Tucked within the Watchung Reservation lies a horse lover’s dream, where nearly 100 county and privately owned equines reside. At Watchung Stable (1160 Summit Lane), guests check in at the administration building before heading out to facilities that include the main barn, an isolation barn, paddocks, a show ring and four riding rings, and an outdoor hunter course.
The stable’s property connects to 26 miles of bridle paths, allowing riders to experience the reservation’s beautiful forests via horseback. In autumn, that means trotting beneath a canopy of colorful leaves, all the while keeping an eye out for deer, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and an assortment of birds. Even bears can ocassionally be spotted in the brush.
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Watchung Stable is open to the public, and guided, hour-long trail rides are available by appointment for individuals and groups (county residents get a discount). Guides will help you mount your horse, teach you how to use the reins, and share facts about the stable and surrounding environment. Be sure to ask your guide for your horse’s name! And don’t anticipate galloping along the trails. Rather, a leisurely ride awaits.
The stable also offers packages for private lessons and groups, hosts birthday parties and other gatherings, and provides lead-line rides for children 9 and under. There are also options for organizations serving people with disabilities. The last weekend in October features the stable’s annual Mounted Troop Horse Show, during which troop-program members compete as a fun learning experience. An equestrian camp hosts junior riders in the summer.
Watchung Stable provides barn tours for those who want to learn more about horses. An instructor shows groups of 10-15 people how to care for, groom and properly tack horses. Visitors also learn about what horses eat and their day-to-day routines at the stable. Just make sure you watch your step when walking around and inside the barn.
When you are done horsing around, there are plenty of other highlights at the 2,000-acre Watchung Reservation. The preserve was designed in 1921 by the renowned Olmsted brothers—sons of the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City’s Central Park, who themselves designed New Jersey’s South Mountain Reservation and other marvelous landscapes—and includes numerous hiking trails and Lake Surprise. The 6-mile History Trail is the reservation’s most traveled, as it passes sites of historic and geologic interest.
The pink-blazed trail starts and ends at the Trailside Nature & Science Center, the oldest such facility in the Garden State. Dating back to 1941, the 4,500-square-foot center houses exhibits that detail New Jersey’s history, animals, plant life and geology. Here, guests can also find a short, sensory-friendly trail, the first of its kind in the country. The .3-mile loop provides sensory stimulation and interaction with sounds mimicking nature, a play area for children, and a garden for touching and smelling, all the while meeting the physical, social and cognitive needs of different age groups.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite at the stable and reservation, there are plenty of tempting restaurants nearby, including Echo Tap & Grille, Stage House Tavern Mountainside, Bovella’s Bakery Café, and Coppola Ristorante & Pizzeria. If you prefer to eat at the reservation, you can also grab food to go at the Mountainside Delicatessen or Rye Deli & Catering beforehand to picnic. Several breweries are also close by, including United Brewing Company, Bull N Bear Brewery, Twin Elephant Brewing Company and Two Ton Brewing Co.
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