Quality of Life Grantee Spotlight: Healing Horses Kauai

When Samantha Henriques became executive director of Healing Horses Kauai (HHK) in 2019, she knew she wanted to expand the program to more adults living with disabilities. 

Healing Horses

In the eleven years since its 2008 inception, the organization had grown from a private therapy practice where the horses were trailered to various pastures around the island to a robust ADA-accessible community riding facility. Now located on over 15 acres leased from singer and actress Bette Midler, HHK has 10 employees and over 40 volunteers and is the only organization on the island that provides assisted mounting for equine activities.

“Our program was initially focused on school-aged kids with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. I wanted to increase the scope of disability we could serve to include people who use wheelchairs,” says Henriques, who started as an HHK volunteer when her son, who has autism, was in preschool.

In 2021, HHK received a $25,000 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to assist in purchasing two large dual-trained horses. The horses are used to pull both two-wheel carts and four-wheel carriages as part of HHK’s accessible carriage driving program. 

Carriage driving can be more accessible to individuals with a higher level of disability or who may not want to or are not able to mount a horse. Through carriage driving, riders can increase core strength and improve balance and motor coordination. It also encourages self-confidence and provides a venue to build relationships with instructors, volunteers and the horse. 

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“The bonds shared between rider and horse, and amongst a cohort of riders, fosters a sense of community and belonging,” says Henriques. “Parents and caregivers have reported anecdotally that their participants have improved confidence and body carriage at home after their lessons.”

After careful research, Henriques selected two horses for purchase at a combined in-person and phone auction, but they sold for well above the asking price. 

“We threw everything we had at it — the Reeve Foundation grant plus everything our board of directors could give us,” says Henriques. “About an hour after the auction ended, I got a call from the horses’ owner who said he would sell me two horses he had pulled from the auction for the $22,000 I had available for the purchase.” 

The two horses, named Chip and Rowdy, were a lead stagecoach team for the Wells Fargo Historic Stagecoach. It took the horse almost two months to travel from the Colorado auction to Kauai via airplane, truck and boat, with three week-long holdovers for quarantines.  

“These horses have meant everything to our program. You can’t have an equine therapeutic program without horses,” says Henriques. “It is important to have horses that can be ridden and driven. Chip and Rowdy are dual-purpose creatures we can use for all our programs.”

Both horses participate in lessons about two to three times a day. The facility is equipped with accessible mounting ramps and multi-person transfers with assisted lifts to help riders get in and out of the carts and carriages. In 2023, 48% (over 200) of HHK’s therapeutic lessons, both mounted and driving, were for individuals with functional paralysis. 

In addition to Chip and Rowdy, HHK has two miniature horses who do cart work and four other full-sized horses. There are multiple trails on the property, including a carriage trail around a one-acre pond. HHK is also building a carriage arena with the hope of completing the project later this year. 

"HHK’s arena location with its uninterrupted view of Nounou Mountain, secluded pond trails and forested foreground just a block from the ocean sets the tone for riders to have a clear mind and focused intentions — creating a spiritual and meditative experience,” says Henriques. “We hope to get 15 years of service from Chip and Rowdy, so the impact from this Reeve Foundation grant will be felt well into the future.”

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.