Hoku’s Legacy Riders: Teaching next generation of paniolo on Big Island
January 7, 2023, 6:30 AM HST
In the late-90s, when Hoku Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander was 10-years-old, she so desperately wanted a horse that she entered into a nearly impossible contract with her mother: One year of hard work. No whining. Ask for nothing.
A year later, she purchased her first horse, a philly named Faith.
Faith would be the first of many horses for Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander to pour her love into.
Today, Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander shares her horses — a whopping 22 — with kids as part of her operation, Hoku’s Legacy Riders.
At her 28-acre ranch along Stainback Highway in the hills of Mountain View, she teaches keiki on the Big Island how to ride.
Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander’s youngest rider, her daughter who is now 5-years-old, began lessons as a toddler at just 2.
She also teaches youth how to care for the horses, so they can one day raise their own. She encourages constant vigilance, patience, hard work and consistency.
“A lot of these things we learn in life, horses can teach you,” Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander says.
When Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander purchased Faith, she didn’t know Faith was too young and small for Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander’s age and weight. After learning she was hurting Faith for the year they rode together, Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander traded Faith into better hands. This is why she wants her riders to understand the full scope of owning horses, so they don’t hurt their animals.
Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander purchased the ranch in December 2021, but has yet to give it a name. She want one that is positive and strong, not unlike her operation and the students she trains.
While recently watching her students ride laps around the ranch’s arena, Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander said: “I wish I could do this for free. It’s my passion.”
Ka’awaloa-Eiflander follows in a long tradition of lauded paniolo (cowboys/cowgirls) in the Hawaiian Islands. In the heart of the Pacific, they have been wrangling cattle and stewarding the land long before cowboys ever gained fame in the “Wild West.”
After the introduction of longhorn cattle to the islands in 1793 — when Captain James Vancouver presented King Kamehameha I with six cows and a bull — they ran rampant for a decade. It wasn’t until King Kamehameha III witnessed the skill exemplified by the original cowboys, Mexican vaqueros, that he intervened. He invited three men back to the Big Island to teach his people how to ranch in an effort to bring the cow population under control.
Hawaiians took to the practice. Aided by their intimate relationship with the land, they nurtured a distinct ranching culture that took the unique volcanic landscape and humid climate into account. For the last 200 years, paniolo have interwoven themselves into the fabric of Hawaiʻi.
As rodeos and paniolo gained prominence, women have carved a space for themselves. Women learned to ride astride, rather than sidesaddle, alongside the men. Eventually, pāʻū riding turned into a form of pride and pageantry.
Women on horseback have learned the assertion required to control thousand-pound beasts, while continuing to exhibit grace and dignity. Paniolo women have always embodied generosity and perseverance, and in the 20th century, one such woman championed those attributes in Waimea: Anna Leialoha Lindsey Perry-Fiske.
She learned to rope and ride at a young age, becoming the steward and matriarch of Anna Ranch in Waimea. Outcompeting her brothers and inheriting the family’s property in an era dominated by men, she was a celebrated pāʻū rider and earned the title “the First Lady of Ranching.”
Steve Bess, trustee at Anna Ranch, describes her as “a little woman, but when she walked into the room, you knew. She was a force.”
After her passing in 1995, Lindsey’s legacy and 110-acre ranch were preserved with the opening of the Anna Ranch Heritage Center in 2007. The ranch was a gift to the community and is open to the public. It was placed on the Hawai’i State Register of Historic Places in 2005 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
During her life, Lindsey spent two decades in Hilo as a parks commissioner and entrepreneur, sharing her knowledge and teaching others to wrangle and ride.
Today, Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander is teaching the new generation of paniolos with some help from her cousin, Kāhealani Walker.
Walker reminisced about begging her parents to spend the weekend at her cousin’s house riding and watching horse movies.
Now, with credentials in psychology, Walker helps out at the ranch. Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander focuses on the kids’ technique, Walker is there to check in on the kids’ psyche. Together, they make a powerful team.
Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander said she goes to great lengths to make her lessons accessible, despite the rising costs. She spends $1,400 a week on feed for her animals, many of which are rescues, including some cattle from the 2018 Cow Rescue, facilitated by the now Hawaiʻi Animal Kuleana Alliance. Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander relies on donations and seasonal fundraisers to keep her operation and ranch going.
Despite this, she continues to offer lessons for only $40. Her young pupils receive 2-hour learning sessions every day after school. Walker provides transportation to students who need it.
Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander begins with the groundwork, and builds her mentees’ skills from there. As they progress, students can choose to compete in rodeos or learn how to train their own horses.
When asked about what draws women into rodeos and ranching, Kaʻawaloa-Eiflander said: “It’s just something in their blood.”
The best way to contact Hoku’s Legacy Riders for lessons is by phone: 808-765-5624.