Visitors to Lawton Stables recently enjoyed the happy trails through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. COURTESY LAWTON STABLES

After being closed to the public for three months due to COVID-19, Hilton Head Island’s iconic Lawton Stables has reopened for its 52nd year.

Located in Sea Pines Resort, the stables have been a popular destination for island visitors for decades. General manager Haley Zimmerman said many of the stable’s customers are families who vacation on the island every year.

Many were disappointed that they couldn’t make their traditional visit to the stables this year.

“We really had to make sure we had a solid plan in place because obviously, at the end of the day, we’re not only protecting all of the employees but the horses too,” Zimmerman said. “If we get sick, we can’t care for them.”

Zimmerman said the stables reopened in phases, beginning with trail rides June 29 and pony rides a few weeks later. While there would normally be 24 people allowed on each trail ride, they are now limiting that number to 18.

Other adjustments have also been made to ensure the safety of guests, staff and the animals. While the front gates are normally wide open to guests, this year someone is checking reservations at the gate. Guests are handed waivers to fill out in their vehicles. After turning in those waivers, they put the used clipboards and pens in a certain spot to be sanitized.

The number of trail rides offered each day has been cut down from five to four to allow more time in between to sanitize equipment.

Zimmerman said some people didn’t understand why riding horses outside in the open air would be more dangerous due to a virus.

“We have to actually physically help a lot of people up there on the horses,” she said. “We have to be able to show them how to hold the reins, so we actually come in close contact with each rider. People kind of forgot about that portion.”

Zimmerman said another thing many people probably don’t realize is that staff had to work with the horses to get them back in shape for trail rides after their long break. The guided, Western-style trail rides go through more than 600 acres of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve over the course of an hour.

While pony rides usually don’t require reservations, now all rides must be booked ahead of time. Pony rides are available to children ages 18 months to 7 years. Ages 8 and up are able to participate in trail rides. Zimmerman said morning slots are popular for pony rides, so they book up quickly.

Zimmerman said the stables have been busy, and staff is doing the best they can to accommodate everyone. She said if people are unable to get a reservation, they are still welcome to visit the horses through the fence. She plans to move some retail items, such as hats and shirts, to a tent out front so people can make purchases without even entering the property.

Many people love stopping by the stables to see the resident Clydesdale, Harley, who Zimmerman described as a ham who just loves the attention.

Unfortunately, the small animal farm, which includes donkeys, alpacas, goats, miniature horses and pigs, is not yet open to the public.

“It’s just good old family fun,” Zimmerman said. “It’s really cool to see the families come back year after year.”

Reservations can be made at Follow Lawton Stables on Instagram and Facebook. For more information, call 843-671-2586.

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.