Exploring Tahoe Donner by horseback


Cowgirls from left, Rachael Stock, Krystal-Rae Mecham and Julya Morganti  ·

Cowgirls in jeans, well-worn boots, belts with silver buckles and plaid shirts with a little sparkle led would-be cowgirls (and a few cowboys) on trail rides through the High Sierra terrain at Tahoe Donner.

These cowgirls – Rachael Stock, Krystal-Rae Mecham and Julya Morganti – are part of the crew at Tahoe Donner’s Equestrian Center, which offers trail rides, pony rides, and special summer events like the Cowgirls & Cocktails ride or the Saturday Night Barbecue.

The Cowgirls & Cocktails ride piqued my interest, so I joined a group of 11 along with Alyssa Ganong for a Friday evening after work to unwind and enjoy the views by horseback. Everyone mounted their horses or ponies (just a short horse) using a platform (being short, I appreciated using the platform). I was on Sonny with Alyssa on Chica.


A few adjustments to the stirrups to get comfortable and Rachael gave us a quick lesson with the reigns – back with a “Whoa” to stop (if you keep pulling back the horse will back up), or a gentle tug in the direction you want to head. The group was split up for the ride, with two riders from Moraga – Kathie Brodowy and Karen Sienkiewicz – with us. We headed off on the trail leaving the center from an elevation of 6,650’.


Katherine and Sonny enjoying the ride

We passed through vast fields of mule ears (some still in bloom), through beautiful forests of various pine and fir trees, along with Aspens and cottonwoods, with the occasional late season wildflowers growing along the trailside. As we rode along we could see the trail signs for Euer Valley and Little Dipper, markers for cross-country skiers in the winter. The trail ride follows much of the same routes for the cross-country system as we climbed near Sundance Hut at 7,048’.

As we neared the ridgeline, some of the horses came to a halt and there off to our right was a blonde bear that looked to be about a year old. With a brown underside and blonde everywhere else, the small bear (which looked to be about 100 lbs.) was on its own afternoon stroll through the woods. While we were all excited to see a blonde bear (the first one I’ve seen in my many years in Tahoe), several of the horses were not happy about its presence and refused to budge until Rachael guided them along the trail. What a delight to come across this beautiful bear.


Kathie Brodowy, Karen Sienkiewicz and Rachel Stock leading the way 

We continued up the trail to the ridge with spectacular views of Mount Rose and the Carson Range to one side and the Sierra Crest to the other. As we made our descent back in the forest, Sonny (who was bringing up the rear) was evidently ready to get back home as he wanted to pass Chica. Being the only mare in our group, Chica was not happy about his intrusion into her personal space and gave him some verbal warnings. Rachael later explained that mares have a larger personal bubble than males and don’t like it when males enter their space.

Nearing the stables, we saw mountain bikers who use some of the trails, along the kids’ area at the equestrian center complete with a cute, kid-sized town where kids can play and take pictures.

It was time for a few pictures of our own with our gorgeous horses before dismounting and heading inside for the cocktail part of the evening. The group enjoyed wine and beer and hors d’oeuvres, including some homemade tasty poppers and stuffed tomatoes, where we shared tales from the trail and enjoyed the sunset.

The Equestrian Center offers trail rides, pony rides, and special event rides through Sept. 2. As well, private lessons and boarding are available. Trail rides are offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Monday and reservations are required by calling (530) 587-9470. Trail rides are $45 for one-hour rides or $90 for two-hour rides. Pony rides are offered from 8:45 to noon Thursday to Monday for ages 2 to 6 years for $27. For more information, visit tahoedonner.com. 

By Katherine E. Hill

Photos by Alyssa Ganong  ·  Homepage photo courtesy of Tahoe Donner


Cowgirls & Cocktails Ride
5-7 p.m. | Aug. 9 & 23
$65, $55 for residents
21+ only | Cowboys welcome

Saturday Night BBQs
5-7:30 p.m. | Aug. 3, 17 & 31
$10-$45, discount for residents
All ages | Dinner, wagon rides, games and more

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Katherine Hill
Katherine first moved to Tahoe in 1998 and has been in love with the Tahoe Sierra region since. She has been in the journalism field for more than 25 years and has worked for daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, as well as online publications and Web sites, as an award-winning writer and editor. In the fall of 2013, Katherine became only the third owner of the Tahoe Weekly magazine, and today serves as its Publisher and Editor In Chief. She currently serves as the President of the Tahoe City Downtown Association and is a member of the North Tahoe Regional Advisory Council and the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Federal Advisory Commission.