Before we left for Ireland I told my daughter that one thing I knew about Ireland is that they have a passion for horses. This might seem an odd thing to know, but I went through a phase in my life, pre-discovery of boys, when I also had a deep passion for horses. In my very early teens I was all about horses, and during those years I read a lot about the Irish and their horses.
When we arrived in Ireland my daughter quickly acknowledged that I was right. There were horses everywhere - almost every stone-enclosed field had a horse in residence, often a scruffy pony but sometimes a fine-boned prancing steed. Our Irish driver Kevin is a very observant man, and while driving us around quickly realized my daughter's deep love for animals (perhaps this is because she commented on every sheep we saw, and let's just say there are a lot of sheep in Ireland). It turns out that Kevin, like many people in Ireland, is co-owner of an Irish racehorse. He suggested that he could call the racehorse trainer and arrange for us to visit the racehorse training facility. My daughter and I were thrilled by the idea, and my husband, while not a horsey type, is a good sport, so we gave Kevin the green light.
That is how on one cool late December day in Ireland we found ourselves in the Irish countryside surrounded by Irish horses. The trainer turned out to be a wonderful man nicknamed Dixie. Dixie was obviously a gentle sort, and with a deep love and respect for the horses he trains. When we arrived I told him that I loved horses, and that I had worked in veterinary clinics for most of my adult life. I can't claim to know a great deal about what makes a good racehorse, but I do like to pretend I know a bit, and Dixie was more than happy to indulge me by bringing out horse after horse for my thoughts. We discussed equine conformation and muscles, and we discussed behaviour and personality.
My daughter was delighted by the horses, although she was also distracted by the most beautiful little puppy. The puppy had raced over to us when we arrived, and bonded to my little girl a bit like super glue does to skin. When I commented to Dixie that we were tempted to take his puppy back to Canada with us he said that we should take her as she had just turned up one day and was starving, so what could he do but begin feeding her (the Irish are also a soft touch, dear friends, for animals, children, and women). He seemed open to the idea of us stealing his puppy, but I also suspect that if we had pursued it that he would have eventually admitted his actual fondness for the charming puppy and refused us. As it was it was enough for my daughter to cuddle this adorable little thing while Kevin and Dixie and I discussed horses. My husband, again being the family good sport, took photos of the goings-on.
Eventually Dixie led us over to a stable area. I noted quickly that some of the stabled horses were very nervous individuals. Approaching the stalls would quickly result in head tossing, nervous neighs, and often a hasty retreat into the recesses of the stalls. While looking at another horse, though, I observed my daughter out of the corner of my eye. My daughter is like most other girls her age - giggly, boisterous, often noisy, and occasionally whiny. She moves quickly (unless it's to take her dishes to the dishwasher) and honestly can make me feel nervous from all her sudden movements and chatter. Around animals, though, she changes, and I saw this with such clarity that day. She would approach the stalls slowly. Her voice dropped several octaves and became but a whisper. The words she said were words of pure reassurance - calm, gentle words designed to soothe a nervous beast. It only took moments until the most nervous of the horses had their noses in her hands. She caressed them gently, looking them in the eyes all the while. Now, I had tried to approach these same horses and they shied away. They would have nothing to do with me, and yet here they were, allowing my daughter to touch their sensitive noses. Kevin, who was also observing this, looked at me and said quietly "She has the touch". Now, we didn't discuss this much, but if this means the same in Ireland as it does here it simply means she has the ability to calm nervous animals and to connect with them on a certain level beyond which most people can. That day on that farm I realized how true this was.
We spent a couple of hours with Dixie and the horses. When we left we were quite entirely filthy. My daughter had paw prints on her jacket and pants, and I had straw stuck in my hair. I suspect far worse things clung to our shoes. What we also were, though, was blissfully happy. I had never, ever anticipated that this would happen, and that my childhood love of horses would be indulged this way. I had never expected to see my daughter connecting with Irish racehorses and stray Irish dogs. I walked away from the experience deeply grateful to Dixie for agreeing to entertain some Canadian tourists, and to Kevin for making it happen. These events, dear friends, are what make a holiday special. It's not the tourist attractions like theme parks or even Blarney Castle. It's those little unexpected moments that make your heart sing, like a few hours spent with Irish racehorses and Canadian girls.