Working with horses can help heal

What began as a way to relax and enjoy the beauty of Wailua from the back of a horse turned into a vision for healing her clients. For more then 15 years Karin Stoll has worked as a social worker. Before she began her private practice in Lihu‘e, she worked for Kaua‘i Hospice. On Sunday Stoll will expand her practice further by offering hippotherapy treatments at the Kaua‘i Humane Society.

“Horse therapy has been going on for two decades,” Stoll said.

Five years ago she began integrating her Jack Russell terriers into therapy sessions.

“The harder kids didn’t want to come to therapy,” she said. “It all started because of the dogs — peoples’ hearts would open and they just wanted to be here relating to the animals.”

Three years ago Stoll bought her first horse, “Prince.”

“I’m not a horse woman,” Stoll said. “I’m a social worker who fell in love with a horse.”

From Prince’s presence sprang Stoll’s newest program, Healing Horses, a non-profit organization that offers equine sessions for adults and children. Psychotherapeutic riding is offered on Wednesdays at her clinic at 3146 Akahi St. in Lihu‘e and starting Sunday, at the Kaua‘i Humane Society. See box for details.

Stoll’s client base is varied. She has autism clients, people suffering from multiple sclerosis, stroke, communication disorders and a variety of physical challenges.

“I have a 92-year-old gentleman who’s had double hip and knee replacement,” Stoll said. “It took four of us to get him on but his desire was strong.”

Among her staff Stoll has an occupational therapist, a riding instructor and two horse women working toward certification with NARHA — North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. Kaua‘i’s 2007 rodeo queen Kristyn Vasconcellas is the program intern and brings her horse “Lover Boy” to sessions.

Other observations Stoll has made over the past three years is how troubled teens grow more articulate and willing to work in groups after having spent time with horses.

“There’s nothing like taking a rough and tough 15-year-old and throwing him on top of a 1,200-pound animal. It humbles them right down,” she said. “Once they become horse oriented, it gets them off the street.”

As for those with physical disabilities, Stoll marvels at the benefits.

“There’s something about the gait, the rhythm — every time a horse moves a leg, every muscle in your trunk compensates,” she said. “This improves balance and muscle tone and the ability to ambulate improves.”

For more information visit healinghorses.wordpress.com or call Stoll at 639-8927.

Why ride?

• Improves balance and midline orientation

• Develops strength in trunk, neck and extremities

• Increases flexibility

• Improves posture and body alignment

• Provides sensory and vestibular input

• Improves fine and gross motor control

• Offers social interaction

• Improves communication

• Builds confidence and self-esteem

Want to saddle up?

What: Therapeutic riding sessions

When: Noon to 2 p.m., Sundays at Kaua‘i Humane Society; 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays at 3146 Akahi St., in Lihu‘e

Cost: $25 for a half-hour

session (grants and sliding scale available)

Contact: Karin Stoll at

639-8927

• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or pwoolway@kauaipubco.com

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