C&M Stables is celebrating a birthday. And while the popular tourist destination is not having a party, they are celebrating.
“We first opened our doors for business on April 1, 1980, so I guess that really makes me an April fool,” stable owner Jeff Chastain said. “We have been giving people the chance to take a ride on our spectacular Oregon beaches for about 37 years now.”
For nearly four decades, visitors to the Oregon coast, and many Florence residents, have been able to get back to nature by taking a horseback ride on the beach from C&M Stables, 90241 Highway 101 north of Florence.
“It’s springtime, which is always when we start to get busy. We get a lot of calls asking for information and then we get customers that come here from all over the world. We do get some visitors from Oregon and we get lots of folks from Canada, but a lot of our other customers come from Europe and some come from as far away as China,” he said.
The trees and bushes on the long hillside behind the main corral at C&M are starting to bloom, and the fresh clean smell from the ocean mixes with the earthy aromas of the nearby horses, relaxing in the warming late morning sunshine. The sun is shining brightly and there is a steady breeze blowing in from the nearby ocean as Chastain takes a short break from his duties and gazes out the window, smile in place.
“A lot of our visitors are traveling by, and they make a special stop here to take a ride on our beautiful Oregon beaches,” he said. “Some people come back every couple of years and bring kids and grandkids, making this a family part of their vacation trip.”
A well-maintained area houses the horses that appear to be ready for the day’s tours and beach rides. There are about 10 horses waiting calmly in the corral and a group from Eugene is lined up at the entry gate, preparing to meet the horses that will take them for a ride on the beach.
Staff members speak briefly with the riders, asking a few questions of each, to determine the experience level of the individual, before matching them with a horse. The process takes a brief time, during which the newly paired horse and riders get acquainted, while waiting for the group to form for the day’s ride.
I have some experience riding, although it has been years since I rode more than a short distance. My horse is a large, light brown gelding named CJ. I introduce myself to CJ and give him a slice of apple I brought with me, remembering a neighbor’s horse from my youth that loved the fruit. He is a friendly horse and he snuffles and lightly snorts as I swing my leg over the well-worn brown saddle and settle into the saddles.
He gives me a second to get my bearings and then starts walking steadily towards the gate that leads to the short trail that will bring us to our first major obstacle, Highway 101.
The group makes its way down a slight incline that skirts C&M Stable’s main corral, the horses walking in line as we head the short distance west to the ocean.
The traffic on 101 is flying by, and the slipstream from the fast-moving vehicles is unsettling to me but seems second nature to CJ as he stands calmly by the side of the road, his mane blowing back and forth. There is a gap in the traffic and our two guides post themselves on either side of the road, acting as crossing guards.
The traffic approaching from both directions comes to a stop, allowing the line of horses and riders to cross Highway 101 safely. Next, we come to a short paved road, lined with trees that are 50 to 60 feet high, swaying in the wind. The horses are clearly used to this walk and quickly fall into a single file line, heading towards the waves now visible in the distance.
The wind doesn’t deter the animals from walking the familiar route to the long open stretches of sand that await. CJ starts to trot as soon as we hit the open sand and I hold on a little tighter, squeezing my legs around the leather saddle that suddenly seems much less comfortable than it did just a few minutes ago. CJ and a couple of the other horses canter, seeming to take pleasure in the opportunity to stretch their legs.
We make our way down the beach and I decide to see how fast CJ and can go. I dig my heels in, gently, and he responds immediately, breaking into a run.
I suddenly find myself on the back of an animal that seems to think he is at the Kentucky Derby. The half-ton equine seems to want to run full out, so I let him, holding on with legs and hands, hoping I won’t end up on my butt in the sand.
The speed and strength of the horse are somewhat unexpected, so I pull back on the reins. CJ immediately slows down. I give him a few yards to downshift and we come to a mutually agreed upon stop.
The wind has died down for a few moments and I take in the sharp-edged ocean air and notice the strong connection I feel to CJ, sitting on his broad back. His breathing is heavy, as is mine, although he has done all the heavy lifting, carrying me effortlessly over the last couple of miles.
I let CJ pick his own pace as we turn and head back the way we came, and he seems comfortable with a brisk walk. He slowly angles across the wet, hard-packed sand to join his stable mates. All the horses are heading north now, returning to their home at the stables.
We all work our way slowly up the path leading between the wind-swept dunes and the scrub pines.
The re-crossing of the Highway 101 takes a few minutes, as the traffic is denser later in the day, but is accomplished without any problems.
The two-hour ride ends with all the horses and riders gathering in the corral, spending a few minutes discussing the ride and then going their separate ways, most stretching previously unused muscles after dismounting.
Everyone I talked with during the ride and after had a good time, many stating they will definitely be returning.
I give CJ the half apple I have been saving and he gives me a strong nose nudge as I leave him with the young people working in the corral.
Pat Reno, a C&M employee for the last few years, has been working with another group of happy riders, students from the Siuslaw School District. The young people are part of two new initiatives undertaken by C&M to offer an alternative to traditional after-school activities.
“This is the first year we are doing this with the Twilight Program. We invited all the kids participating in the program to come to C&M and tour the stables. We are doing it over a period of four weeks on Monday and Tuesday,” Reno said. “We are going to show them how a ranch works and how great horses are. We give them a ride in the corral and give them an opportunity to do something that might be a little different than what they are used too.”
The second program Reno is working on is The Horse Club. This a chance for students spending time at the Boys and Girls Club of Western Lane County to participate in a non-athletic option after school.
“The horse club program has really expanded this year. I typically get a lot of students from the Boys and Girls Club and we have 21 students now,” she said.
The program runs during the school year from September to January and then from January to May.
“I’ve gotten some really positive responses from teachers on how much the kids enjoy the time working with the horses — and that’s the reason we are involved,” Reno said. “We want kids to have another option for their after-school activities, and we want to show them how much fun horses can be.”
Boys and Girls Club Acting Director Chuck Trent said he is pleased C&M Stables is adding an after-school option for students who may not be interested in more traditional activities.
“Having an opportunity like this, to be with animals up close, is awesome for our kids. This provides them with the chance to have something to do other than organized sports,” Trent said. “Doing this with C&M is a great partnership for us and we really appreciate their willingness to work with us to make this happen.”
For more information about C&M Stables, call 541-997-7540 or visit www.oregonhorsebackriding.com.