Corrections or additions?
This article by Mary Jasch was prepared for the September 3, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Happy Trails Across NJ
Pat Sargeant, foreman of the Double D Guest Ranch,
saddles up 37-year-old Spot, his appaloosa, then Concho, the owner’s
11-year-old ex-race horse, and Buck, a Tennessee Walker, age 15. I’m
We hop on the horses and clip clop past the others who watch us
from their small paddocks. Rounder the dog runs ahead, leading our
equine trio down a farm lane that sidles along the woodland near
north of Interstate 80 in Warren County.
It’s been a year since I have ridden at one of northwestern New
fun, trail ride friendly stables. Here in the most densely populated
state, horseback riding comes as a pleasant surprise — pure
from the daily grind, a welcome escape into the New Jersey wilds.
Yes, there are stables right in the heart of central New Jersey (see
listings below) but most are limited to lessons and riding within
gated paddocks. But in northwestern New Jersey you can ride trails
that at some points resemble the open range, with many different
from which to choose your riding style, landscape, and trail terrain.
Our path turns into a narrow strip of trees, then the landscape
to hay, then darker woods which, I can see, will offer a colorful
ride come fall. We ride up small hills covered in dense brush, mostly
wild roses, with autumn olive and raspberry bushes. My denim jeans
come in handy against the grabby thorns.
The horses follow the narrow footpath as it winds through the foliage.
Sometimes, ducking under grape vines, I get to know these plants
It’s a little like reaching for that brass ring on a whirling
as I lean out and grab a fresh raspberry as Buck follows along behind
The trail winds, maze-like, through young fields of red cedars and
wildflowers. The horses carry us into oak, hickory, and tulip tree
woods where we pass a campsite especially designed for riders who
want to stay overnight.
Soon the trail rims the edges of high fields with vistas
of New Jersey’s own blue mountain ridges. Colorful wildflowers accent
the view. Sargeant tells us that sometimes you can see clear to the
Delaware River from here. The ride at Double D is a nice walk through
the woods and fields on gentle, comfortable horses.
Double D offers two-hour rides — priced at $60 per rider —
on the Paulinskill Valley Trail (PVT), an abandoned railroad bed now
cindered for good walking on a scenic path alongside the Paulinskill
River. The ranch will trailer horses for one person or twelve.
in the business of making people happy," says owner Phil Dukes.
Half-day rides — $85 — cover 13 miles on the Paulinskill
through towns and country with backdrops of water falls, trestles,
and bridges; all-day rides take six hours. Lunch is included and both
rides are offered year-round.
"Whatever I do in Montana, I do here," says Dukes. "I
try to bring a Western experience back East."
His overnight camp ride starts at 9 a.m., when riders leave for the
PVT, have lunch, then come back to the campsite at about 4 p.m.
6:30, I come out and cook dinner — steak and chicken — and
leave you alone by 8," says Dukes. At 8 a.m. next day, Dukes is
back at the pit cooking bacon, eggs, and biscuits. The tent even has
a wood stove, providing enough comfort that riders can spend New
Eve there if they choose. The ranch offers corporate group rides,
too. A few days before my own ride, Edy’s Ice Cream had a sales
for 14 out on the trail.
Dukes has experienced horses for rent. Most can take kids.
all very good horses. If they do something wrong they get fired —
we don’t like to say `canned’," he laughs.
On Route 23 in Whitehouse Station, a yellow and green
sign by a post and rail fence announces the turn down a dirt lane
to Silver Bit and Spur Farm. Horses stand at hitching posts under
a spreading tree, feed buckets in front of some. Bridles hang hooked
over saddle horns and the horses stand, waiting for work.
Three riders from Staten Island are mounted and ready to go. It’s
their third visit here. Ed Rauer is taking his daughter Samantha for
a birthday ride. Rauer’s friend Michele Boffa had never ridden before
she came here, but she’s not afraid to go out without a guide as they
do here at Silver Bit. Can she walk, trot and canter? "I guess
so," she says. And what does she see out there? "Trees and
Owner Jean Eggemann matches riders to her stable of 60-plus horses
according to their ability. "When people are mounted, they’re
given basic instruction on how to ride," she says.
A group of six young Manhattanites arrive. "I love riding,"
says Aveena Jharma. "It’s nice to get out of Manhattan."
lost is Jharma’s concern, but in this group of six the horses will
follow each other. One man asks if his horse will run and Eggemann
tells them to take it easy. "If one goes, they all will go."
People with their own horses can ride them here for a day charge.
Jennifer and Bob Paulson ride here because they like the people and
think the trails are great.
Silver Bit accommodates pony parties and picnics too. Small children
can ride a pony for a half-hour as parents lead them around wherever
they like — even through the woods. Eggemann owns the farm with
her son, Danny. "I’ve been doing horses since I was 11 and I’m
58 now," says Eggemann. "It’s horse heaven here for people
who love them."
Big Eyes Win
Borderland Farm proprietor Virginia Martin says you
cannot properly step into a trot or canter unless your horse is doing
a proper walk. "These horses were not born to carry us," she
says. "They were made to be eaten by lions and tigers and us.
That’s why they were made to run away."
"I don’t give a hang what the color of a horse is or the breed.
I care about the way he moves and his attitude. You can tell a lot
about attitude when you look into his eyes."
Martin says that a horse should have big eyes on the side of his head
— the better to see a predator. "Many horses that spook have
little pig eyes in front. They don’t see as well so if they hear a
noise far away, they’re liable to shy and spook. Big eyes see it all
and feel familiar." Her horses have big eyes, one of her selection
She insists that people treat her horses gently. "We have horses
you could put your great grandmother on," she says. "We
`riding in lightness.’ There’s no kicking or pulling. It’s just a
light touch with both heels, but don’t grind them in. "
An hour trail ride at Borderland winds through various wooded habitats
and fields, with a river crossing and railroad crossing. The woods
are old, open, and big. Autumn paces are open to the public who can
bring their own horses. The Jolly Jumping Jaunt is a trail ride
the woods with jumps. Corporate group rides can be arranged.
offers catered gourmet trail rides with advance reservations.
spread out on the large lawns of Borderland’s 230 acres that are
by Farmland Preservation.
Nancy J. Williams, stable manager at Lord Stirling
in Basking Ridge, a beef farm turned public stable that is owned and
managed by the Somerset County Park Commission, says that special
attention is paid to neophyte riders.
"We get the horses ready and bring them out to the mounting block.
We take the stirrups down and tighten the girth. We do everything
— all anyone has to do is get on," says Williams. The stable
presents a list of available steeds to the rider, who chooses his
or her own according to weight and level of expertise.
It’s a safety issue, she says, and if a neophyte prefers, he can take
an introductory ride to discover if English riding is for him, or
if he qualifies to rent a horse. "We value our safety record.
We’re concerned about public safety and we don’t want anyone getting
hurt," says Williams.
Rides ramble over 14 miles of trails on bridle paths throughout the
stable’s 450 acres. The stable is just half of Lord Stirling Park,
which also houses an Environmental Education Center. During driving
events, carriages whisk down the level grassy paths. "If they’re
good for carriages, you know darn well they’re good for horse
The land is relatively flat through varying habitats like old woods,
swamps, and meadows which offer riders changing views and glimpses
of wildlife along the way.
The Friends of Lord Stirling Stable run two nature rides a year for
non-riders and anyone who feels like a comfortable walk through the
woods on somebody else’s legs. "At different times of year you
see different things. People point out colorful foliage and animals
that you might not normally spot," says Elaine Taub, co-chair
of the ride. The next Nature Ride is scheduled for Sunday, October
5, from 7 to 9 a.m.
At Echo Lake Stable in West Milford evening rides are
special. Riders set out at 7 p.m. and ride an hour until they reach
their destination — a cowboy cookout in the woods where wranglers
cook and sing. After the barbeque, riding back through the moonlit
trees will engage each cowpoke’s imagination in another time and
Echo Lake’s 35 horses know the terrain well. They are handpicked
Texas ranch horses that have done just about all kinds of ranch work.
They are great riding horses for the novice. Long rides up to seven
hours can be accomplished without covering the same trails twice on
this 80-acre wooded property.
The drive off Paulinskill Lake Road into Spring Valley
Equestrian Center crosses a bridge over a pond and heads up the hill
to the big blue barn. That’s where the hacking — pleasure riding
as opposed to formal riding — begins. "We’ve been here for
31 years. We own all our horses and are familiar with them, and the
railroad bed is quite nice to ride on," says manager Christine
Jillian Davey, trail leader, saddles up horses for me and two other
riders. I ride Billings, one of the oldest trail horses here. We climb
the hill behind the barn and turn into the woods where four guinea
hens peck away at bugs. The trail runs on a ridge top with soft
edged in trees. The trail becomes wide dirt through a forested
The horses negotiate the winding the path that leads down to the PVT
that runs alongside Paulinskill Lake here. It’s shady and cool. The
horses walk slowly enough for me to inspect the different color
that grow beneath the oaks and birch. Six deer run in front of us,
then stop to browse. They are not afraid. "They smell the horses
and not us," says Davey. "The horses are just other friends
they share the pasture with."
Billings is slow and steady on the downhill. Bird song accompanies
the creak of leather and snort of horses. Joggers jog by and Billings
tosses his tresses high as we trot.
Back at the barn, a peacock shakes his tail feathers at guinea hens,
people wash horses for a show, a woman shaves her horse’s muzzle —
a flurry of activity. People bustle in the tack shop as they inspect
English and western gear, fancy clothes, horse jewelry, models and
books, boots, stickers, chaps and tees.
As rider Laura Hanley describes it, "other than my walks in the
morning, this is my touch with nature, with God — my stress
Boots with a heel and English riding helmet are required. Helmets
loaned. Reservations necessary.
908-459-9044. Www.doubledguestranch.com Open every day from 9 a.m.
to dusk. Western. Reservations required.
Milford. 973-697-1257. Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Western, walk-in.
256 South Maple Avenue, Basking Ridge. 908-766-5955.
Friends of Lord Stirling Stable. 908-654-8541 or 732-302-9167. Trails,
indoor and outdoor rings. Riders must be 12 years old or above. Boots
with a heel and English riding helmet are required.
These Princeton area stables specialize in lessons and
formal riding such as dressage and jumping. None offers open trail
riding such as that described above. Some have trails that are open
only to qualified riders, usually those who own their own horses.
Corrections or additions?
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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.