Helix vs. The Mountain Trail Course

Biz Stamm and her mustang Helix checked a big item off of their bucket list: Oregon Horse Center’s famous mountain trail course! Click here for Biz’s firsthand report.

We all have a bucket list full of things we feel we must try at least once in our lifetime. Mine is pretty extensive and includes things such as  competing at Dressage at Devon, running a 50k (which will hopefully happen this year!), and eating an entire German chocolate cake after running a 50k. Ya know. Standard stuff.

A few years back I became aware of the mountain trail course at the Oregon Horse Center and immediately knew that riding on that course was a bucket list item for me.

Video courtesy of Carla Pusateri and “Jasper,” used with permission.

Living less than hour away from the Horse Center has made this bucket list item incredibly accessible, but I hadn’t attempted it prior to now because I really wanted to take on the course with my true partner in crime Helix, my spooky dressage horse with a history of spinning and bolting. Up until fairly recently, I didn’t feel like exposing him to such an intense atmosphere would be productive, safe, or frankly very fair to him, but after hours upon hours of confidence-building work I thought this year it might not be a terrible idea to bring him down to the course.

The Oregon Horse Center is home to the Mountain Trail National Championship, and after the competition the course is open for schooling. So while Helix and I were nowhere ready to compete on the course, schooling seemed like a reasonable option. I wanted this experience to be a positive one for Helix, so I called in the reinforcements: my good friend would bring Helix’s “big brother” for moral support, and a few friends from our mule dressage group, #LongEarsDownCenterline, brought their mules, a couple of whom had experience on the course.

Helix and his “big brother” Kalvin getting ready to hit the course. Photo by Biz Stamm

We arrived Saturday with plenty of time to check in and warm up. The warmup was directly adjacent to the mountain trail course with a good view of most of the obstacles. After trotting around a bit and getting Helix’s brain in workmode, I decided to watch some horses go through the course and give him a peek at the obstacles. While he didn’t overtly spook or bolt, his body language was very clear. “Mom! What the eff is that?!”

Helix surveying the course. Photo by Biz Stamm

When it was our turn to hit the course, our group of three horses and four mules entered in hand. I had zero expectations. In all honesty, I would have been thrilled if he could stand in a relaxed manner while everyone else rode the course.  I let Helix sniff some of the boulders and trees, and after a snort or two he decided they weren’t going to eat him. I then proceeded to lead him to an obstacle behind “big brother,” Kalvin. We started with something simple, a bank with some boulders around which to navigate, and some log step-0vers. As Helix put his head down to determine the best route through the obstacles, something clicked. This was a puzzle and finding the right answer was FUN!

After that, he was all business. He followed me over bridges, up and down banks, being very patient with me as I stumbled my through the obstacles he navigated with ease. We only had one hairy moment where he exuberantly jumped a small stream. He is an excellent jumper after all, and it would be a shame to let his skills go to waste.

After going through a number of the obstacles in hand, I decided it was safe to mount. I led him over to one of the flatter boulders and climbed aboard. He turned his head back towards me to receive his “good boy cookie” for standing still while I situated myself in the saddle, and with that, we were on our way! Again we started with some simple obstacles behind Kalvin: banks, boulders and logs.

Helix and Kalvin ridden by Eve Zoller on the moutain trail course. Photo by Frances Hathaway.

That proved to be a piece of cake, so we moved on to something a bit more difficult. Helix and his mule friend, Heart B Maddie, scaled a steep bank with a descent of rock steps. I got to the top and looked at Maddie’s rider, Frances, who had already made her way down. Suddenly the descent seemed much steeper from the top than it had from down below. “Frances!  How do I get down?!” I yelled. “Give him his head and he’ll figure it out,” she replied.

Helix and Heart B Maddie ridden Frances Hathaway. Picture by Carol Piler.

Well wouldn’t you know, Frances was right. Helix lowered his neck and calmly picked his way down the stone steps. I was so happy with him and truly felt like my horse had my back. It was a glorious feeling! There weren’t enough “Good boys!” and cookies in the world to properly express my gratitude in that moment.

Heaping the praise on Helix after he safely carried my (panicking) butt down the stone steps. Photo by Frances Hathaway.

We went on to tackle multiple bridges, and a few more bank-type obstacles, and aside being a little wary of the water crossing, he was a a complete star. I never expected him to be so game to take on so many of the obstacles. It was a fantastic surprise as was the amount of sheer joy completing each obstacle brought to me. “Not too bad for a spooky dressage horse,” I chuckled to myself.

Helix vs. the moutain trail course! Photos by Eve Zoller.

So after my experience, it’s probably no surprise that I would highly recommend the mountain trail course at the Oregon Horse Center, so long as you have a horse that is respectful on the lead line, and you are completely committed to making it a pressure-free experience. I truly believe those two things combined with my “support crew” of more experienced mounts and riders were the key to Helix’s and my success.

Eve and my #LongEarsDownCenterline friends were key to Helix’s and my mountain trail success. Photo courtesy of Bobbi Mickey-Richmond.

Keep your eye on the Oregon Horse Center’s event calendar to see when the mountain trail course will be back.

Go mountain trail and go riding!

Biz Stamm is a horse trainer/mad scientist who enjoys spending her free time running like a gentle breeze in the Oregon foothills.  Specializing in starting young horses under saddle at Stamm Sport Horse LLC, she brings the analytical approach she has acquired while working in laboratory to her training. She currently owns two horses: the Kalvin Cycle (Kalvin), an 11-year-old half-Arabian gelding, and DB’s Alpha Helix (Helix), a 6-year-old Kiger mustang gelding.  While she is currently pursuing competitive goals, her main goal is to enjoy her horses, and for her horses to enjoy her.

Photo by Steve Storm Photography. Used with permission.






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