KAPA‘A — Healing Horses, a nonprofit organization that offers children and adults of all abilities the opportunity to ride horses under the careful supervision of a team of volunteers, is launching a capital campaign to build a new arena on the land they started leasing from the Bette Midler Land Trust last July.
The 15-acre site, located at the corner of the Kapa‘a Bypass and Kuhio Highway, currently has a temporary arena for riders and volunteers to host events. The group currently leases six horses and rescues other horses, who are then trained and tested to serve in the therapy capacity.
“We’re full time, running regular lessons for kids with disabilities four days a week, five to six hours a day,” said Heather Phelps, co-program director of Healing Horses, which is run by an all-volunteer staff, including assistance from veterinarian Dr. Scott Sims of Kilauea.
Volunteers with the program attest to getting as much personal therapy from spending time working with the riders and the horses as the participants do.
“We don’t say they are doing it wrong,” Phelps said. “We offer to show them a better way.”
Last weekend, Healing Horses hosted the Young Life Capernaum group as young people from various Kaua‘i churches buddied with differently-abled youth to ride horses, followed by a barbecue afterward. Phelps instructed volunteers to keep a wide space open so the Kaua‘i County Handivan would have room to turnaround. She also instructed the horse handlers on how to keep the horses happy.
“They don’t mind the rain, but they don’t like the wind,” Phelps said of the horses, who stood nearby being carefully groomed by teen volunteers in preparation for their guests.
A sturdy ramp has been constructed so that riders who are in wheelchairs can be lifted onto a horse.
“The horse becomes their legs,” said founder and board member Karin Stoll.
In her work as a social worker, she started reaching out to clients by taking them to meet her horse, Prince. She quickly discovered the horses allowed her clients to open up and watched them improve emotionally.
“What kids want to talk to a therapist?” Stoll said.
Soon she was taking horses to her office in Lihu‘e and hosting events with local volunteers.
Stoll discovered she was offering equine facilitated therapy and “learned about the skills backward by doing the program first and then getting an education in the field.”
She became a certified instructor through the Professional Association of Therapy Horsemanship, while running the program for more than 10 years from her office. Both Phelps and co-program director Shannon French are also both certified through PATH.
During that time, Stoll continued looking for land to house the program when one day, her son called from Long Island, N.Y., where he was in the process of renovating a high school theater facility for Bette Midler.
Stoll’s son spoke with Midler and told her about Healing Horses. Midler, who owns 1,400 acres of land on Kaua‘i, agreed to lease 15 acres to the nonprofit group.
“It was a God shot,” Stoll said. “No one was going to lease us this land. Bette Midler is such a support for leasing us these 15 acres.”
In order to break ground and construct the new arena, Healing Horses will host a fundraising dinner July 15 at the Hukilau Lanai restaurant in Kapa‘a in an effort to raise $100,000 for supplies and people to help with the construction.
The new arena will be designed with specialized features that will allow horse riders to ride independently and not have to be led.
“It will strengthen their self-esteem,” Stoll said, “by allowing them to be in charge of something in their lives and being one-on-one with a horse.”
To volunteer, make a donation or to participate in programs, visit www.HealingHorsesKauai.com online.