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This story first appeared in the Winter 2019 edition of Pebble Beach Magazine. It was written by Renee Brincks.
In 1924, five years after he established Pebble Beach Golf Links, Samuel F.B. Morse turned his attention to a forest-fringed plot of land above his coastal resort. As early property owners built homes in Pebble Beach, those on smaller lots bemoaned the lack of space for stables. Horse-drawn carriages were the first vehicles to navigate 17-Mile Drive, and horses remained an important part of life for many Del Monte Forest residents.
To satisfy demand, Morse created the Pebble Beach Stables on the plot that he had originally cleared for an airstrip. The board-and-batten quadrangle facilities with an open-air courtyard, later renamed Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, were built for $12,000. Before long, the venue’s reputation grew. Its fields served as a set for the 1935 film Anna Karenina starring Greta Garbo. Respected managers such as Dick Collins, who established the country’s first youth Pony Club in Pebble Beach, enhanced the program menu with horse trials and summer camps. The facility hosted the U.S. Team Trials ahead of the 1960 Olympics and continued expanding throughout subsequent decades.
Today, 95 years after it opened, the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center still occupies some original Morse-era barns updated for modern use.
“History distinguishes this center,” says Pebble Beach Equestrian Center manager Megan O’Brien, who started riding at the facility at age 7. She grew up competing in Pebble Beach, moved into dressage while in college, and became a professional rider at age 21. “It’s almost 100 years old, but in some ways, it hasn’t changed that much. It’s a nice little time capsule.”
The U.S. Dressage Federation gold medalist returned to Del Monte Forest about three years ago to oversee boarding services, lessons, team events and trail rides. “It’s hard to beat the beauty of Pebble Beach,” O’Brien says. “Our surroundings are amazing, and our weather is almost impeccable year-round.”
History distinguishes this center. It's almost 100 years old, but in some ways, it hasn't changed that much. It's a nice little time capsule.
Equestrian Center guests explore that pleasant landscape on guided daily trail rides. Shorter routes spiral through the forest and wind along rugged sand dunes with sweeping coastal views; longer excursions drop down the dunes, cross 1 7-Mile Drive, and continue along the beach before looping back through Spyglass Hill Golf Course.
“When you come off the sand dunes to that first lookout, it is breathtaking. You can see the Cypress Point course to the left, and the entire bay opens up. It’s especially pretty in the spring, when the flowers are blooming. I’m not sure you can find a view like that anywhere else in Pebble Beach,” O’Brien says.
Tours typically include a mix of resort guests, residents and travelers visiting the Monterey Peninsula. Out-of-towners might find themselves sightseeing with one of the center’s treasured rescues, which account for about half of the trail horses here. After months of medical assistance, nutritious meals, grooming and care from the equestrian center team, rescue animals emerge healthy and ready to traverse the Pebble Beach trails.
When you come off the sand dunes to that first lookout, it is breathtaking. You can see the Cypress Point course to the left, and the entire bay opens up. It's especially pretty in the spring, when the flowers are blooming. I'm not sure you can find a view like that anywhere else in Pebble Beach.
“It’s a good job, walking by the beach every day,” O’Brien says with a laugh.
In addition to caring for the rescue animals, equestrian center employees distribute shavings and provide feeding, cleaning and blanketing services for privately owned horses boarded at the stables. Boarding clients may use the on-site arena and round pen and access grooming and training packages.
While many boarding clients take classes on their own animals, instructors also teach with the center’s lesson horses. Riders age 6 and older participate in basic horsemanship, jumping and dressage, and seasonal children’s camps bundle lessons with art projects, pizza parties, trail rides and games. Interscholastic Equestrian Association teams for middle school and high school students provide additional experiences.
“When Pebble Beach hosts these events, we provide the horses,” O’Brien says. “Kids draw for their horse, spend about 15 minutes meeting the animal for the first time, and then go to the show field. It’s a test of their ability to quickly figure out a horse, and it provides opportunities for families that can’t afford to buy one or make that long-term commitment but still want to be involved.”
Pebble Beach instructors also teach private, semi-private and group lessons for adults like Ruth A. Pavilonis, who started classes on lesson horses after moving to Monterey about four years ago. Though she had limited equestrian experience, Pavilonis felt immediately comfortable thanks to trainers who tailor lessons to her personal goals, skills and comfort leveI. She appreciates the passion shared by staff members and fellow clients.
“Everyone at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center is sweet and welcoming,” Pavilonis says. “The genuine love of horses and riding drew me in, and it keeps me coming back. One of the center’s summer camp kids said it best: ‘I have a very busy, noisy mind, but by the end of my lesson, my mind is quiet.’ The experiences here are amazing.”
Lynn Roberts-Johnson of LRJ Dressage adds, “This is a hard sport to start or come back to as an adult, but my riders all have so much fun. Every time they accomplish something, it gives them a new level of confidence.”
The former Olympic-level competitor, U.S. Dressage Federation gold medalist and independent contractor trains clients at the center and has worked with hundreds of horses since coming to Pebble Beach in 1984. “Every horse has loved it here,” she says. “I’ve never had one who didn’t come in and just take a deep breath. I’m not sure whether it’s karma or old spirits, but this is a very, very special equestrian center.”
The destination draws a similar reaction from visitors.
“I ask the clients all the time, ‘Did you have a good ride?’ And they beam. They just beam,” Roberts-Johnson says. “Not many places in the world are like this.”