Family keeps tradition of riding horses on Mount Diablo trails alive

It might be Mount Diablo State Park’s 100th birthday this year, but the Howard de Witt-Herron family is celebrating an anniversary too — only theirs has to do with riding horses on Mount Diablo’s trails.

“There is something magical and deeply satisfying about being able to follow in the family’s footsteps — or hoof prints, ha! Our daughter, Ginny (Genevieve), is the sixth generation to ride here, and it’s amazing that this is possible in this day and age,” said Catherine Howard de Witt-Herron. “Our homes and ranches were always full of tack and horse art. We still have the branding iron from our old ranch on Morgan Territory Road in Clayton in our current Alamo home.”

Born in San Francisco, raised in Piedmont and Sacramento, Howard de Witt-Herron lives with her daughter and husband, Ron. She’s thrilled to keep the family trail riding tradition alive.

“It gives me goosebumps that my daughter, Ginny, a senior at Monte Vista High School, and a descendant of Alamo’s very first doctor in the 1880s, can and does ride on the same paths as her great-great-great grandfather,” said Howard de Witt-Herron.

Ginny, who grew up on the family’s current ranch in Alamo, where they have miniature horses, said she tries to ride once a week, more during the summer. The horses she rides are at the trainer’s ranch, Rancho El Pinto off Marsh Creek Road in Brentwood.

Catherine, left, and daughter Genevieve “Ginny” Howard de Witt-Herron, both of Alamo, are keeping alive their family’s tradition of horseback riding on Mount Diablo’s trails. (Charleen Earley — for Bay Area News Group) 

“It’s important to ride on Mount Diablo’s trails to relax and enjoy nature,” said Ginny, who, in between riding, is taking several advanced placement classes and submitting countless college applications. “I especially love being in the hills at sunset in the summer when the gold grass is illuminated or in the spring when the hills are mossy and green, like in Ireland. It’s important to carry on the family legacy of riding because it’s a less common sport nowadays in the Bay Area, and I want to help keep it alive.”

Howard de Witt-Herron said J.R. Howard was Alamo’s only town doctor in the 1880s and rode all over the mountain to cover his “rounds” on horseback with his doctor’s bag. Her father, Clint de Witt, is the great-grandson of J.R. Howard.

“Dr. John Rezon Howard’s office was approximately where the charming Alamo Cafe sits now,” she said. “He could, and did, ride off in any direction to help anyone in the county. He would ride all the way to Antioch regularly.”

Howard de Witt-Herron is grateful to the past trailblazers and present local ranchers.

“Over 100 years later — thanks (goes) to the life’s work of the late George Cardinet, who kept the trails connected and open here, and organizations such as Save Mount Diablo. Also thanks goes to the kindness of neighbors, such as Charlie and Karen Jarrett in Alamo Oaks, for opening their gates to keep the trails open and accessible — it’s still possible to ride all around the East Bay, coming right from Alamo.”

Alamo residents Genevieve “Ginny,” left, and Catherine Howard de Witt-Herron are the fifth and sixth generations of their family to ride horses on the trails of Mount Diablo State Park, which turned 100 this year. (Charleen Earley — for Bay Area News Group) 

She said the late Cardinet was an authentic rancher who lived next to Mount Diablo and spent decades lobbying for, creating and maintaining the local trails and beyond in California. The well-maintained trails over the last 100 years have given Ginny Howard de Witt-Herron many happy memories, one of which includes an evening ride with friends at age 9.

“I loved riding with my instructor and about 10 girls during a glow stick party. We wrapped glow sticks all over the horses and ourselves and my instructor led us with a flashlight onto the mountain trails,” she said. “It was completely dark when we entered parts of the trail where you could barely see the moon, but at other points we could see much of the hills with the full moon.”

Working two part-time jobs, one as an event assistant in Walnut Creek’s Rossmoor district on the Stanley Dollar property, the other as an event coordinator/manager at the Oakland Coliseum Complex, Catherine Howard de Witt-Herron says she is honored to continue in her family’s tradition of riding on Mount Diablo’s trails. She loves the deep connection with horses too.

“I’m convinced that somewhere deep down in human DNA, we strive to partner with animals, bringing each other comfort,” she said. “We feel like it is our family’s destiny to keep the love of horses alive in East Bay suburbia.”

Charleen Earley is a freelance writer and journalism professor at Foothill and Diablo Valley colleges. Reach her at or 925-383-3072.

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Author: Charleen Earley