My wife loves horses, but we don't have one. So she's always on the lookout for good trail rides. We've paid our money and taken our chances with quite a few stables in the Willamette Valley and central Oregon.
Almost always, we've been disappointed.
Laurel is a very good rider; I'm a decent rider. We don't enjoy plodding along with a rules-obsessed guide who is taking out a bunch of inexperienced riders, because if one person can't handle a trot or canter everybody is forced to walk their horse the whole time.
Yesterday we had a wonderfully different experience with Jahn Hoover, who runs Into the Wild Equine Adventures along with his wife, Sheila. Our ride started from a trailhead of the Monument Peak Trail System in Gates, Oregon, just a few miles from Highway 22.
Jahn and I have known each other for many years, but I assure you that this review of his trail ride is untainted by our friendship. Laurel and I didn't know what to expect when we set out for Gates, which is about an hour's drive from our home in south Salem.
We had no trouble finding the trailhead at the beginning of Monument Peak Road, where the pavement turns to gravel. Jahn was waiting for us, horses almost ready to go. He trailers them from his home in Mill City.
The horses were a big cut above the usual riding stable steeds. (Read all about them.) I got Shelby, a smooth-gaited Tennessee Walker. Laurel rode Venus, an Arabian mare. Jahn gave us some brief reining instruction, then we were good to go, seated on nifty Australian saddles with snacks and water in the saddle bags.
We were indeed immediately "into the wild." At least, it felt like it. Most of our two hour ride went through a beautiful mix of fir forest and deciduous trees such as vine maples. Our horses were energetic and had no trouble trotting their way up some fairly steep slopes.
Laurel chose to wear her riding helmet. I declined. Each to his or her own. As with every trail ride we've been on, Jahn had us sign a form in which we acknowledge the risk of accidents, disability, death, and other trifles. One part says that wearing a helmet makes a ride safer, which is true. I just like the feel of going helmetless.
We stopped at an overlook where I got Jahn to pose. He's a hair and make-up artist in his other professional life, so I guess it isn't surprising that he'd have the wild west look down. (Nice chaps, dude.)
Jahn gave us a nice mix of walking, trotting, and cantering. I suspect that this mix differs with every group he takes out, based on the skill level and desires of the riders. I hadn't ridden for a while, but it didn't take long to feel comfortable on Shelby.
Once I got back into the habit of keeping my heels down in the stirrups, aided by some tips from Jahn, I heartily enjoyed Shelby's spirited canters, which Laurel (who rode behind me) said were almost as fast as gallops. Shelby is only four years old, so I was riding a well-trained youngster with lots of energy.
Jahn has a nice relaxed view of horse training and horsemanship. Not undisciplined, for sure, just natural. He said it was OK to let the horses eat on the trail, so long as they kept moving. (The horses don't have bits.)
On our way back, Shelby picked up some dry grass and kept it in her mouth for a long time until we reached the horse trailer. She seemed to be saying, "Look how cool I am," kind of like our dog when she walks around with a stick in her mouth.
Since Laurel and I enjoy riding horses, but we don't like all the work and expense involved in owning them, it was great to arrive at the end of our ride, jump off Shelby and Venus, and watch Jahn handle all of the post-ride chores.
Yes, it cost us a fair amount to go on the two-hour ride. Yet it was a heck of a lot less than buying two horses and all of their gear, fencing part of our property, buying a trailer and large pickup to haul the horses around, and taking care of the animals every day.
Here they are, about to head for home.
After we said goodbye to Jahn and thanked him for a highly enjoyable ride, we stopped at Rosie's Mountain Coffee House in Mill City for lunch. Great choice, thanks to Jahn's recommendation. Good coffee and excellent vegetarian options.
In the title of this post I called "Into the Wild" the best trail ride in western Oregon. OK, I'll admit that we haven't experienced every trail ride in this area. But like I said, we've tried a lot of them, and we know what the usual stable offers.
Which is a lot less than what we got from Jahn: energetic well-trained horses, a beautiful setting, plus individualized attention and riding tips (along with tasty snacks). In our experience, you can find a cheaper trail ride, but you won't find a better trail ride.