The first instalment of our #FollowFriday series takes us to the West of Ireland – the beautiful Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area of County Mayo – where we meet Catherine Meenaghan, the blogger behind Wild Atlantic Rider. Catherine is a good friend of mine since we were on the same showjumping team in college, and has been instrumental in my journey into and through horse ownership. She lived near me for a year and gave me so much help with my last horse Betsey, and it was at this time I suggested she start a blog – so it is only right that she be the first blogger on my list of favourites to follow!
Name: Catherine Meenaghan
Location: County Mayo, Ireland
Blog Name: Wild Atlantic Rider
Social Channel Links: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Horse(s): Solas, my semi-retired Golden boy; Giselle my always reliable all-rounder competition horse; Cara & Mila my 2 year old fillies for the future.
1. Tell us a little bit about your blog – what inspired you to start it/why do you do it, and what do you blog about?
I started Wild Atlantic Rider a little over a year ago. I was in the middle of a masters degree at the time and was helping a friend *ahem!* school her mare in my free time. After a few sessions she suggested that I start a blog. After I finished my masters I found I had a real love and thirst for writing and that I actually missed it, much to my surprise!
When I first set up Wild Atlantic Rider I wasn’t completely sure why or what I was doing to begin with, to be honest. As I had spent many years as a riding instructor I’m naturally very passionate about teaching, coaching and personal development. I haven’t worked as a full-time instructor for over 3 years now yet I still get former clients contacting me for advice. So I began to write about things that I felt passionate about, guided by their questions and concerns, as well as my own! It was like a form of therapy – satisfying my need to write and get my ideas on “paper” all in the hope to help or motivate others.
2. You’re not one to sit still – as if being Education Manager for a busy school in the Gaeltacht wasn’t enough, you’re also a part time riding instructor, and somehow have to fit in your own herd of four horses, two dogs and two cats! Where do you find time to blog? What are your top tips for fitting it all in?
I’m a glutton for punishment really!! I’m the type of person who likes to be busy. I love my job. It’s demanding and requires a lot of time and energy so I’m not going to lie, it can be a struggle to fit everything in. It takes a lot of planning and self-motivation. I tend to make provisional plans. At the start of the summer I look at the calendar and prioritize which shows I’m going to aim towards. That focusing my schooling and training with Giselle and I know where I’ll have a break and some time to write. When you have a few different balls in the air it’s important to plan ahead and have a few options just in case something comes up un-expectantly!
In regards to the blog specifically, I’m personally not very good at writing about just anything. I need and like to focus my writing. Any time a topic or idea pops into my head I write it down. I’ll set myself a deadline and write notes over a few days to focus the thought process. I find giving myself a deadline really helps me. Once the deadline approaches I generally have my notes and the topic clear in my head so it’s literally just just a case of sitting down to write after I have the riding, mucking out and feeding finished!! At that point I’m “in the zone” and won’t stop until the blog post is finished!
3. A lack of an arena to school in might seem like a big barrier to success for some riders, but not for you! You have had great success competitively with no arena at home, can you share your tips for keeping competition horses in work without an arena?
This is one of my favourite topics (see my blog post on it here)! I probably do about 90% of my schooling while hacking. I do travel with Giselle every week for dressage/flatwork training sessions. The drive takes 1hr and 45 minutes from where I live. As much as I’d love to incorporate more sessions into my week, it’s really not feasible (or fair on Miss G to travel that much!) so I have to make the most of what’s available to me to keep Giselle and I fit. I’m lucky enough to have stables and a small paddock at home but unfortunately, we don’t have enough space to build an arena. I’ve never felt at a disadvantage though, riding is riding to me regardless of where it’s done. Every time I mount up it’s for a purpose and I feel my horse is all the better for it.
I use each weekly lesson to focus my training for the following week. For example, over the last few months I’ve been working on Giselle’s suppleness as well as trying to get her more off my leg and forward thinking. While we hack, I ride loads of walk-trot-walk transitions and half halts. We also ride our right and left flexion, shoulder-in, shoulder-fore and leg yields on the road. It’s the perfect place to do it as sometimes in an arena by the time we’ve established a good position in a movement we’re back at the wall.
We’ve also been working on establishing medium trot. I would always incorporate hill-work into our hacking regime but this would normally be in canter for fittening purposes. So I’ve recently began concentrating on uphill trot work. This is really helping Giselle strengthen her hind end and the results are beginning to show in our training sessions with some true steps of medium trot being shown – her rider now just has to work on maintaining it!!
The best advice I can give anyone is to really look at hacking as another method of schooling – keep a contact, ride forward and ride lots of transitions. Try to keep your schooling routine, and even hacking routine, varied. Giselle (like most horses) begins to get bored and a bit sour if she has to spend too much time in an arena or does the same thing over and over again. I find the limited amount of time she’s spending an arena and the variety of work being asked of her is having a positive influence on our competition results as she’s fresh and interested in her work. You can slack off the reins for your 5-10-minute walk for home!
4. I have been lucky enough to have you as a coach in the past – you have a natural ability to simplify complex concepts, and take an active interest in the development of both horse and rider. What is it that makes coaching so rewarding for you?
For me it’s never been just about “teaching someone to ride”, I look at teaching and coaching in a more holistic way. To put it simply, I love seeing riders connect with their horses. I personally get a kick out of watching my riders come to “ah-ha” moments and know I’ve done my job well when my riders begin to think for themselves, and have the confidence to problem solve independently.
5. What has been your greatest achievement with horses? What would you attribute this success to?
There are many things that I’ve achieved over the years that I’m very proud of, but I guess my biggest achievement to date is coming back from a back injury. It may not be competition related, but it was a real eye opener and knocked me for six, so getting back in the saddle was a big achievement for me! There was a point where I believed I would have to hang up my riding boots for good – talk about identity crisis!! But Giselle and I have bounced back and I believe our greatest achievements are yet to come!
6. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
There are two bits of advice I live by… firstly, don’t try to copy any one person’s style of riding, everyone is different and has their own way of going. And secondly to quote my dressage coach – stop trying to ride perfectly, there is only one Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin!!
7. What is the one thing you would like your readers to take away from your blog?
A sense that no matter where you are, what you do or what level you’re at in your riding, that you can achieve your horsey goals!
Thank you very much for asking me to take part! I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions and hopefully Mr. Paddy and Ms. Giselle can meet up for a carrot and canter sometime in the future!!! Cat xx
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Catherine for taking the time to answer my questions – as you can tell she is a busy lady, so putting time aside to do this is no mean feat! Make sure to follow her journey – subscribe, like, follow – or chat in the comments below! And if you’re based out her way, make sure to say hi next time you see her!