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Meet Our Staff

Kellie Grayden is our Program Director and a therapeutic riding instructor certified through Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) and is an equine specialist through Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA).  She is certified through the American Red Cross in adult/child/infant CPR, first aid, and AEG.  She continues her education in relevant classes with the University of Minnesota, People, Inc., PATH, EAGALA, and others.  She has over 20 years of equine experience and grew up riding and showing American Saddlebreds at the state, national, and world levels.  Kellie spent her summers and free time up until college as a groom working with horses as much as she possibly could. She is also a professional with the United States Equestrian Federation.

She attended the University of North Dakota.  After college she spent time as a trainer and riding instructor teaching Saddleseat, Hunt Seat, Western/Western Working, and Driving to adults and children of all ages and abilities. 

Kellie and her husband, Anthony, live in Cedar and own a business together called CardConnect Midwest. She enjoys working with all of our riders.

Kjerstin Berg is an instructor.  She has been riding and showing horses for over 20 years.  She started in the Arabian show world with her horse, Bugsy, and eventually moved into the American Saddlebred world.  She spent many summers and weekends grooming, showing, and helping at horse shows before going off to college.  After college she spent time riding and caring for Icelandic and Morgan horses.


Kjerstin completed her undergraduate at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.  She has been working in the behavioral health field for over ten years.  Kjerstin is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and has recently completed her Masters in Clinical Psychology.  She is also working towards achieving her state license as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor.  Kjerstin is also a mental health professional through Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA).


Ellyn Thompson is an instructor.  Ellyn began taking riding lessons in fourth grade after her mom signed her up thinking that horses would be a phase.  Since then, she has worked as a counselor at horse camps and worked with several horse-centered non-profits while continuing taking lessons and leasing horses.  She attended Concordia University for her undergraduate education where she worked as a tutor and was the president of the CSP History Club while she earned a degree in secondary education and social studies teaching license.  She recently earned a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and now holds an additional teaching license in reading.  Ellyn works as a reading interventionist for middle and high school students in St. Paul.  Ellyn is also an equine specialist through Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA).


Ellyn loves Thoroughbreds and has been riding off the track Thoroughbreds since middle school when she first fell in love with the breed.  She continues to ride and take lessons as an adult, always learning and wanting to better herself.  When she is not at the barn, Ellyn is an avid reader and reliable patron of her local library.  Ellyn is also a religious supporter of Chelsea Football Club and follower of the English Premier League.  She is a member of the Dons Trust making her a part owner of AFC Wimbledon, a professional football club based in London, England.


Allison McMahon is an instructor.  Allie is a 2019 graduate from St. Catherine University where she obtained her degree in communication studies and human resources.  She currently works full-time in human resources for a corporation in Bloomington.


Apart from her professional life, Allie enjoys spending time with her family, friends, significant other, and her dog.  Her hobbies include hiking, photography, writing, and traveling.  Her favorite place in the world is the cabin.


Allie began riding horses around the age of seven where she took English lessons.  She then transitioned to Western lessons.  She also attended Girl Scout Camp during the summers to take part in their horse programs.  In 2016, she became a horseback riding specialist for the Girl Scouts and has continued to help grow their riding programs since.  She trains the program horses to fit camp needs, is a trail guide lead, and teaches everything from horse anatomy, health, equipment, grooming, safety, to ground and riding lessons.  Working with people and horses is a great passion of Allie’s.  She is excited to have joined St. Croix Trail Blazers in 2020 as a volunteer and now as an instructor.


Mara Kleckler is an instructor.  She grew up trail riding around her family's acreage in the Black Hills of South Dakota before moving to Sioux Falls, where she learned to jump and dabbled in dressage. Before heading off to college to study journalism.  Mara spent her high school years volunteering with a hippotherapy program and worked as a camp counselor for children with muscular dystrophy.

Mara has also seen how therapeutic horses can be for her own family. Her mother has MS and her father is a Vietnam veteran and both credit horses for staying active and finding peace.

Mara now works as an education reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She enjoys hiking, reading, and hanging out with her two dogs, Maisie and Kita.  She also loves to travel and wants to ride horses in as many countries as she can.  So far, she's ridden in Australia, Ecuador, Nepal and Iceland.


Laura Ernst is an instructor.  She started riding lessons at age eight and competed in a variety of disciplines including Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, and Eventing.  Throughout high school and college, Laura continued showing and began teaching lessons and training young horses as a working student and exercise rider for several top stables and trainers.  A few years later Laura's focus pivoted to the Western disciplines especially Appaloosa breed shows where she successfully trained several futurity show horses including her own.  At that time, she moved to her own farm, Star E Ranch where she still resides with her husband, Josh, three Appaloosas--Sassy, Tango, and Ollie, two llamas--Salvador and Woodford, and three dogs--Joan, Yula, and Mazy. 


A graduate from University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a degree in fine arts, Laura also made custom Western show clothing for riders all over the country.  She still enjoys sewing clothes as a hobby and her other hobbies include gardening, hiking with her husband and dogs, as well as wakeboarding and snowboarding. 

Meet Our Board

Karen Harjes is one of the original founders of the St. Croix Trail Blazers and the volunteer Executive Director and President.  She will admit to being a complete “city girl” until stepping out of her comfort zone to assist with the development of the team and taking riding lessons for a year.  When not at her full-time job or tending to St. Croix Trail Blazers' business, Karen loves visiting her family in northern Minnesota, being with her pets, gardening, crafting, watching movies, being a part of Special Olympics Minnesota, and doing jigsaw puzzles.  Her son also participates with the St. Croix Trail Blazers.  With the help of several staff, Karen keeps the team organized and running.

Karen Malmskog is our Treasurer.  She previously volunteered with We Can Ride and Stable Pathways.  Karen loves spending time at the barn with the horses, riders and families, volunteers, and staff.  It also allows her to share a special interest with her daughter.

Kellie Grayden is our Program Director and a Board Advisor. More about Kellie is written in her staff information.

Johanna Martinson is our Secretary and also a weekly volunteer.  She enjoys being involved with St. Croix Trail Blazers because it gives a person a chance to work with the horses, meet incredible riders, and learn more about the many benefits riding lessons can offer.  When not at the barn, Johanna is likely hiking, kayaking, Netflixing, playing cards, or brewing homemade kombucha tea with fun combinations of fresh fruits.  Her previous roles include working in the mental health field for over a decade, providing foster care for children in need, and coaching volleyball for student athletes.  More recently, she is a free-lance nanny for families in her neighborhood.  She lives in St. Paul with her husband, little dog, and tom cat.  

Colette Morris is a Board Advisor and Legal Counsel.  She enjoys being involved with St. Croix Trail Blazers because it gives her a chance to volunteer and learn more about businesses.  Colette holds a position as General Counsel for a St. Paul education technology company and brings over a decade of legal experience to her work with the St. Croix Trail Blazers.  Colette also volunteers for a Minneapolis nonprofit flamenco dance school.  When not working or volunteering, Colette enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and two dogs. 

Vice President position is currently vacant.

Spence Morley is a Board Advisor.  Spence has lived in St. Paul since 1980.  During this time, he has served on governance leadership teams for several business and nonprofit organizations.  He started volunteering with St. Croix Trail Blazers in 2018 and joined the board as an Advisor in 2022.  Spence considers it a privilege and an honor to be part of St. Croix Trail Blazers' leadership team that holds deep, heartfelt dedication and passion for its mission, to experience the enthusiasm of the riders and their families, and to hang out with the horses who generate such a tremendous spirit for everyone.

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