Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Some teachers impart words and numbers, others proverbs and wisdom. Longtime Westwind Community Barn riding instructor Jane Kawasaki leaves a legacy of compassion and care as she embarks on a new endeavor in equine-facilitated coaching in Washington at the end of the month.
Kawasaki, a Los Altos Hills resident, said she fantasized about forgoing college to purchase a horse but instead pursued an international career and raised three daughters. Whether by luck or fate, she eventually realized her dream as director of Westwind’s Year Round Riding Program in 2002.
“It just happened,” Kawasaki said of the town’s decision to hire her to develop and manage riding programs at Westwind – the 15-acre facility owned by the town – after she volunteered as part-time barn director.
With a vision of fostering a “continuum of learning,” Kawasaki and Los Altos Hills Parks and Recreation Committee co-chairwoman Rebecca Hickman launched the Year Round Riding Program. At the time, 4-H Riding for the Handicapped was the only public program available for riders, and Kawasaki remembers borrowing horses for lessons. With support from the town, they added horses and on-site infrastructure.
“Kids who didn’t have a horse could lease a horse,” Hickman said of the service that few other barns provide.
From occasional summer camps 10 years ago to a bustling year-round program that engages more than 100 students annually, supporters said Kawasaki’s vision and passion gave root to the community asset that Westwind remains today.
“She drove the program herself and devoted countless hours to making this a joyful and meaningful activity that is a cornerstone of the town’s recreational program.” said former Los Altos Hills Mayor Mike O’Malley.
A young girl hovered around Kawasaki as she orchestrated the post-ride routine of horse washing and grooming during a recent summer camp at the barn. When several students sneaked away to eat their lunches before leading their horses back out to pasture, Kawasaki called them back to complete the job.
“For me, the emphasis is not just riding well, but the whole picture of good horsemanship,” she said of the values she instills in her students.
Over the years, Kawasaki estimated that she’s instructed between 500 and 600 riders at Westwind. Although some of her students advance into competitive horsemanship, she measures her success by the care her riders show to their horses.
“If you stand next to a horse and you’re breathing alongside it,it's a very calming experience,” said Simon Patmore-Zarcone, 14, a rider who began taking private lessons from Kawasaki after she introduced him to horses at one of her summer camps.
Although Patmore-Zarcone once feared horses, Kawasaki always paired him with horses that accommodated and challenged his skills while simultaneously keeping him safe. There have been no major accidents during her tenure at the barn – an accomplishment she attributes in part to how much respect the horses receive.
When asked the secret to her teaching success, Kawasaki passed the reins to her equine companions.
“The horse is the main teacher, and I just happen to be there to call everybody in,” she said.
To stay in touch with Kawasaki and for more information, visit windhorses.net.
For more photos of Kawasaki teaching riders at summer camp, click here.