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Flying M Ranch Horseback Ride

Vicki came for a visit the week of Sept 17th. I scheduled a an overnight horseback ride at the Flying M Ranch near Yamhill, OR. The Flying M I had heard about before but had not visited despite its proximity to Yamhill where I lived in my farm before my divorce. It has been owned byt the same family for years and has a kind of quirky hospitality where friends, family, and neighbors mix with the guests. If you are interested in a typical hotel/resort experience you won't find it. It is more like being invited over to visit a family you don't know.

Flying M Ranch

The Ranch is based in the Yamhill river valley at the base of the local mountains. The North fork of the Yamhill river runs through the property. The proprietors are Barbara and Bryce Mitchell whose family lived in the area since 1922.

Flying M Ranch Aerial View (click to enlarge)

Here is an aerial view with the building at the top of the image the Main building seen in the photo above and the stables are at the bottom. Note the airplane. There is a very active airstrip between the stables and the main building. We saw several planes land and take off, mostly people stopping for lunch or dinner.

We get ready to leave...

We got saddled up with the help of Pete the wrangler. He was a classic cowboy slim in wrangler jeans, chaps and spurs a mustache and few words. We got the warning that this time of year there were "bees" on the trail. That if we encountered them that everyone had to ride fast through them to get all the horses through the bees without getting stung. But not to worry someone had gone up the day before and not seen any.

Google Earth View of the Ride

Here is the route we took courtesy of Google Earth. We head up the river valley to the Flying M Ranch's cabin and bunkhouse. They only do this ride twice a year and it seemed auspicious that the fall ride coincided with Vicki's visit.

Now most people have taken horse back rides before which if they are like the ones I have taken consist of riding on flat ground with almost drugged horses around a short well worn track. This ride would not be like that. We left at 10:00 AM and got to the top around 3:00PM. The terrain for this ride was anything but flat.

Here I am on Clyde

Being the biggest I got the biggest horse Clyde who was half Clydesdale and half Appaloosa. He turned out to be gentle and strong.

A Clear cut as we head up the Yamhill River Watershed

The watershed of the North Yamhill was steep and pocked with clear cuts. This is Willamette Industries land and basically a tree farm. The Mitchells also work some timber in the valley including 80 acres where the cabin and bunkhouse are.

After departing the road we rode narrow trails up very steep terrain, over fallen logs and across stony stream beds. It was riding that was unlike any I have ever done, fun, challenging, and bit scary at times. Clyde though was strong and vaulted up the steep sections.

Vicki's horse Dudy

We stopped for lunch along an old logging road. We talked and munch sandwiches saving our apples for the horses. Vicki road Dudy the wonderful black horse.

Me and Clyde

After lunch we remounted and headed up a narrow trail. Soon I noticed the horse in front of me kicking and jumping and running forward. Meanwhile Clyde stopped and wouldn't move. I finally spurred him forward and he ran through the section the other horse had been bucking through. He then started sprinting just as heard voices from behind yelling "Bees! Bees!". I spurred Clyde but he didn't need my encouragement as we closed on the horse in front. The other riders further up were trying to get their horse to run faster so everyone could get through the bees quickly.

Soon everyone was past the bees and we brushed the remaining ones off the nervous horses and treated peoples stings. It turns out the bees were really yellow jackets that live in nests in the ground. Vicki herself got stung as well.

Underground Yellow Jacket Nest

In the fall they become very aggressive as they prepare for winter. The horse hooves drive them out of their nest.

Having survived that we rode further up the trail through the woods. We turned off a road to a narrow single track trail again that twisted around trees and over roots and rocks. Again we heard the cry of "Bees!" up ahead. The horses were spurred up the trail to run faster.

The trail wound up hill, narrow, and around trees as we rode uncomfortably fast. The next thing I see is a horse with its rider running off the trail down a steep slope and then a woman laying still on the trail. She had been thrown. I held Clyde up but he was jumping nervously and wanted to keep running as he had been stung a least once under the cinch. Vicki and Dudy rode up with Dudy bucking about nervously but Vicki ably calmed and controlled Dudy despite several bees still stuck to his hindquarters.

There was a paramedic on the ride and he came back to help the woman on the ground as I tried to steady Clyde. I finally decided I would have better luck on the ground so I dismounted and held Clyde's halter. Meanwhile Joe the wrangler rode up and Vicki held her horse while he went to help the woman. They moved the woman off the trail to allow the horses by.

I lead Clyde by and Vicki followed riding Dudy and leading Joe's horse. Just as we got past the accident I heard a commotion and looked up in time to see another rider behind us bolt past me and then she was thrown. She landed face down and came up with a cut on her forehead that started oozing blood. Joe ran up to help her, she was shaken but OK. We moved the horses past, then waited until the remaining riders regrouped.

The wranglers had radios and had already radioed for help. The rest of continued the ride nervously and most of us ready for it to be over. Soon we passed Bryce on an ATV coming down the trail to give the women a ride back to the cabin.

The short remainder of the ride was uneventful. We broke through a clear-cut near the top of the mountain with a spectacular view of the valley.

The view of the Yamhill valley, I used to live down there somewhere

Finally we arrived at the cabin where Barbara and others were preparing dinner. We dismounted and felt the relief that the exciting ride was over.

We went out in the woods to pick chantrelle mushrooms for our eggs in the morning. Part of the walk to pick mushrooms took us along the old stage coach route from Yamhill and Tillamook on the coast. Bryce's father made the telegraph poles that were still present along the road.

Afterward, we sat around the cabin drank coffee and had a huge steak dinner. After dinner there was a guitar player who entertained us with cowboy songs. You can hear one example by clicking here.

The cabin

Sunset at the camp

Later in the evening we retired to a wood heated bunkhouse where everyone slept.

Morning view of the Coast range

The next morning was beautiful. We prepared our sack lunches as eggs, sausage, and pancakes were cooked for breakfast.

The moon at sunrise

Vicki and I joined a couple of other women for a walk up to a clearcut they called the helicopter pad for the views.

Yamhill valley from the helicopter pad

Vicki and I at the Helicopter pad

And finally we could put off the ride back no longer. Some of the staff went down the trail ahead to try and find the bee nests and kill them. They found one but couldn't find the other.

The horses are ready!

Vicki's ready to leave...

And off we go. Sure enough we found the bees again and were in the middle of a couple of downhill runs. Barbara's 8 year old granddaughter fell off but she got back on unhurt. I felt more confident and trusted to Clyde and held on best I could.

Once in the valley it was easier to relax. The day was warm and sunny and the ride very enjoyable. Then while riding up a very steep section I heard a pop! under my saddle. It sounded like a broken cinch. As I tried to figure out what was going on and get Clyde to stop, I felt myself sliding off saddle and all. I injured my wrist as I tried to break my fall. I was fine though and got up and removed the rest oft he saddle straps from Clyde as Joe ran up to check on me.

Joe quickly rigged up a fix and put the saddle back on, I mounted up and we finished the ride about a half hour later.

Vicki and I then checked into our cabin, and enjoyed a few beers on the patio in the sun.