Horsing Around: It’s Good For Kids

Patti Whitcomb: Horses teach responsibility

Horse shows this weekend at Silver Falls Ranch showcase the positive benefits for youths who ride

Patti Whitcomb’s love of horses is evident the moment you meet her, but it is her underlying fondness for Kaua’i keiki that really sets this North Shore resident apart.

“Riding, for me, is kind of the love of my life,” she says one afternoon at Silver Falls Ranch, while chickens cluck in the background and young cattle stare at passers-by with uncertain eyes.

She harnesses the same passion in a voluntary effort to help steer youths in a responsible direction by teaching them how to ride and care for horses. It makes her work within the community invaluable.

“We’re in a limited place,” she says. “We have, among the teenagers, some rather high numbers of theft and misbehavior. Because this is such a tiny island, there isn’t anything for these kids to do – they don’t have a focal point.”

Spending time with horses gives them the direction they need at a young age, says Whitcomb, who, as the owner of Island Equus, teaches private and group classes. The kids learn independence and tend to head toward more positive pursuits in life.

“For some of the moms, I’ve saved their girls,” Whitcomb says.

Malia Searby and Lauren Benson are two of several young ladies who volunteer their time at Silver Falls Ranch in exchange for free riding lessons. They help with chores, include preparing visitor tours, cleaning and grooming the horses and sweeping the stalls.

“We do whatever needs to be done,” says Benson.

Whitcomb developed a passion for the equine species at an early age, and was only 7 years old when she attended her first horse show. She was traveling and performing by the time she was 8.

“I didn’t have somebody taking care of my horse. I had to come home, clean the stall, feed the horses, have my dinner and do my homework,” she says. “And if my grades dropped below a certain level, I wasn’t allowed in the barn. So it was an extra activity that I had to commit to.

“It taught me to have responsibility, to be diligent and to coordinate my time.”

But it wasn’t until later in life that Whitcomb’s favorite hobby was rekindled. After spending several years as a professional skier and windsurfer, at times even traveling the world with Jacques Cousteau, Whitcomb moved to Kaua’i and embraced her love for horses. It was the ravaging effects of Hurricane Iniki that actually rekindled her passion.

“It was a war zone,” she recalls of the island after the severe storm hit.

And all it took was one look at a 2-year-old stallion with a tin roof wrapped around his legs for Whitcomb to rediscover her childhood admiration.

“This little horse knew if he moved, he’d cut himself to smithereens,” she says. That was the moment Whitcomb decided she was destined to work with horses again.

Shortly thereafter, Whitcomb worked as a guide at Princeville Ranch Adventures and took the reins of the Rainbow Riders program, which offered classes to roughly 30 kids a week during the summers.

Eventually, Whitcomb found her way to Silver Falls Ranch, where her passion has continued to evolve down many paths, including founding Kaua’i Saddle Club last year, which is hosting its second horse show Jan. 15 and 16.

“Horse shows take an incredible amount of work,” says the certified Horsemanship Association master instructor. “But what it does is it gives all these kids goals.”

And despite her two artificial knees – a casualty of skiing that makes it difficult for her to travel on foot – Whitcomb doesn’t falter when it comes to assisting the keiki. She even takes the time to arrange regular gatherings for all her students.

“The kids get together, form new friendships and watch each other and learn, and just go forward with that,” she says, citing Halloween as a recent example, where she hid bags of candy around Silver Falls Ranch for the kids to find on horseback.

“It’s something I volunteered to do to make all that they’ve done fun.

“You just don’t come here, the horse isn’t saddled up. You just don’t get on and go round and round for 45 minutes and leave,” she says of her classes. “Instead, they learn everything.”

Visit www.kauaisaddleclub.com for more information.

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