in an Irish band called Time is a Thief. They’re pretty good. You should check out their music video on Youtube. He invited Alicia and me to see their band in early October when I come back through Cork. We might just do that.

Traveling was terrible, but at the end everything turned out all right and I made my first Irish friend. I got up a few hours after I went to bed and ran into the Cork city center to buy a pay-as-you-go phone before checking out of the hostel and running to catch the bus. It’s been a rushed and crazy couple of days, but I’m still glad and excited to be here. Jeff and his coworkers really made me feel at home. I can’t wait to meet my host family.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


There are moments in our lives when we wake up to the fact that we’re really just little people in a big world with things constantly trying to kill us. I think these epiphanies usually happen in Houston traffic situations.

I happened to have one of those today, but I was on top of a bucking horse.

Don’t worry. I didn’t fall; probably because I’m a badass apprentice horse whisperer (but mostly because they were just little wussy bucks).

I’m super excited to be working with horses again. I forgot how satisfying it is to communicate what you want to an animal and actually have it respond. My uncle Robin and Vanessa (Robin’s girlfriend) were refreshing my memory on horsemanship. We covered a lot of ground today. I desensitized their horses to the stick, practiced yielding the hind quarters, making them back up, and general responses to looks and verbal cues. I worked on lunging on the line and off it in the round pen. It was amazing to make a horse change direction, pick up speed or slow down, or back up with only body language, verbal cues, and no actual physical link to the horse. Vanessa’s way of teaching was perfect for me, and I felt like I remembered old things and picked up new tricks pretty easily. Robin added in tips here and there and was generally super supportive. It really couldn’t have gone any better.

I feel like most people are into horses for riding purposes. Some people can spend days in the saddle, and can’t wait to gallop across a field or whatever. My interest seems to lie more in the training aspect, but that’s probably because I haven’t spent very much time actually riding. I’ll probably like it more when I’m galloping across an Irish field or some such. Right now working them feels easy, and riding beyond a walk feels unnatural. Also, riding at a trot feels weird as shit, and posting is both embarrassing and hugely daunting. I’ll have to work on that - maybe alone, where nobody can see my awkward hip-thrusting.

Today they’re going to show me more of their beautiful Bloomington, Indiana on a hike. Then we’ll have buffalo burgers before heading back to the barn and working on more natural horsemanship techniques. It's going to be a great day.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Getting Ready

I think one of the worst things about planning a big trip like this is watching your money fly out of your pocket like the dollar has suddenly dropped to the equivalent of the peso. You’d think you wouldn’t have to buy too many things for a big trip like this. Or maybe I was just an idiot. I thought I’d buy luggage, pack it full of clothes and toiletries, snag a plane ticket and go on my merry way around the UK.

Hell no, traveling isn’t that easy anymore.

Thankfully it seems like everything is starting to come together. My apartment is ¾ empty, and will be almost empty by the 8th. After that I need to take whatever is left and either chunk it by the dumpster for the Frat Scavengers or take it to Goodwill/Salvation Army/Wherever-Will-Take-My-Crap.

Speaking of, does anyone need a CRT TV? DvD/VHS player? Coffee table? Microwave? Miscellaneous kitchen junk? I gots it. Crazy amounts of left socks? I gots those too.

I’ve also finally settled on luggage: a sizeable, completely waterproof duffel that straps to my back. It’s not as fancy or efficient as a backpackers backpack, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. Now I need a messenger bag for carrying my electronics, documents, and a spare change of clothes, and I’ll be golden. That shouldn’t be too difficult to find. I can pick something up in Indiana, probably.

I’ve created a packing list, but it seems kind of long. I’ll eyeball Rick Steve’s and Jourwoman’s packing lists online and see what I need to do to lighten my load. Maybe I’ll chunk the girly drink umbrellas and pretty sandals. Definitely the waffle maker.

I climbed a mountain recently and did all the healing and mind-clearing I could do without a guru and some hash present. I think I did a pretty good job, considering. I’m feeling much more centered now.

In exactly one week, I’ll be spending the last night in my very own bed, in my very own apartment. Then I’ll give it away so Meredith can roll around in it for a semester, and I’ll move out of my college apartment for good. I’ll scrub everything clean over the next few days, meet with Michael one last time to turn in the keys and harass someone about our deposit monies, and then graduate a few days later. In almost two weeks, I’ll close the door on a chapter of my life and hopefully begin a new journey.

Definitely feel free to join me for a few drinks between now and then, ‘cause I’ll need it.