Native Intelligence: Kaua‘i

Serious Horseplay

Story by Coco Zickos. Photos by Mallory Roe.

A long-legged dark bay named Bailey snorts with each stride, moving in tandem with her rider, Jessica Fredericks. The thoroughbred’s coat glistens with sweat as she canters around the arena, heading toward a three-foot jump. Together, Bailey and Jessica make English horseback riding look easy. Leaping over jumps with Bailey feels “like sleeping in your own bed,” says Jessica, a World Equestrian Games bronze medalist.

Jessica cofounded Garden Island Equestrian, a riding school in Princeville, Kaua‘i, with her sister, Susan. Both are well acquainted with the dedication and skill required to master the art of English horseback riding. “Getting a 1,200-pound animal to willingly jump is quite an accomplishment, not to mention an adrenaline rush,” says Susan, also a competitive rider and former assistant trainer.

Before the sisters arrived on Kaua‘i’s equestrian scene about two years ago, riding on the Garden Isle was mostly Western, the rough-and-tumble style seen in the ranching and rodeo world of paniolo (cowboys). English riding is different: Smaller saddles mean that riders are more intimately connected to their horses. The style of riding, which originated with military cavalry, makes it look as if the rider isn’t sending any signals to the horse. One theory is that the near-telepathic communication between horse and rider may have allowed soldiers to work with weapons like swords, lances or guns while staying balanced on their mounts. “There’s a harmony between rider and horse that goes beyond everything I knew before,” says Morgana Havas, who grew up riding Western and was introduced to English riding at GIE two years ago. “Your elegant body position follows centuries of tradition and allows you and the horse to get the best performance. Soon enough you get to jump with your horse, and that makes you feel like you’re flying.”

English riding is difficult to master, and the Fredericks sisters teach students of all ages. The sisters presented the island’s first horse show in decades last year, complete with hunter, jumper and dressage competitions, and they plan to hold more. They also started the island’s first Pony Club, and they hope to eventually create a Kaua‘i equestrian community on par with those on the Mainland.