Eugene Weekly : Feature : 5.5.11

Get Out! Eugene Weekly's Outdoors Issue

Get HookedûBackwoods bass fishing in Oregon

Horses for Dummies Saddle up and ride in Lane County

Getting Hot Thawing out in Lane County springs

Come Hell or High Water The vigorous ritual of the Northwest barbecueû

Horses for Dummies
Saddle up and ride in Lane County
by Camilla Mortensen

It seems so romantic, in theory: ambling up Mount Pisgah on horseback or galloping on the beach in Florence. You can often find me and my aptly named horse, Newsflash, doing that sort of thing on the weekends. But climbing on a 1,200-pound beast might seem a dubious undertaking for those of you out there who are non-riders.

Eugene equestrian Nadia Raza takes Newsflash for a ride. Photo by Camilla Mortensen

Lane County does offer opportunities for the average person to hop on an equine  — C&M on the beach and Triangle 5 out the McKenzie, for example — or at the very least you can watch other people fall off one at upcoming events at the Oregon Horse Center. Heres a quick primer on what to do if you find yourself facing Mr. Ed or his ilk.

The first rule is that the front end bites and the back end kicks. The front is the end with the big eyes and the big teeth. The back end, well, we all know what a horsess ass looks like, dont we? Don't stick your fingers in a horses mouth. If you want to give Hi-Ho Silver a treat to bribe him before you hop on, hold it flat on the palm of your hand. Don't walk behind a horse or, if you do, walk at least six or eight feet behind, out of kicking range. Horses generally dont want to kick you, but when they do kick they are quite good with their aim.

The second thing to know, once youre actually riding a horse, is a no brainer: Keep the horse between you and the ground. But for most people whove never been on a horse before, its actually getting on the horse thats the problem — they are big. And once youre in the saddle, its a long way to the ground.

Riders mount a horse from the lefthand side. This stems from back in the days of knights running around waging war. Swords were worn on the left, to make drawing them easier for a right-handed fighter. So you got on from the left to avoid jabbing your mount with your weapon. Luckily, the need for riding with sharp implements is not really a factor here in Oregon, but we get on from the left anyway. For newbies, most places have a mounting block for you to stand on. Hold the reins and the horse's mane (the hair on the back of its neck, it wont hurt the horse), swing your right leg over, and youre astride a half ton of animal that originally evolved as prey.

Now that youre on, a frequent question arises: Is it really true that if you fall off you get right back on, or is that one of those annoying inspirational sayings people put on posters? Yes and no. Let's keep in mind that if you do fall off, you just dropped a good five feet to the ground. First check and make sure you didn't break anything. Then lets also keep in mind the whole horse-as-prey thing. Black Beauty might have taken umbrage at your graceless dismount, assumed you were some sort of mountain lion that missed its mark, and high-tailed it back to the barn. In which case, no, you are not getting back on. You are walking home. But if your mount sticks around? Sure, get back on.

Generally, falling off is the exception, not the rule, and most trail rides happen at a slow pace, allowing the riders to check out the scenery and the wildlife. People do this for fun, after all.

If you happen to be on the ground and you encounter a rider, keep in mind yet again that horse-as-prey thing. Horses are big and unpredictable, but they are more scared of you than you are of them. Don't duck and hide in the trees thinking you are out of the way; the horse can see and smell you and thinks you are an evil being, plotting to kill him. Stop, say hello. Most trails have a rule that hikers and bikers yield to horses. If the trail is narrow then hikers and bikers yield on the downhill side, where they look less like a lurking predator.

Horseback riding in Oregon can take you most anywhere, from horsepacking in the wilderness to closer adventures like a quiet ride along the river at Elijah Bristow State Park. For the more ambitious, local stables offer lessons in everything from jumping to Western roping. Theres an art to riding, and it can be addictive. There is a reason everyone on the internet thinks that Winston Churchill once said, "No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." Or at least thats what I tell my editor. 


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