DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Above, the Wounded Warriors Unit from Kaneohe are volunteering to clear portions of a wooded area at the riding center at Da Ranch, run by Wayne and Patti Silva, to create a sensory trail for equine therapy for children with special needs. Cpl. Matthew Carhart, left, and HM3 Devin Kelly helped clear the trail Thursday. Below, the Silvas stood on part of the trail that was just cleared.
Clear path to recovery
Injured isle Marines clear a horse trail that will help special-needs kids
Kaneohe Marines healing from combat injuries are helping handicapped isle children heal -- on horses.
The Wounded Warriors Unit at Kaneohe is volunteering at Manawale'a Riding Center, hacking through woods in Waimanalo to create a sensory trail.
"I really like the project," said Lance Cpl. Adrian Dillie, 23, of Phoenix, recovering from surgery on his shoulder since returning from Iraq in October. "I'm not getting yelled at -- 'gunfire.'"
And the project "hits home" because he has a nephew with autism, Dillie said.
Marines recovering from injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan chose the project because they were excited about helping children with special needs, said 1st Lt. Nicholas Perkins, officer in charge of the unit.
The volunteer activity "is an awesome way for Marines who may be wounded or injured to still provide a good service," said Maj. Kurt Schmidhamer, incoming officer in charge of the unit. "The community in Hawaii has been so good to us, it's a way to give back."
Char's wife, Ana, had marked the trail, but the riding center didn't have the resources to clear the brush, said Patti Silva.
Silva and her husband, Wayne, are board members and officers of the riding center with the Chars.
"Horses have such fantastic intuitiveness about bonding," she said, adding that they're "a perfect match" with wounded military warriors and physically or developmentally disabled children.
Exercises with movements and stretching can be done on a horse without the rider even realizing it, she said.
Silva said the sensory trail is mostly for visually impaired, autistic and higher-functioning-disabled children. It will have different footings, such as gravel and wood, and be equipped with items hanging from trees or in boxes that the children can feel or reach for, she said.
They might have to stretch or duck to avoid "noodles," bells or beads hanging from a branch, and they can feel their texture, she said. "Balance and tactile things are very stimulating."
The center provides therapeutic riding for children from Easter Seals, Shriners Hospital, Kapiolani Medical Center, Variety School and other organizations. It recently held a camp for 30 kids in the area in first through third grades with self-esteem, bonding or other issues, Silva said.
"They have very, very strong thumbs from playing video games, but they can't do a lot of stretching. ... They can't bend," she said. Many of the children also are nonverbal, she added.
"We try to address the entire body," she said, describing games and exercises to teach posture, balance and leadership skills. They children learned to mount and groom horses and created stick ponies for a rodeo.
Perkins worked with Chris Marvin, veterans outreach coordinator for The Mission Continues, to arrange the trail project. The Mission Continues, a project of the Center for Citizen Leadership, has established relationships with 16 Oahu charitable organizations.
Marvin, who will become national executive director for The Mission Continues this month, said the wounded warriors will go next to the USS Missouri Memorial to refurbish the 5-inch machine gun. Later this summer, they will help the Muscular Dystrophy Association Hawaii with a charitable golf outing.
An Army captain working on the trail with the Marines, Marvin said he has been recovering 3 1/2 years from injuries in a Black Hawk helicopter crash. Both legs, one foot, one arm and the side of his face were broken, he said.
A national association for handicapped riders is developing a national Horses for Heroes program for wounded service personnel and veterans, Silva said, adding that she hopes to get the Marine trailblazers on horses when they finish the project.
"I've been wanting to learn," Dillie said.