In Waimanalo, at-risk youth are learning the sport of kings — and loving it

WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In Waimanalo, polo is being taught to students who had never stood by a horse — and didn't even know what polo is.

At the Therapeutic Horsemanship of Hawaii, Olomana School students are taken completely out of their comfort zones to not only learn how to ride a horse, but also hit a ball with a mallet while they're riding.

"It's pretty difficult right now hitting the ball, but you just gotta practice pretty much on your swinging," said Olomana School student Woodland Naihe.

The students attend Olomana School, a school for alternative learning that's geared toward students with past issues. Attendees might have been regularly absent, have behavioral issues at school or home or were even caught fighting.

But at the Waimanalo arena, they are just focused on playing polo.

"I was scared. I had a hard time the first time getting on the horse," said Olomana School student Micaiah Lyman.

Lyman started attending Olomana because she was fighting at her old school, but those issues are behind her thanks to her horse Billy.

"I actually enjoy being with the horses. It just takes things off my mind," said Lyman.

The innovative program started in March, and on May 20 (from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), the students will be the highlight of an exhibition and fundraiser at the Therapeutic Horsemanship of Hawaii.

Instructor Khai Agon, a former professional polo player, understands troubled youth. At 15, he left an abusive home in Hawaii.

"There was drinking and abuse not a whole lot of love maybe tough love and it's something that I can relate to these kids," he said. "I feel they walk a similar path and horses really saved me."

Agon hopes polo leads these students down a better path — and the group has already seen a transformation.

"Literally they were shaking their first day just being scared to get on and they all did it and they've come so far. It's really awesome to see what they've done," said Therapeutic Horsemanship of Hawaii Executive Director Dana Vennen.

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