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Hawaii Horse Expo visitors up; abandoned horses down

(Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7

On Aug. 10 and 11, horse lovers from across the island gathered at the Paniolo Heritage Center’s Pukalani Stables for the 6th annual Hawaii Horse Expo (HHE) in benefit of the Hawaii Island Humane Society’s Equine Rescue Fund (ERF).

Seven years ago, the island lacked the proper infrastructure to support abandoned horses. Nancy Jones and Mary Buckley responded to this vacuum by establishing the ERF and organizing the first HHE.

“We saw the need for the program. It’s an ag island and there are thousands of horses – many of which have been abandoned,” Jones said.

The duo asked the Humane Society to co-sponsor the event. Together, they created a rescue protocol that includes getting horses into a safe environment, assessing their medical and behavioral conditions, finding proper foster homes and finally putting the revitalized horses up for adoption.

The first HHE raised $3,000. Last year, it raised $20,000.  

“This has become one of the best rehabilitation programs in the country,” Jones said.

Paniolo Heritage Center during the expo (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Donna Whitaker, executive director of the Hawaii Island Humane Society, said the HHE sold 142 $30 tickets on Saturday and more on Sunday. “About 10 percent more overall than last year,” she added.

More tickets sold not only means more money to restore rescued horses. It also means a larger group exposed to valuable clinical and horsemanship lessons.

By 10 a.m. Saturday the Waimea sky was already overcast and misting. Charles Wilhelm, a trainer based in northern California, said this type of weather would have driven him inside had he been anywhere else. But he said he knew Hawaii’s liquid sunshine could turn to sun-kissing rays in mere minutes.

The National Cowboy Hall of Fame and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee, Sharon Camarillo opened the day with a presentation in the arena. As the rain began to fall, she used the suboptimal weather to illustrate a vital skill to good horsemanship: keen perception.

“Ground conditions are extremely important,” she said. While guiding her horse in a variety of patterns around the barrels, she remained aware of the wet grass beneath his hooves.

Though her talk was titled, “The Art of Barrel Racing,” she clarified, “It’s about horsemanship, not so much about the barrel pattern.”

A theme of good horsemanship threaded through each talk. While clinicians and horsemen aimed to help the audience treat, furnish and train their horse, many emphasized the subtleties of a trainer’s responsibility to his horse.

Wilhelm directing a horse (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Wilhelm’s maxim, “It’s never, ever the horse’s fault,” undergirded lessons about how to read and lead a horse. The three qualities for horsemanship Wilhelm emphasized were consistency, patience and persistence.

He added that a horseman with these qualities will use the “least amount of pressure as much as necessary to get the job done.” Using this technique can transform a simple rider to a herd leader.

Lester Buckley, a horse trainer for Parker Ranch, taught the audience how to care for and ride a mature horse by being aware of the pushing and pulling forces on its psyche. He demonstrated how behaving with those forces in mind can build trust.

For example, when his horse jumped in response to a psychological pushing force in the audience, Buckley remained calm. He described the scene as a conversation between him and his horse. The horse’s jump posed a question.

If Buckley reacted hysterically, he would have reinforced the horse’s fear and lost control of the horse’s legs. Since he remained calm, he reassured the horse’s confidence and respect for Buckley as a herd leader.

In Rick Lamb’s session, a member of the audience echoed Wilhelm’s value of patience. Lamb responded, “It’s not about being patient in the midst of a lack of progress. Often the best horsemen see what others around them don’t see.”

Lamb, host of RFD TV’s “The Horse Show,” argued that the horseman’s perception of small successes make it easy for him to remain patient. However, the patience and resources required to care for a horse remain invisible to many until after they have bought their first horse.

Whitaker said the biggest challenge in combatting the abandoning of horses is in educating potential owners. “New owners often don’t know a horse’s financial needs,” she said, adding she hopes the HHE targets that group and informs them before they invest.

Education has played an important role in decreasing the number of reported abandoned horses. But even more, Whitaker said the improving economy has alleviated financial burdens that often force owners to turn their horse over to the Humane Society.

Last year, the Humane Society rescued 14 horses, down from 25 the previous year. Whitaker’s ultimate goal is to diminish this number to nothing.

She said, “We’d like to work our way out of the job.”

– Learn more, donate or adopt a horse:


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