Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography
Generosity is the soul of all great teachers. Whether teaching in a classroom or teaching by example, sharing knowledge, experience, and resources are the hallmarks of society’s best educators. Hilton Head Island residents Didi and Andrew Summers are teachers by example rather than by profession, merging a vision and a dream with their backing, building (or rather, rebuilding) Lawton Stables in the heart of Sea Pines Resort into an epicenter for the love of learning.
Whether by design, or happy accident, the Summers are following in the footsteps of teachers Eliza Summers (not a relation … that we know of) and Julia Benedict, who arrived on the island in 1867, setting up a school in Lawton Plantation (now Sea Pines), where they taught freed slaves in the post-Civil War era. Today, Lowcountry residents and visitors are welcomed to Lawton Stables, a splendid, state-of-the-art, destination, where on the very site of that first school, lessons are learned and laughter and the love of animals are taught daily.
Lawton Stables’ mission is simple: to provide a safe and fun environment for people of all ages to enjoy horses, animals, and nature. Fulfilling this mission began with the Summers’ purchase of the stables and land in 2008, followed by a monumental renovation of the facilities. The renewal of the property has included two new riding arenas, a new barn, irrigated grounds and paddocks, raised pastures, a rebuilt and restored small animal farm, and a welcome center.
Offering trail rides and pony rides, Lawton Stables extends a friendly paw or hoof to friends and devoted followers, where on any given day, gentle exchanges between humans and horses occur over the fences surrounding the grounds.
“They saw a need for it,” said Ali Pauluhn, director of student relations, of the Summers’ vision for the stables, “especially in the care and condition of where the animals are being kept. They wanted to make it a destination for people—kind of a gem within Sea Pines. The small animal farm is free and open to the public, and guests are welcome to bring carrots, apples, and sugar cubes for the horses. You can feed anyone not wearing a saddle; the trail horses and ponies love it.”
Callie, an abandoned fawn, resides at Lawton Stables, along with Camilla the chicken and a host of other animals.
The paddocks and small animal farm are home to horses and all manner of four-legged friends. “Callie the deer was an abandoned fawn who is best friends with our rooster, Sarah,” Pauluhn said. “When he was born, they thought he was a chicken, but the name stuck. You’ll see them hanging out together. There are two miniature panda cattle, Esmerelda and Francesca; Elvis the billy goat; Camilla and Gloria, the chickens; four alpacas; Cisco and Pedro, two mini donkeys; eight other goats, including triplets Peanut, Butter, and Jelly; Juliette and Beauty the pigs; and Clydesdale draft horse, Harley, the official greeter and mascot of the stables. Always vying for carrots and apples, he’s beloved.”
Guided trail rides through the palmetto- and live oak-canopied, 600-plus-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve are a quintessential and educational Lowcountry experience for ages 8 and up of all ability levels. Reservations are required. Shetland pony rides are available every day from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. for children 18 months to seven years who are able to ride without assistance. No reservations are required.
Utilizing the exceptional facilities, and in keeping with their educational moniker, Lawton Stables is also home to the International Riding Academy and Wish Upon a Horse Therapeutic Riding Center. “The IRA is a fulltime sports academy for advanced junior equestrians,” Pauluhn said. “The goal is to be successful at a top level as a junior equestrian moving into the college realm and even beyond that to the professional level. Partnering with Hilton Head Prep and Heritage Academy for academics, the IRA is for the rider who wants to be training every day, wants to be showing on a high level circuit, and also wants somewhat of a normal high school experience.”
The gift shop at Lawton Stables carries logoed shirts, horse and barn related toys and ice cream for hot summer days.
An IRA education goes well beyond riding, jumping, and showing, with theory lessons that may include working with stable veterinarian Dessie Carter learning how to care for their horses, including how to take and read x-rays, vitals, and animal anatomy; or learning about feed and supplements from Purina Nutrition School certified feed provider Ed Patterson. “Our feed room is like a chemistry lab,” Pauluhn said. “All the students are fully responsible for their horses. It’s more than riding; it’s horsemanship.”
Wish Upon a Horse is a 501(3)(c) non-profit therapeutic riding program, created by the Summers and Pauluhn, designed to serve the local special needs population during the Lowcountry’s off-season. “We have lots of wonderful, kid-friendly, very rideable horses—‘bomb-proof,’ we like to call them—that we maintain year around who are really only highly used in the summer,” she said.
The riding program offers weekly lessons during the school year, free of charge to students from Hilton Head’s elementary, middle, and high school special needs classrooms with Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship certified instructors, along with the assistance of 20-plus core volunteers. Adult riders from Programs for Exceptional People, as well as other physically challenged individuals who experience benefits from riding and spending time with animals, also participate in the charity’s endowments.
One hundred percent reliant on fundraising, donations, and grants, Wish Upon a Horse hosts an annual Open Door Benefit at Lawton Stables with an elegant wine and cheese event and silent auction, summer movie nights with the concession proceeds going to the charity, and selling horse shoes from the stable’s herd. “Always very popular, the horseshoes sell for $5, with Harley’s going for $25,” Pauluhn said. “There are never enough of Harley’s shoes to go around.”
The love of learning and of animals runs deep at Lawton Stables, fueled by visionary teachers willing to share their knowledge, passions, and resources. The grass is green, the bridles and stirrups are waiting, and Harley and his posse are at the gate. Saddle up!
Lawton Stables is located at 190 Greenwood Drive, in Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island. For more information, please call or visit Lawton Stables at (843) 671-2586 or lawtonstables.com; International Riding Academy at (843) 671-2686 or iridingacademy.com; and Wish Upon a Horse at (843) 671-2586 option 4, or wishuponahorsehhi.org.