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Hawai'i Preparatory Academy's Equestrian Program is a unique and enriching experience for the riding students fortunate enough to enroll in it. The program is available to any HPA student (for an additional fee) regardless of their riding ability, and the extremely experienced staff is prepared to meet the needs of all the students, from absolute beginners to advanced riders. Classes are offered for High School and Middle School students several days a week, and there is also a special "Friday Riding" class for younger students ages 8-11. Other classes include a special summer 3-day intensive and the Summer School Riding Program. While the students are never pressured to compete, the Equestrian Program does offer the students opportunities for competition by hosting horse shows and play days. The Program also offers an annual horseback camping trip to a remote cabin on the slopes of Mauna Kea. Many students have found this to be an unforgettable experience, something they remember all their lives
Instruction includes a complete program where the students learn to handle the horses from the ground up – catching and haltering their horse of the day, grooming protocol, proper tacking up of the horse, care of tack and equipment, as well as the riding lessons themselves. Riders who gravitate towards a particular discipline will receive additional training in that format. Students graduating from this program can ride anywhere in the world and feel confident that they have a solid foundation in a variety of equestrian skills, including classic dressage, show jumping, hunters, cross country jumping, polo, and trail riding. A number of graduates have gone on to successful equestrian careers.
The herd of horses used for the HPA Equestrian Program has been bred, born, and trained on campus, and because of that they are very safe. Shortly after arriving in Waimea in 1957, Dick Solmssen began HPA's Equestrian Program and has continued as the director for over 50 years. Under Dick's direction the herd that started out with six horses provided by St. James Episcopal Church (the site of the original riding program) has been steadily upgraded with some very good bloodlines from Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Warm Blood, Morgan, and our own uniquely wonderful Big Island breed – the Mauna Kea. Because of the diverse nature of the herd, students have the unusual opportunity to ride many different types of horses allowing them a much richer riding experience than is common at a traditional barn.
The HPA horses are multi-disciplined and also very safe. All the school horses have been well trained in polo, jumping, dressage, trail riding, and even some Western riding by Dick and the Equestrian Program staff consisting of Judy Folk and Laura Rose, who have decades of riding, training, and coaching experience. Judy joined the Program in 1969 and Laura joined in 2009, both of whom are long time Waimea residents. Solmssen says, "Our program is extremely safe because by the time we have our horses trained, they're really reliable. We can put every one of our students on a horse that's suitable for their skill level. There aren't many horses like ours in the world." Another unique aspect of the HPA Equestrian Program is that, because the horses are born on campus, the students have a chance to witness the training of the young horses literally from "Day 1". More advanced students may also have the opportunity to participate in the training.
For so many reasons, the HPA Equestrian Program is truly "No Ka Oi"!