By Sarah Lyons
There is something truly special and gratifying about being able to work in a field that you love, and even better knowing that your work is benefiting others’ lives, in remarkable ways. And what if you were also blessed to work at an outstanding facility, surrounded by some of the most amazing co-workers?
That’s how I feel being a part of Haku Baldwin Center. It is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization and a beautiful 33-acre equestrian center, located in Makawao, Maui, HI. It’s truly my home away from home.
Founded by Harriet “Haku” D. Baldwin, the Haku Baldwin Center offers a wide range of equestrian programs, horse shows, and special events. Regular lessons and training are also off ered in dressage, hunter/jumper, and western, as well as boarding. But to me, what is most special about Haku Baldwin Center is the range of therapeutic programs offered to the community, including: Therapeutic Horseback Riding, Animal-Assisted Therapy/Activities, Humane Animal Education, and Horsemanship for Veterans. Each program facilitates human-animal interaction for therapeutic benefit, and celebrates the healing bond between people and animals. I couldn’t be more grateful to work at such a special facility.
My personal story begins on the island of Oahu, HI, where I grew up as the youngest of four. My Mom, being an avid hunter rider in her younger days, made sure to have horses and ponies for all of her children to grow up with. Horses have been a part of my life since the day I was born. For me, learning to ride happened in a variety of places: at home on a 24-acre property that my parents were caretakers of, in the endless cane field trails surrounding our property, at 4-H club gatherings, in various island competition arenas, and on the many beaches of Oahu’s North Shore. When it came to learning horsemanship and how to ride, horses were my best teachers, and they truly have shaped the path of my life. I am grateful to be where I am today because of the horses I rode growing up, and all of the lessons they taught me.
When I moved to Maui in 2001, I was just nineteen years old. I brought my 14-year-old mare Misty with me, from Oahu. Misty was a 15 HH Anglo-Arab cross, a phenomenal little horse with a huge heart and a whole lot of class. She was largely part of the reason I moved to Maui, and was the horse by my side at each facility. Her amazing work, teaching countless riders, followed her as she carried on teaching and competing in her later years at Haku Baldwin Center. Misty recently passed away at age 30, honorably, with a 30th birthday party, and thoroughly loved by so many.
A few years after my move to Maui, I was introduced to a talented, green, and very hot 9-year-old, 16 HH Thoroughbred named Moon, who had quite the reputation. He was a very sensitive, over-reactive horse, prone to bucking and spooking. While he was kind and intelligent, Moon had a lack of trust due to a challenging past. So, of course, I fell in love and he became the perfect horse for me! Moon and I became exceptional partners, and together, we worked our way up to competing successfully at Second Level Dressage, schooling Third Level, and in the Hunters & Jumpers Open 3’6″ divisions. He is the horse that inspired my love for dressage and motivated me to start my own business, as a trainer.
The third horse that inspired me, especially in regards to dressage, was a 17 HH 15-year-old Oldenburg/Thoroughbred cross gelding named Walker, who had developed quite a reputation in the islands, being known for rearing, bolting, bucking, biting, and being downright dangerous, particularly on the ground. But since I love a challenge, and seem to have a knack for training difficult horses, I excitedly took him on. He became my next dressage partner, competing up to First Level and schooling Second Level. In the time that I had the pleasure of owning him, Walker earned his good name back, and taught me a tremendous amount about truly harmonizing with an equine. Tragically, I recently lost Walker to a rare bone infection, after just four short years together. I fought for months to save him, but it was not meant to be. Walker has a special place in my heart and will always be fondly remembered.
These three horses, in particular, helped shape the rider and trainer that I am today, and in more ways than one have helped shape the path that led me to Haku Baldwin Center. The same can be said for each facility that I worked at, and the experiences I had along the way. I began working at this facility in 2012, when I received an offer to direct the Therapeutic Riding Program, as the current director was looking to retire. With much excitement, I graciously accepted the offer. With my background in therapeutic riding many years prior, and being certified with NARHA (now PATH Intl) as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor, I was pleased to head Haku Baldwin Center’s Therapeutic Riding Program as director. This program currently serves 24 children with special needs, in weekly therapeutic riding sessions, using our team of wonderful therapeutic program horses. Our participants gain tremendous benefit from their weekly sessions and we have a growing team of wonderful individuals, both staff members and volunteers, who help make this program so successful.
Soon after I joined the team at Haku Baldwin Center, I also became one of the two riding instructors to offer training and lessons. Because I had been teaching and training dressage, hunter/jumper, and western for over fifteen years at various facilities, I was honored to begin teaching at such a renowned facility.
Being in the ring teaching and training is something that never gets old for me. I absolutely love being able to guide riders and horses toward a better partnership. Regardless of the discipline, a strong foundation of good horsemanship is at the core of all my teaching and training.
In my time at Haku Baldwin Center, I also helped inspire the development of our newest addition, the Horsemanship for Veterans Program, where we offer natural horsemanship lessons to active duty, disabled, and retired service men and women. As the director of this program, I am also one of the instructors and have close interaction with the veterans. Consequently, this program has become very close to my heart. It has given back to our participants in ways that I could never have imagined. Our participants have become part of Haku Baldwin Center’s ohana (“family”), and this program has been amazingly positive and inspiring for so many of them.
Haku Baldwin’s other therapeutic programs are also dear to my heart. The Animal-Assisted Therapy/Activities programs visit over 400 patients monthly, including patients and seniors in hospitals, rehabilitation, convalescent, assisted-care, pediatric, adult day care, and Alzheimer facilities. This program utilizes dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks, and chickens for visitation and therapy, enhancing the life of each patient that it serves. The Humane Animal Education program is offered to preschools, elementary schools, special education, and special interest groups such as 4H, girl scouts, and boy scouts, where they discuss the responsibilities and needs of taking care of rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks, chickens, horses, goats, dogs, cats, and pet fish.
All these programs make Haku Baldwin Center one of the most unique facilities on Maui. This organization gives back to the community on a daily basis, in the most genuine ways. We have an amazing group of staff and volunteers who make these programs possible, including a phenomenal general manager who keeps everything running smoothly and all of us working together, hand-in-hand. I am honored to work alongside each and every one of them.
Keeping everything in balance is my greatest challenge, but with so many wonderful and inspiring things that I am a part of, I wouldn’t change any of it. I am truly grateful to be part of such an amazing facility that has inspired me to grow professionally, and give back in the equestrian community.