PATH international master instructor Sandy Webster has taken the reins at Healing Horses Kauai, initiating a variety of new therapeutic horsemanship programs and activities
While other kids were reading fairy tales, Sandy Webster had her nose buried in manuals about horsemanship. Her early love for all things equestrian led her to learn how to ride horses at age 4. By age 9, she was competing in provincial contests in Canada, and by 14 was entering national and international competitions. At age 16, she became an international thoroughbred jockey. Since then, she blazed her way into the therapeutic riding arena, and has led and created many programs aimed at facilitating physical, cognitive and emotional healing through equine assistance.
Now, she’s sharing those programs on Kauai as new executive director of Healing Horses Kauai (HHK).
Webster, a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) international master instructor and evaluator, already is smitten with the island and its aloha spirit. She’s heartened by how welcome the community has been since she recently started revamping the organization.
“People have come out of the woodwork to help us improve the facility,” she says.
In the months since she’s grabbed the reins, HHK has undergone several upgrades, including new fencing at its location on the Wailua end of Kapaa bypass road. The nonprofit’s five horses — Ivan, Cowboy, Jake, Heya and Oreo — even have undergone extensive training and are ready to share their new-found skills with people of all ages.
Projects now flourishing at HHK include an Instructor-In-Training program that helps volunteers become PATH-certified so that they can participate in various activities, including teaching people with disabilities how to ride. Keiki camps during school breaks are another popular addition, where children are exposed not only to riding horses, but also to the skills that come along with it, like grooming and tacking.
Riding lessons also are available at HHK for all skill levels and ages, and people who not only want to learn about equines, but also aspects of their own personal lives.
“Horses are empathic to people,” says Webster. “They also live in a herd and a community, so their sense of living in a respectful environment aligns with what we need to teach children and adults.”
These riding lessons are especially beneficial to people with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy or someone who has suffered from a stroke. The horse’s gait mimics the stride of a human, so that riders can improve their muscle memory and walking ability.
“Everything we do has a therapeutic value,” says Webster.
Another activity that’s been returned to the therapeutic HHK fold is shuttling miniature horses to visit with seniors on regular basis at long-term care facilities including Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital. It’s already been highly beneficial to KVMH’s residents who have been delighted to interact with the horses, petting and brushing them.
“A lot of them have a connection to the animals,” says Joanna Martin, activity coordinator at KVMH.
Many of the seniors come from homes where they had pets, and their eyes light up as they interact with the tiny equines. In fact, one of the residents, who was having a rough day prior to a recent visit from HHK, forgot all about her troubles once the mini horses arrived. “We brought her out here and she’s perfectly fine now,” says Martin. “She’s calm and mellow.”
Webster is excited to present even more projects to the community as time goes on, including a preschool reading program, and teaching children how to incorporate core values like patience and respect into their lives by working with horses.
“That helps make them become the best person they can possibly be,” she says.
Originally from Canada, for more than 20 years Webster worked as a program director and executive director at Community Association for Riders with Disabilities (CARD) there. She credits her initial love of horses to growing up at a boarding stable. “At that time, I learned to have horses as some of my best friends,” she says.
Among the many values she learned from them were responsibility and a good work ethic. But one of her favorite aspects of growing up with horses was being able to share her secrets with them without any judgment in return. Her first horse, a thoroughbred named Rhett Butler that she trained, still brings her fond memories.
“He was a great partner; he taught me a lot,” she says.
Though she enjoyed the competitive side of horseback riding, she never questioned her commitment to transition to therapeutic riding, and for the past 11 years, she’s headed her own consulting and educational service called Gaits of Change. She’s been more than willing to lend her expertise to communities around the world, and the Garden Isle is lucky she’s decided to grow some tropical roots and share her wealth of wisdom with the local community.
“We want everyone to know that this wonderful place (HHK) can be a haven for everyone,” she says.
For more information, call 634-3896 or visit healinghorseskauai.com.