My grandparents raised racehorses in Central Oregon, so I grew up associating Bend with saddles and curry combs.
I’ve seen a recent uptick in journalists and visitors seeking info on horsey adventures in Bend, so I’m clearly not the only one realizing Central Oregon is a pretty fab place to get your giddyup going. Equitrekking recently named Bend the #1 town on their list of five great equestrian communities, so now seems like an excellent time to review the options for equine activities in Bend, Oregon.
Most Central Oregon visitors aren’t stuffing their own horses into carry-on luggage or making the trek over the mountains with a horse trailer in tow. Luckily, a plethora of local stables and equestrian centers make it possible for you to saddle up and ride off into the high desert sage anyway.
I recently visited the Brasada Ranch Equestrian Center where I joined my fiancé and his eight-year-old daughter on a trail ride. She immediately declared it “the best part of my whole summer,” which was saying something considering summer hadn’t actually started.
Nevertheless, I had to agree. The wranglers who accompanied us took excellent care in making sure everyone was properly mounted and comfortable in the saddle. Our group ranged from experienced riders to young kids who seemed uncertain which end of the horse to feed.
My trusty stead was named “Sweet Girl,” and seemed joyfully undaunted by the flatulence of the horse riding in front of us. While I admired breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains and entertained a few western-themed fantasies that may or may not have involved shirtless cowboys, the professional wrangler leading our pack made engaging conversation with the eight-year-old, while the wrangler at the back soothed the nerves of a nervous six-year-old first-timer in our group.
There are plenty of other equestrian centers in Central Oregon offering guided trail rides and instruction. You’ll find a good roundup of giddyup on Visit Bend’s horseback riding page. Besides Brasada Ranch, visitors speak highly of their equestrian experiences at Sunriver Stables, Seventh Mountain Resort, and Black Butte Ranch.
If you’re looking for a horsey experience outside the resort scene, Bend has a number of small, independent ranches and stables offering boarding and private lessons.
Last year we gifted the young’uns with a few private lessons from Rhinestone Ranch. Located just five miles east of Costco, it’s a handy option for guests staying at a Bend hotel or vacation rental who want an equestrian option that doesn’t require much drive time. Owner Trisha Gallucci did a bang-up job of not only making the kids comfortable riding the horses, but teaching them how to properly comb them and clean their hooves. For more ideas on smaller, independent equestrian facilities, go here.
So what if you already have your own horse and you’re looking for a place to saddle up and ride?
Todd Lake is one of the most popular lakes for horse enthusiasts along the Cascade Lakes highway. Horse-friendly trails lead into the Three Sisters Wilderness, offering access to lovely spots like Cayuse Crater and Soda Creek. There are even a few tent campsites equipped for folks staying with horses.
The Oregon Badlands Wilderness offer another option for riders looking to head out on their own. Southeast of Bend on Highway 20 near milepost 18 is the Badlands Rock Trailhead. Popular with the horse crowd, the soft trail offers a look at the area’s unique volcanic rock formations along with stunning views of the Cascade Mountains.
For horse enthusiasts in the mood to be spectators, Bend is also home to a number of impressive equestrian events. The Oregon High Desert Classics is a world class horse show held east of Bend the last two weeks of July as a benefit for J Bar J Youth Services. The show offers free viewing during the day, plus celebration under the Patron’s Tent at night.
The Rose City Opener is another top-notch equestrian event bringing hunter/jumper competitors to Bend each May.
Fans of horse racing can travel to Prineville the second week in July for the horse racing segment of the Crooked River Roundup.
Parents of horse-crazy kids should check out the horseback riding camps at Camp Tamarack offered throughout August. While junior learns horse handling skills and grooming techniques, mom and dad can schedule a romantic grownup getaway in Bend.
Now get on out there and giddyup!