Oregon’s Forests, Beaches and Vineyards
The hosts and guides of the Willamette Coast ride come from a strong riding and outfitting background. The husband and wife team of Justin and Lindley Leahy oversee all aspects of this adventurous trip, from planning the route and choosing the horses, to making sure you have fresh vegetables from their garden for your lunches. Justin comes from an outfitting family in Ireland and grew up riding and training Connemara horses and riding on his father’s Connemara Trail. He and Lindley ran a successful equestrian riding and trekking center in Illinois and after much research chose their Oregon location as the best spot to provide a progressive riding vacation for strong and adventurous riders. The reasoning behind their decision is certainly sound; from their base in the Willamette Valley they can offer riding through the vast Siuslaw National Forest, with a rainforest climate which brings to mind the lands of Tolkien, to the coast, dramatic in its mists and rock formations, and back to the valley itself and its profusion of vineyards and wineries.
This is indeed the route the Willamette Coast ride takes. The first few days the horses are ridden point to point across the Coast Range through the lush greenery of the forest. The trails vary from gravel mountain roads which allow you to move out in brisk trots and canters, to thick circuitous trails following the paths of elk. The horses are impressively sure-footed and responsive, willing and able to perform in all terrain. They are of all breeds and backgrounds: crosses coming from mounted shooting or cavalry trainers, Quarter horses from Canadian cowboys and a Connemara originally from Ireland. They are chosen not based on breed, but rather on the characteristics that will make them ideal trail horses and partners for your week of riding. All are ridden in snaffle bits and English saddles, although a few Western saddles are available as well. Most mornings your help is appreciated in catching, brushing and saddling your horse before setting out.
The Siuslaw National Forest offers the most challenging riding of the week, and also some of the best views, whether from the depth of verdant vegetation or the expansive sights from the mountains’ summits. In the cool and shady forest there’s a chance to glimpse the Silver Spotted Butterfly, a protected species in the area. There is also variety in landscapes, with one day’s trail passing through an area being actively logged, which provides some contrast and some more open views of the landscape.
After reaching the coast your beach ride will be on a quiet morning when the tide is still out. The coast is amazingly cool and damp, even when the interior temperatures are blazing. After a few hours riding in the sand with some canters near the surf you will dismount for another picnic lunch. Lunches each day are provided along the route, with fixings for sandwiches on delicious varieties of bread, with local fruits and vegetables. The evening meals are at local restaurants and breakfasts are provided at the Bed & Breakfasts or condo you stay in.
You sample three different accommodations throughout the course of the trip, a family run B&B and farm in the forest for the first night, a beach condo right on the beach for the next three nights, and then a B&B in the town of Carlton for the last two nights. All of these places are comfortable and cozy and the food is gourmet and plentiful, with many tasty local ingredients such as Tillamook dairy and, of course, Oregon wine.
After staying at and riding on the beach the trip returns to the horses’ and hosts’ home of Carlton. This is the heart of wine country, with tasting rooms available all along the charming downtown main street. The final day of horseback riding in Oregon takes place on the grounds of a beautiful vineyard with a spectacular view of the Willamette Valley.
This was the only day we had to be aware of hot temperatures and had an early start to enjoy a few hours of exploring the vineyard before retiring to the tasting room for a catered lunch and wine tasting.
That evening we had time to wander the downtown of nearby McMinnville, another small town boasting a strong local culture of artisans and gourmets before enjoying a final meal all together. While the trip’s focus is satisfying riding for avid equestrians, the beach and winery visits make it a pleasure for the rider’s other sensibilities as well. The Willamette Coast ride offers diversity of riding on excellent horses in a unique and interesting location with wonderful hosts, all close to home!
Ride Review by Megan Barrett