DINNIGAN’S DIVERSIONS

Cornucopia of Thanksgiving fun

LIZZ DINNIGAN

A s the brisk chill of late autumn settles in and the leaves begin to emerge as brilliant spectacles of harvest gold and fiery red, most families begin planning their cozy Thanksgiving feasts and prepare to tuck in for the winter.

But before you curl up for those seemingly endless, freezing nights, with limited opportunity for outdoor fun, here’s something adventurous to try with your family: a nighttime horseback ride along a dark mountain trail on a crisp night.

Clopping up the mountain

My husband and I booked a “Night Ride” excursion at Echo Lake Stables up north in Newfoundland, N.J., last November. The evening ends with a roaring bonfire, where you can get toasty after the adventure.

I’ve gone horseback riding many times. I won’t lie — if the horse begins to trot, I clench up like a kid before a flu shot. And although intimidating at first, this ride was led at a slow pace so riders quickly get acclimated.

Echo Lake Stables offers “Night Rides” on Friday and Saturday evenings at 6 p.m. yearround, including Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a great activity for extended family groups. All ages are welcome, especially pre-teens and teenagers (younger children should have riding experience and not be afraid of the dark). The largest group size is 25 people.

Participants meet at 5:30 p.m. to get fitted to a horse. Echo Lake is flexible, and if the group prefers an earlier departure, they will be accommodated. The group is led by a trail boss using nothing but a glow stick necklace so he can be easily spotted. The hour-and-ahalf ride to the mountaintop along trails blazed by Native Americans traverses rocky terrain, but the horses are familiar with the territory. It’s exhilarating to be in the quiet woods at night on a horse beneath a canopy of stars.

After returning to the stable, guests are taken by hayride to a 90-minute, Western-style cookout with a bonfire, all-you-can-eat barbecue, musical entertainment, line dancing and marshmallow roasting. Guests can bring their own wine and beer. Advance reservations are required, and don’t forget to pack gloves and hats. The cost is $60 per person. Call 973- 697-1257 or visit www.echolakestables.com.

Turkey Tracks

Lord Sterling Stables in Basking Ridge, N.J., offers another type of family horseback riding option. The day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25) is a beginners’ class and introductory ride, including mini-lessons in an indoor arena and an hour-long trail ride. Register until Nov. 18. Kids must be at least 9 years old. There are various departure times available. The cost is $32 for Somerset County residents and $40 for nonresidents.

In addition, for experienced riders who can walk, trot and canter with control, Lord Sterling offers the hour-long “Turkey Tracks” ride Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. Riders will likely see native wild turkeys in their natural habitat. The cost is $28 for Somerset County residents and $36 for nonresidents. Register until Nov. 18. Call 908-766-5955 or visit http://somersetcountyparks.org/parksFacilities/stable/LSS.html.

Thanksgiving options

There are more traditional ways to usher in Thanksgiving, from harvest re-enactments to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Nov. 13: Observe how Thanksgiving was celebrated in the early 20th century at “Thanksgiving Harvest Home” at Fosterfields Living History Farm in Morris Township, N.J., from noon to 4 p.m. There will be horse-drawn wagon rides, resident farm animals, square dancing, family craft, corn husking and egg collecting, plus side-saddle riding, wood-stove cooking and cider-pressing demonstrations. The cost is $6 adults, $4 kids 4 to 16, and $2 toddlers over 2. Call 973- 326-7645 or visit

www.morrisparks.net.

Nov. 19-20: Children write what they’re thankful for on a leaf at the New Jersey Children’s Museum in Paramus, N.J., which is hung on a Gratitude Tree. There will be story time beneath the tree, as well as a craft and a Thanksgiving-themed puppet show. The allday event, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is free with admission ($10 per person). Call 201-262- 5151 or visit www.njcm.com.

Nov. 20: Allaire Village in Farmingdale (Wall), N.J., brings visitors 175 years back in time during its free historical re-enactment of an “1836 Thanksgiving Day Celebration,” held from noon to 3 p.m. Attend an authentic Thanksgiving harvest service at the Village Chapel. Then walk over to the home of the Howell Works Co. manager to watch a traditional Thanksgiving feast prepared over an open hearth, including a turkey roasting in a reflector oven. Interpreters, dressed in period clothing, will demonstrate how pies and side dishes were prepared in that time. There will also be a hands-on cider-pressing demonstration. No dining, only cooking demonstrations. Call 732-919-3500 or visit http://allairevillage.org/events/description/Thanksgiving.html.

Nov. 20: Children can learn about “Thanksgiving Dinner and Table Customs and Manners” from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Miller- Cory House Museum in Westfield, N.J. There will be a demonstration on how to prepare a colonial Thanksgiving meal over an open hearth. Dinner is not served, but food samples are offered. A presentation on colonial table manners and place settings rounds out the activities. The event is free with an admission of $3 per adult and $1 for students; under 4 are free. Call 908-232-1776 or visit http://millercoryhouse.org.

Nov. 24: Since 1924, the two-hour Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has wowed millions with its elaborate floats and colossal balloons, marching bands and performers. This year there will be Shrek, a Smurf, Snoopy, Buzz Lightyear and more. It steps off at 9 a.m. from 77th Street and travels south down Central Park West to the base of the park, then down 7th to 42nd Street, crossing over to 6th Avenue and south to Macy’s Herald Square. The public can watch the floats inflated 3-10 p.m. Nov. 23 on 77th and 81st streets between Central Park West and Columbus avenues. Call 212-494-4495 or visit http://social. macys.com/parade2010/#/home.

Please email me with any events, festivals or suggestions for future columns at jjoedinn@aol.com.