BY LISA MARIE DAHM
North Hawaii News
“Walk on,” were among seven-year-old Odin Rudd’s first clearly spoken words. The memorable phrase was spoken to his horse during a lesson with a therapeutic riding program.
“They were words we all understood,” said his grandmother, Dixie Adams of Hawi, of the event four years ago. “It took everybody back. It was a very big thing for us.”
Rudd had been taking lessons with Therapeutic Horsemanship of Hawaii (THH,) now operated by Michele Kinoshita at Iolani Stables in Honokaa.
Rudd, 11, attends Kohala Elementary School and is a faithful participant in the program. He is one of 20 students enrolled. Adams said her grandson’s progress had much to do with the program and how much he loves it.
“When he first started, he could barely get on the horse,” Adams said. “But when he is riding, he does nothing but smile the whole time. It is wonderful to watch him.”
Formerly called Give a Buddy Independence, or GABI, the program incorporated last year and is now part of THH on Oahu. There is also a THH location in Kona operated by Nancy Bloomfield. The programs are certified under the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH.)
While on horseback, lessons help students with stretching, strengthening their core and improving their balance. Off the horse, students can help groom, feed and care for the horse to the best of their abilities.
Through the work, participants not only improve physically, but also grow in life skills, such as listening, following directions and working with others. Group lessons also offer a social benefit as well.
“Behavior, motor skills and attention improves,” Kinoshita said. “It is a long-term effect.”
Kinoshita’s program meets at Iolani Stables from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays for half hour group lessons. It attracts about 10 students per week from the group of all ages and abilities, from as young as 3 years old to adults.
The program was started about 10 years ago by retired special education teacher Mary Jo Allen, Heidi Clayton, a certified horse therapy instructor, Lisa Shackelford, the mother of Rose Keiler-Tennyson and Donna Mitts, mother of Michael Mitts who is in the program. Kinoshita joined the group shortly after as a volunteer, when it was at Honokaa Rodeo Arena.
“I tried it and I loved it,” Kinoshita said. “I knew I was supposed to be doing this.”
Kinoshita got certified in therapeutic horsemanship and they moved the program to her stables four years ago. She took over the program about the same time.
During the rest of the week, Kinoshita raises and breeds quarter horses and gives horse riding lessons, but on Tuesdays, the stables are dedicated to the program.
“It was more rewarding than you can imagine,” Kinoshita said. “I get more out of it than the kids.”
Kinoshita’s daughter, Kalia Goo, 29, has also been helping with them for about nine years. She said she started by bringing extra saddles and other gear down to Honokaa Rodeo Arena for her mother. Eventually Goo started helping with lessons.
“She asked me to come and help and it stuck,” Goo said. “Then I would go all the time and help whenever I had extra time.”
Goo said that through the years, she has formed a close bond with the students and knows their likes and she understands their personalities. She also said she enjoys working with the other volunteers and spending time with her mother.
“I am very proud of my mom for taking it on,” Goo said.
She said that she is also impressed with the way her mother works to find funding to keep the program operating. Kinoshita finds grants through various organizations such as The Mark and Susan Torrance Foundation as well as through private donations.
Lisa Shackelford said the growth for her daughter, Rose Keiler-Tennyson, 32 was a slow progression upward. But over the years, she has seen her improve physically, socially and developmentally.
“Now she is much more inclined to pay attention – to listen to directions,” Shackelford said.
“I cannot stress how important it is to provide activities in the community for people with special needs,” Shackelford said.
Clayton, who has 30 years of experience with therapeutic horsemanship, said the program is a vital community program that makes a marked improvement on participants. She also knows all the students well and can list the benefits each one has gotten from the weekly lessons.
“I love seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when they first get on a horse,” Clayton said. “Some are immediately just taken – they are so thrilled. For others, there is a little bit of worry or concern, but when they start taking control and are able to ride the horse on their own, it is so wonderful.”
Kinoshita said her volunteers are an integral part of THH and she said she has people who help that come faithfully every week. She said the number of volunteers needed per rider varies, depending on the person’s skill level. Sometimes students need only one volunteer to lead them, while other students may each need three; one to steer and two side walkers.
She said she has volunteer trainings four times a year that following PATH standards.
“It is safety, safety and more safety,” she said about the focus of the training.
Kinoshita said in order to stay current on new learning techniques, she and her daughter go for continuing education to improve their effectiveness with students.
Kinoshita said that through drills and exercises, she hopes to help her students learn new skills to help them to be the best they can be that day. She said she always takes into account not only their ability, but also their condition that day.
“We have all these rules, but I want the kids to have fun,” Kinoshita said. “Some days they haven’t been there emotionally or physically, but it is being on a horse and it is O.K. There are no expectations.”
THH will have their Second Annual Keiki Fun Day fund raising event from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., on June 10 at the Honokaa Rodeo Arena and will include horse rides for kids, photos, games, food and demonstrations by the students. There will also be mini-horse cart rides.
To volunteer, to donate, for information on lessons or learn more about the fun day, call Kinoshita at 885-5454 or e-mail [email protected].