My wife and I can't stand "nose to tail" trail rides where the horses are on automatic pilot and walking is the only equestrian gait we get to experience.
But Jahn and Sheila Hoover's Into the Wild Equine Adventures are, well, a whole other animal. They offer real horse rides in the Monument Peak trail system in the Santiam State Forest near Gates (a few miles north of Mill City), which is about an hour from our home in Salem, Oregon.
Today we took advantage of a Groupon deal and went on a 2 1/2 hour ride with two women who came down from Portland. The four of us, plus Jahn and his young wrangler Elijah, enjoyed walking, trotting, and cantering our way along some beautiful trails.
My on-the-horse photos from our first Into the WIld ride last year turned out better. Today either my iPhone's camera had the shakes, or my horse did (naturally the lack of focus wasn't my fault).
But at least you can get a feel for the lush western Oregon greenness.
I was on Molly, a large black Percheron who looked like she should be charging across a French battlefield -- which her ancestors actually did. We got along fine, once I was used to riding a horse with hooves the size of dinner plates (OK, a small dinner plate).
After the ride, Jahn kindly picked up Molly's leg, something I'd be reluctant to do, so I could take some photographic evidence of her massive hoofprint.
Below is Jahn with one of the Portland riders. This is my kind of horse riding: you drive up to the parking area, and your horse is already saddled. Then, after a brief lesson and some riding tips, you head off on a fun ride through an Oregon forest. When you're done, Jahn and Elijah handle all of the afterride chores.
Sure, it costs money. But so does owning a horse.
Jahn carts the horses around in what looked to me to be tbe world's longest horse trailer. I can't imagine what it'd be like to parallel park this thing.
Here's a photo of his dog, a Corgi,who stayed in the pickup while we rode. Kudos to Jahn for not having a stereotypical cattle dog (when he let the dog out after we got back to the parking area, one of the Portland women said "What happened to his legs!")
Laurel makes Molly look even larger. Her horse was a lot smaller, but also considerably faster. But all of the Into the WIld horses are pleasingly non-ploddy. They have no problem trotting or cantering at a pretty good clip up a decent slope for quite a while.
The extended trotting we did helped me practice a quasi-posting technique that I'm trying to master. I don't want to look too "English," so I don't want to try full blown posting on a Western horse. However, as an intermediate rider I'm feeling quite a bit more comfortable trotting now that I'm getting some up and down movement happening with my legs and thighs.
Laurel and I learned quite a bit about horses today, along with having a good time. Jahn is an excellent instructor -- relaxed and non-critical, yet not hesitant to point out how someone's riding style could be improved.
Today Jahn told us that we shouldn't allow a horse to forcefully nuzzle us with its head. I'm breaking that rule here, as it seemed sort of cute -- how Molly lowered her head and pushed it into my side. However, Jahn said that horses do this to establish dominance in the herd, so if people allow it they're heading down the equine pecking order.
I also learned that a horse should be touched more like a cat than a dog. Meaning, firm "pats" should be reserved for when you want a horse to move a certain way, or otherwise do something you desire. Praise and affection should be done by stroking, something else I didn't know before.
Live and learn. Also, live and have fun. Into the Wild Equine Adventures offers both, for sure.
Here's a You Tube video about Into the WIld that appeared on KGW, Portland's NBC affiliate.