Iris White says the spirits of her American Indian ancestors follow her as she rides

by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - The passionate relationship between Iris White and her quarter horse paint mare, Dixie, is easily seen. Dixie is so calm that shell let anyone ride her, even people who have never had a riding lesson.Iris White, who lives on a 40-acre ranch southeast of Sandy, spent her early years in La Grande, but remembers her every-weekend jaunts to her uncle’s 400-acre ranch near Enterprise.

That’s where she learned to love horses. In fact that lifelong love affair with her equine friends began with an incident when she was about 18 months old. She doesn’t remember it well, but her parents have talked about it for years.

“I was sitting on a horse, and my father was spraying roses,” White said. “Well, that horse (afraid of the spray) took off running down an alley (in La Grande), and my folks were screaming bloody murder. Oh my God! But the horse stopped at the end of the alley, just before entering the main street in La Grande.”

Even though she doesn’t remember how she felt about that incident, White believes it was “exciting.” Today, she laughingly and truthfully describes herself as a “strong woman.” That’s because she was a strong child.

So it is easy for White to speak about that early incident and say, “That was pretty exciting. Knowing me, I was probably yelling, ‘woo-hoo; let’s go!’ I always liked going fast.”

Dreaming for years

White has owned and operated the Northwind Ranch near Sandy for about 30 years, but for a number of years of her life a ranch was nothing more than a dream.

She lived with that dream, hoping that some day her vision of a perfect life would come true.

White and her husband, Lou, have built their ranch from the winery it was when they first walked on the land to today’s stables with eight horses, indoor arena with second-floor viewing window as well as miles of outdoor trails. The land also supports a nursery on the side.

But the Northwind Ranch is much more than a place to raise horses as pets.

During the first 20 years, she and her husband bred, raised, trained, showed and sold palomino quarter horses, with as many as 20 on the ranch.

But at the end of two decades, what did she have to show for their major effort and a lot of expense?

Not much more than ribbons, plaques, trophies and memories.

“One day I realized I wanted to share what I have with others,” she said. “I wanted a place where the community could come. I wanted to share this ranch with everyone.”

Competitor to teacher

That’s when she left the show circuit behind and began teaching people how to ride. She continues teaching through the city of Sandy’s Recreation Department, as listed in the city’s Recreation & Leisure Guide for winter and spring 2013.

She will take anyone as a student. Among her 18 students are, for example, a chimney sweep, kids, a teacher, mothers, dads, teenagers, an outdoor camp leader and an 81-year-old grandmother.

Anyone who expects to stay in her classes, she says, must have a passion for horses, not care about getting dirty, want to learn and expect lasting friendships to develop.

White’s giving doesn’t stop. Besides teaching all she knows about riding, she shares her love of horses and people with everyone who steps onto her land.

This is now the fulfillment of her dream: to share her knowledge, love and life philosophy with people she calls “best friends.”

Horses and the land

White’s philosophy of life comes from the culture of her ancestors, which flows in her veins as much as her American Indian blood does.

The great, great granddaughter of a tribal family in Iowa, White says she can feel the spirit of her father and grandfather riding with her whenever she travels through the wooded hills on her land.

She feels their spirit guiding her as she rides alongside ancient ponds and 100-year-old trees and hears the wind whistling. The wind, she says, speaks to her with ancient wisdom.

White is so attached to her culture that she often spends good-weather time in a tipi instead of her home. One recent year she lived in the tepee from May to October.

The tepee also is for her guests, who remark that the tepee’s inside is like a hotel room.

She also feels that horses are in her blood, describing the American Indian goal to own many horses. Many horses, she says, meant great wealth to the indigenous people of this continent.

“My family has always had farms,” she said, “and on the farms there always were horses.”

Living her life with horses has solidified her perspective. To her, horses aren’t just horses.

“They are my life partners,” she said.

Partners, alongside Lou and all of her best friends.


Iris White, who says she has the “best jobs in the world,” is employed by the city of Sandy as food service manager at the community center and as a recreation department tour guide, who takes groups on memorable tours to distant places in Oregon and Washington.

For more information on horsemanship classes, call White at 503-668-5083.

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