Located in Eastern Oregon, Hermiston recently passed Pendleton as the largest city in the region. But with its largest economic engine in irrigated farming, Hermiston is still considered a rural community. Many of the area’s children live outside the city limits and rely on school buses to get to and from school. But in 1987 sisters Connie and Ciara Christiansen were eschewing the normal transportation arrangement for a more enjoyable conveyance: the family horses.
Connie, a fourth-grader, and Ciara, a first-grader, mounted up every morning, rain or shine, and trotted the five-minute route to Highland Hills Elementary School. Since Connie began riding her horse to school as a first-grader in 1983, the school bus no longer stopped at the family’s North Ott Road ranch. Their father, Gerth Christiansen, contended the one-mile trip wasn’t too bad even in cold weather, and the horses could make the trip faster than the school bus. The girls took the main roads into town and left the horses in a pasture owned by Dr. Milton Johnson, near the school on Highland Avenue.
In 1986, when Ciara first joined her sister on the daily rides, she had to catch a shuttle at Highland Hills to the First Christian Church across town, where she attended kindergarten. One morning she missed the shuttle, so she rode her horse to the church to avoid being late. When the principal found the horse tied to the flagpole outside the church, she ordered Ciara to ride the horse back to the pasture and met her there with her car to give her a lift back to school.
In trade for using the pasture, the girls helped train Dr. Johnson’s granddaughter’s pony.
Each day after school, the girls walked the block back to the pasture, often accompanied by friends who watched them exercise their steeds with wistful expressions. But the girls couldn’t dawdle; Connie and Ciara were expected at home to help dad with the chores, where Gerth Christiansen bred and trained 80 head of jumping horses.