ESPRIT DE CORPS RIDING ACADEMY
Aina Pono, a gray Arabian/thoroughbred mix, is one of the horses that take visitors through the greenery of Kauai's Moalepe Trail and Halelea Forest Reserve.
More than just horsing around on Kauai
When Dale Rosenfeld yearns to escape from the hubbub of everyday life, she heads for the mountains of central Kauai on horseback.
A Taste of Kauai
» Meet at: Esprit De Corps Riding Academy, 1491 Kualapa Place, Wailua Homesteads, Kauai
» Times: 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Reservations required.
» Cost: $120 per person; includes bottled water. Kamaaina receive a 10 percent discount. Riders must be at least 10 years old and weigh no more than 220 pounds.
» Call: (808) 822-4688
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Web site: www.kauaihorses.com
» Notes: Rides go out rain or shine; rain gear is provided. Socks and long pants are required, and can be rented for $2 and $5, respectively. Riding helmets and boots, also required, are provided at no charge. Trail rides are limited to five guests, and there is a two-person minimum for all rides. Singles may book; others will be added to your ride. Four other rides for experienced riders are available, ranging in length from four to eight hours, and in price from $160 to $375 per person. Call for details about private custom rides, weddings on horseback, riding lessons, pony parties and summer day camps.
"There's a tree up there that I call my grandfather tree," she said. "It's a big old eucalyptus that looks like it has a face. I ride right up to it and touch it and water the moss that grows in the crooks of its branches. There's such an amazing feeling about it -- peace, dignity, strength and wisdom."
Rosenfeld is the owner and lead instructor of Esprit de Corps Riding Academy, which offers trail rides into Kauai's lush interior from its five-acre headquarters in the foothills of Mount Waialeale.
Certified by the American Riding Instructors Certification Program, Rosenfeld has studied with top-level equestrians, including Sally Swift (author of "Centered Riding") and Francois De Ruffieu (author of "The Handbook of Riding Essentials").
She describes herself as "a teacher at heart," and loves introducing greenhorns to horses, which she feels are "the most incredible animals on earth."
Every ride starts with a basic lesson taught by Rosenfeld or one of her guides. Running 30 minutes to an hour depending on participants' ability, the lesson includes time in the arena where everyone practices walking, trotting, turning and halting their horse.
"We want to be sure they have control of their horse before going on the trail," said Rosenfeld. "Even experienced riders appreciate the refresher, and it's extremely helpful for beginners. When most beginners get on a horse without any instruction, they're petrified. They can't enjoy the beauty and excitement of the ride because they're not relaxed and confident in the saddle."
Riding, Rosenfeld said, is a partnership that requires constant communication with the horse through your voice, reins, legs and body position.
"We encourage people to be riders, not passengers. They will enjoy riding so much more if they apply correct techniques and learn how to communicate with their horse. The horses are happier, too, because their riders are partnering with them rather than just sitting on them."
ESPRIT DE CORPS RIDING ACADEMY
Part of a Spiritual Exploration Ride includes communicating and tapping into the spirit of your horse.
AN OPTION for those with no riding experience or who haven't been on a horse in a while is the three-hour, four-mile "Taste of Kauai" ride, which may done at a walk. That said, if the group is game and able, they are allowed to trot and canter.
The route goes along most of the 2.5-mile Moalepe Trail, bordered by native ohia, hibiscus and ferns. "We also see a lot of invasive species like lantana and albizzia," Rosenfeld said. "When Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992, strong winds blew their seeds all over the island. They took root and while they're beautiful, they're overwhelming many of the native species."
Along the way, you can smell eucalyptus leaves, gather wild orchids, and taste strawberry guavas and rose myrtle berries. Waterfalls usually adorn the face of the regal Makaleha mountain range, and famed Sleeping Giant and Mount Waialeale also provide wonderful photo opportunities.
"I've ridden all over the world, and I think Moalepe is the most beautiful trail that I've ever been on," said Rosenfeld.
"The greenery is so thick, you feel as though it's not real, that you're riding in a Hollywood set. After about a mile, you enter the Halelea Forest Reserve, and as the elevation increases, you start seeing deep valleys, mountain peaks and open blue sky. There are no buildings, no signs of civilization anywhere, and for many people that's a rarity."
The Taste of Kauai ride turns around after two miles, near the spot where the Moalepe Trail meets the Kuilau Trail. The longer rides continue on the Kuilau Trail, including the six-hour Spiritual Exploration Ride, which features a half-hour stop for meditation and a snack on a ridge overlooking a gorgeous view of Mount Waialeale.
"It's said that this area is the center of a spiritual vortex, and we open ourselves to all positive possibilities there," said Rosenfeld. "Carol Komitor, founder of the Komitor Method of Healing Touch for Animals, saw a vision there. She encouraged me to offer the ride so others could tap into its special spirit."
Before riders leave the stable, they focus on an intention -- something they want to release or attain in their lives. They wrap Hawaiian salt in a ti leaf and carry it to the ridge where they dismount, meditate and cast out their offering.
Rosenfeld asserts there's no better place for healing and contemplation than there among the birds, flowers and trees.
"Some people consider it to be one of the most spiritual places on earth, like Sedona," she said. "A couple celebrated their wedding anniversary in this way. Another person released the ashes of her beloved dog there."
Just being on horseback can bring a similar sense of peace, joy and fulfillment.
"Riding requires you to be completely in tune with another living creature," said Rosenfeld. "Because of that, you learn to become a centered, mindful, self-confident person. I grow every day that I'm around horses."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.