Happy Trails

WAIMEA — It was a beautiful experience, said Steve Kline, occupational therapist at the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital, Monday.

“To see the smiles on the faces of the residents, to hear their stories, and just seeing them happy is so beautiful,” Kline said while three miniature horses mingled with the KVMH residents just outside the hospital’s courtyard.

Rufino Taroma, a resident, led the KVMH residents enthusiastic response to the visiting equine, holding on to a tether for nearly the entire visit.

“He used to have horses on his farm in Kekaha,” said Nora Baptista, Taroma’s daughter visiting from San Francisco. “They also used to have chickens, roosters, lambs and even a monkey.”

Kline said Taroma was talking about how he and his wife used to ride horses up the valley, and Nora Sapinoso, another resident, said she remembers riding horses to gather water in the Philippines before her father moved the family to Hawaii.

“This is an example of how the simple things in life — fresh air in the outside, fine weather, and the interaction between the KVMH residents and horses — can be beautiful,” said Heather Phelps, Healing Horses director.

The horses’ visit to KVMH was prompted by Kline’s interest in Hippo Therapy, a cognitive rehabilitation training program for adults and children.

“Hippo Therapy is big among occupational therapy,” Kline said. “I heard about it while at a Mainland conference. Since we have Pet Therapy twice a month in conjunction with the Kauai Humane Society, I thought we could incorporate the horses.”

He said he met with Karin Stohl at Healing Horses and they discussed the program.

Red Rider, a miniature Pinto, Sugar Baby, a miniature Palomino, and Teensy, the offspring of Red Rider and Sugar Baby, made the trip from the Waipouli Healing Horses range to KVMH Monday morning.

“This is the horses’ first time going to do this very important job,” Phelps said. “We would like to make it routine. We would like to see these special animals bring joy to all of Kauai’s people.”

The miniature horses were donated to Healing Horses about six months ago and have since been in parades and other events.

“This visit to KVMH is perfect,” Phelps said. “It’s what we wanted to do — visit medical, health and assisted living facilities, schools or libraries where children can read to the horses.”

Phelps said all animals have therapeutic value, but the Healing Horses miniatures are exceptional animals.

“They have gentle temperments, and as you can see, they love to be part of the community,” Phelps said.

With the miniature horses added to the Healing Horses stable, Phelps said one of the goals of the program is to be able to do community outreach at least once a month.

People interested in having the horses visit, can call Phelps at 635-4720.

• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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