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September 27, 2020

Mt. Madonna Stables offers trail rides through park

Activity an outdoor reprieve from shelter-in-place

As people continue to follow federal, state and local shelter-in-place regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic, many have started looking for safe recreation in the great outdoors.

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In early June, Gov. Gavin Newsom released updated guidelines that allowed certain outdoor recreational facilities to reopen. This included most horseback riding outfits—including Mt. Madonna Stables in Watsonville. 

The 18-acre estate, nestled in the heart of Mt. Madonna County Park, is home to about 40 horses. In addition to trail riding, the facility offers lessons and training, therapy, day camps and more. 

“Horseback riding is a great way for people to get into nature,” said stable manager Tesi Pickett. “It also gives you a completely new perspective—I see things while I’m riding that I wouldn’t have noticed on foot.”

Mt. Madonna Stables, currently owned by David and Michelle Mahoney, was forced to shut down most operations when the shelter-in-place ordinance went into effect in March. It opened again on June 8, and has since seen an influx of people interested in riding.

“People are vacationing at home… finding things to do near them,” Pickett said.

For safety during the pandemic, trail rides are reserved for one group (from the same household) at a time. They are by appointment only, and staff asks for backgrounds and specifications of each participant before they arrive.

“We do things a bit different here,” Pickett said. “We don’t have a string of horses just sitting in a line, ready and saddled. Many of them do lessons and shows, too … there’s a lot going on here.”

ON THE GO Mt. Madonna Stables manager Tesi Pickett leads a ride through Mt. Madonna County Park. The stables are open during shelter-in-place by appointment only. —photo by Johanna Miller

Also unique to Mt. Madonna Stables is how it approaches teaching. Prior to a ride, an individual will learn proper techniques such as mounting, steering and stopping, weight distribution and more. 

“We try and give people a good foundation,” Pickett said. “And as we ride, we continue to teach and help. That way, it’s a bit more than just putting someone on a horse and letting them figure it out.”

Riding can turn into a challenging workout for the inexperienced. This is why most beginner rides last for about an hour. Pickett said that she recommends this, as riders’ legs can tire quickly and be unstable when they dismount.

Horses are given a thorough brushing, their hooves cleaned, a spritz of fly spray and saddled before taking off onto Mt. Madonna’s trail system, which winds back and forth through sandy meadows and dense redwood forests. Wildlife is often spotted, from squirrels and deer to hawks and plenty of banana slugs.

Pickett said she enjoys meeting new people when leading rides, and seeing them learn to communicate with their horses. Kids especially can benefit, she said.

“It’s empowering for them… to be in control and have a connection with such a large animal,” she said. 

Pickett’s advice for newcomers? Relax, and know that you are in good hands.

“Don’t stress or overthink—we have enough of that right now,” she said. “Come here with an open mind, trust the staff and that they’re going to take care of you.”

Mt. Madonna Stables is located at 60 Summit Road and provides trail riding to customers in Watsonville, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Morgan Hill, San Jose, Gilroy and beyond. For information and to book a visit, call 408.663.1665 or visit

Johanna Miller
Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business and agriculture.


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