Visit the Irish National Stud & Gardens

No visit to the Emerald Isle would be complete without a trip to this horse lovers’ paradise and Irish Racehorse Experience.

Young horses gallop in a field at the Irish National Stud
Photo courtesy Irish National Stud

If you pack your bags for a riding holiday in Ireland, throw in a pair of sensible walking shoes for a day trip to the Irish National Stud & Gardens in County Kildare. Stunning stallions, living legends, and the Irish Racehorse Experience await you.

For under 20 Euros per person, last summer four riding friends and I enjoyed the grounds of a working breeding farm and Japanese gardens, and also experienced racehorse ownership in a simulation in which we bought, trained and “rode” our charges to the finish line.

“There are two big things people visit specifically for: the horse—not one particular horse—but to get up close and personal with them, and the Japanese gardens,” says Ellen Mitchell of the Irish National Stud. She explains that the gardens are over 100 years old, and the farm is rich in heritage and horticultural history.

Japanese gardens featuring a red bridge
The Japanese gardens are a huge draw for visitors, and are over 100 years old. Photo courtesy Irish National Stud

Mares, Foals and Living Legends

“You could be looking at a future [Epsom] Derby or Grand National winner, or a very expensive lawn mower,” said Gavin, our tour guide, as we gazed at a verdant pasture of mares and adorable foals.

In the spring of 2022, an incredible 319 foals were born at the Irish National Stud. Horse owners trailer in their mares to foal at the maternity hospital, and every year 30 equine veterinary students from around the globe are there to assist the deliveries. A colostrum bank and nursery paddocks ensure all foals are nurtured attentively during their early days.

Visitors can get up close and personal with retired hurdlers (steeplechase racehorses) in the Living Legends pasture. We leaned along the fence watching Beef and Salmon, a fan favorite, whose name was reportedly inspired by a wedding menu choice. Then there was Faugheen, nicknamed “The Machine,” nibbling tender sprigs of green. Beef and Salmon won close to 1 million Euros during his career, while Faugheen was over the million mark.

Faugheen steeplechasing
Faugheen, nicknamed “The Machine,” earned over 1 million Euros as a hurdler and is now retired in the Living Legends pasture at the Irish National Stud. Photo courtesy Irish National Stud

The small herd captured my attention because I assumed they were all stallions turned out together. But I learned that male hurdlers are always geldings, since jump races are longer—up to 4 miles—and geldings can sustain focus for a longer timeframe than a stallion.

Irish National Stud Stallions

The premier stallion standing at the Irish National Stud is a 26-year-old dark bay Thoroughbred named Invincible Spirit. He’s sired more than 20 Group 1 winners, the highest level of Irish racing.

Irish National Stud stallion Invincible Spirit
Invincible Spirit has sired more than 20 Group 1 winners and still covers mares at a mature 26 years of age. Photo courtesy Irish National Stud

A statue carved out of an 18-ton block of limestone commemorates him. His sire, Green Desert, covered mares until age 28, and his grandsire, Danzig, until age 27. Needless to say, longevity runs in the family.

Seven other majestic stallions, each with his own logo and stall with skylights, call the Irish National Stud home. The original farm owner believed in astrology, recording each foal’s birth in conjunction with the night sky, determining whether to keep or sell the horses according to the stars.

Irish Racehorse Experience

The Irish Racehorse Experience is an attraction that recently won a prestigious Thea award, given out by the Themed Entertainment Association. We stepped into a white modern farmhouse building to experience the virtual thrill of owning a racehorse, and were each given headsets and a device about the size of an iPad.

An introductory film on a life-size, horse-shaped screen greeted us first, then we headed to an auction simulation and “bought” our own Irish racehorses. I fell for a gray filly named Cool Colonnade. After the auction, we selected the best training programs for our Thoroughbreds. We had to be budget-conscious, as we were allotted only a certain amount of pretend currency for training.

The device screen listed the types of programs we could get, each one with a different fee. For example, it was 200 for beach gallops to have the “sea wind and soft sand put a spring in the step.” For another 200, I opted for treadmill training (“your horse needs to stay the distance”). I paid 150 for pampering, because I would enjoy that myself, so why not splurge on my pretend horse?

Following the rigorous training, we designed our own jockey silks. Mine were lime and emerald green with a Charlie Brown V-shaped pattern on the torso. I had more fun designing my racing silks than was necessary for a fake race.

The culmination of our racehorse ownership at the Irish National Stud was a race. We mounted simulators and faced a screen showing the racetrack. My gray filly came in dead last. At least I had fun riding in my first and last horse race!

Before we wrapped up our day, we ambled through the vibrant Japanese gardens and took a few selfies. We left with snacks, dozens of photos, and fun-filled memories.

If travel plans lead you to Ireland, add a day to your itinerary, jaunt off to Kildare and tour the Irish National Stud & Gardens. It’s located just 45 minutes from Dublin and two hours from Waterford, Cork and Galway.

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This article about the Irish National Stud & Gardens appeared in the April 2023 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


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