Wheeler Stables provides pastures, clinics for equestrians
January 15, 2010
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - About an hour into a natural horsemanship lesson, Frances Krafft pushed the brim of her low-hanging hat back off her forehead and smiled at the sight and sounds of her noble steed, whinnying proudly as it was led around several barrels in a figure-eight pattern.
The goal on this day was to get Makawao, an American Quarter Horse, to move by its own volition around the obstacles through the Parelli Method of gentle prodding. And for the most part, the animal was complying with each verbal instruction given, despite the fact that it was clearly beginning to tire in the unforgiving early afternoon sun.
Of course, getting Makawao to follow directives wasn't the lone objective of the lesson. Just as importantly, Krafft wanted to provide Makawao, soon to be celebrating her 18th birthday, with yet another reminder "of how good life can be," here, at Wheeler Stables.
"Today is a chance to give her a little something extra to do," explained Krafft, the wife of a retired Air Force officer, as she watched trainer Mike Wedge effortlessly accompany the 1,000-plus pound animal around the barrels positioned within the stables' arena.
"Most of the time, I have her outside in the (nearby) pasture, just being a horse," Krafft continued, "but today is an opportunity for her to learn something new, and to have someone else handle her."
Krafft was one of eight horse owners on hand over the weekend, hoping to better familiarize themselves with the Parelli Method. This holistic approach to horse discipline will be on full display at the Natural Horsemanship Clinic, scheduled for Jan. 23-24, and featuring world-renown and licensed 5-star Parelli instructor David Lichman.
"This is the first event of the year for us out here at Wheeler Stables," explained Wedge, the clinic's organizer. "These (horse owners have been preparing for the event by studying the Parelli Method through the use of video tapes or by listening to different instructors."
Horse owner Keegan Neil, just 10, was back for his second lesson with his steed, Waffles, and already Keegan was enjoying the results. Waffles had long loved to aggressively bang into people with his snout or side of his head, and Keegan was intent on breaking the animal of the annoying habit.
Keegan would repeatedly talk to Waffles, shake the rope halter, every now and then, and occasionally touch the horse with the whip portion of a carrot stick.
"He's really bad when I'm trying to walk him," Keegan said. "I started tapping him on the nose or side of the face, and he really hates that, but he's really slowed down since I started doing this."
Getting horses to alter behaviors through natural approaches is the Parelli way and one of the reasons why famous horse trainers are always willing to host a clinic in Hawaii.
"We're always happy whenever we can have access to a world-class instructor," Wedge said.
Of course, there are other reasons for local horse owners to be pleased. As members of Wheeler Stables, a Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation operation, active duty and retired military personnel, reservists and Department of Defense civilians are admitted to one of the finest equine facilities in all of the state.
Here, recreational opportunities for equestrian activities are as vast as the vegetation-filled acreage, while the cost to board a horse in one of the 42 barns is, comparatively speaking, quite little.
"It costs $100 a month to rent a stable here. That's the cheapest rate anywhere in Hawaii," said Wedge, adding that other boarding stables generally charge over four or five times that amount. Because of the discounted rate, members are required to do most work at the site.
"We have to feed the horses, muck them and take care of their barns. That's the reason why it's such a good deal," said Wedge, adding that manager Les Akeo handles general maintenance of the site.
Members and their animals also have access to a feed store, pasture areas for grazing, light jumping and private riding lessons; to riding trails that snake along old pineapple fields; and to quarterly instructional workshops, like the aforementioned Natural Horsemanship Clinic.
"A lot of our Soldiers and their families come from the Midwest and Western states, and horses are a major part of their lifestyle. So having a place like this is like having a little bit of home," Wedge said.