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LT Ranch introduces kamaliʻi to equine-assisted therapy

LT Ranch Camp Introduces Kamaliʻi to Equine-Assisted Therapy

LT beneficiary Kū Moku S. takes care of his favorite horse, Teddy, at LT Ranch. PHOTO: JILL BEATTY

LT Ranch is preparing for its next day camp for ʻōpio in mid-March. Located on Hawaiʻi Island, the nature-based camp will use animal-assisted therapy to help youth become more resilient in daily life.

“Healing is a journey, and that is our philosophy,” says Jill Beatty, program director for LT Ranch. “Kamaliʻi (children) at our ranch will learn how to cope with challenges in their lives, using different healing techniques.”

Six camps, four nights each, are planned for later this year. Each session will host up to eight campers.      

Located in paniolo (cowboy) country in Waimea, LT Ranch is worlds removed from the luxe resorts of Kona Coast or the calderas of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park in the southeast. The ambiance at the ranch is calm, with silence occasionally interrupted by boots on gravel as one traverses the property.

“There is something about this land, the peacefulness, and everything that the ranch’s vision is built upon,” Beatty says. She and five team members at the ranch are employed by the Trust to serve as mentors.  

The trust bought the 10-acre property in Waimea during the height of the global pandemic. An existing 3,422-square-foot, two-story house was included in the purchase.   

The acquisition, coupled with social isolation from the pandemic, gave the team ample time to improve the grounds and create new modalities of healing.

Their program follows three pathways: art, ʻāina, and animal-assisted therapy.


LT Ranch has five horses, either rescued or retired animals.

Rusty, 24, an athletic equine, labored hard as a rope horse in his youth.

Gigi, 27, a gentle grandmother, retired two years ago from a local ranch.

Sprocket, 14, an Appaloosa-pony hybrid, joined LT Ranch when his owner moved to the Continent after high school. Sprocket’s kolohe (mischievous) nature resonates with some of the ʻōpio who have behavioral challenges.

Bud, 10, was adopted by the ranch in January. Born in Waipio Valley and abandoned at two months old, Bud was a trail horse for Kohala’s visitor industry.

Teddy, 28, is the veteran and another ranch retiree. No longer used for riding due to arthritis and old age, Teddy teaches children to value kūpuna (elderly) and empathize with people who are perceived as different.  

He is a favorite companion for Kū Moku S., a kamaliʻi in the program who gave the senior horse a creative nickname.

“I love Boss Man T.,” Kū Moku says. “I see his role as the oldest horse, and I relate to him a lot being the oldest brother in my family.” Teddy brings him calm and joy, he says.

Recently, Beatty observed a girl at the ranch, quietly crying and serenading Teddy with You Are My Sunshine. The child struggled with self-worth, and Teddy helped her feel accepted.         

“Horses, being prey animals, just naturally live in the present, really tuning into what's going on around them,” Beatty says as she sprays the horses with Bronco Gold, a coat conditioner and equine fly spray. The scent of citronella slices the air as horsetails swat at flies.

“They model for kamaliʻi how to stay connected to their bodies instead of getting lost in their heads, which can be so powerful in terms of healing.” Beatty, a social worker and counselor certified through the Equine Psychotherapy Institute and trained in Natural Lifemanship, designed the ranch’s equine program to merge youth therapy and skill building with beginner horsemanship.

The intention is to teach social-emotional skills. For example, ʻōpio learn to downshift from stress to relaxation by emulating the body language of a calm horse (lowered head, slow breath, soft eyes, and relaxed muscles.) Or they learn to manage anxiety by pausing, lowering their heads, and taking “horse breaths” (relaxed lips, big belly breath and exhale through the lips while making a raspberry sound.)   The program is about experiential learning with horses, where kamaliʻi learn about themselves and acquire new skills, while being supported by the presence of horses.

Other rescue animals live on the ranch, as well: Goat couple Momi and Bentley, sheep Kiko and Mela, potbelly pigs Bobo and Marmar, and a flock of silky white chickens.

Then there is Henry, 7, a mini mule rescued from a kill pen on the Continent. His zest for life and small stature make him popular with children.


The camps focus on daily themes. Self-Regulation is the theme of day one, followed by Awareness on day two. The rest of the week centers on Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Relationships and Self-Confidence.  

Native Hawaiian culture is inherent to the program. Morning sessions begin with an opening piko and oli (chant), and daily activities honor Hawaiian identity and Waimea's history. Campers are encouraged to follow principles of the Aloha Agreements: onipaʻa (bravery), aloha (kindness), kuleana (responsibility), ʻimiʻike (curiosity), and kūpono (representation).

An art project, for example, might ask campers to design their wahi pana (a sacred place) and share mo’olelo (stories) about their creations. ‘Āina (land)-based activities might teach campers to cultivate kalo (taro) like their ancestors did, centuries ago.

ʻŌpio learn about Hawaiʻi’s last monarch, Queen Liliʻuokalani, who established the trust in 1909 for the benefit of orphan and destitute children. Portraits of the moʻi wahine grace several walls at the ranch, providing a gentle reminder of the generous Queen whose love for her people continues to this day.

When camps are off-season, the ranch hosts after-school activities for tweens and young children. Older teens not in traditional schools have the chance to take part in alternative learning programs.  

All programs at the ranch are managed by local ranch team members who specialize in the pathways of art, ‘āina, and animals.

Their roots run deeply across Hawaiʻi Island. Ranch manager Li’i Purdy and youth specialist Honu Lindsey both come from established local paniolo families. Likeke Teanio Jr., a marriage and family therapist and substance abuse counselor has lived in Hilo since the 1980s. Hilo was where he decided to raise his own family when he became a parent himself. Kai Birdsall, a Master of Social Work Practicum student, settled in Hawaiʻi Island nearly 30 years ago. And Beatty grew up riding horses on a ranch outside of Waimea.

“We all have a love for ranching, animals, nature, and connection,” Beatty says. “It’s a way of being. A lifestyle.”