October 2016

Lawton Stables: Connecting with Animals and Community

Author: Kitty Bartell

Lawton Stables, located in the heart of Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, is home to a community of animals whose impact on their guests never fails to amaze owner Didi Summers. “What has surprised me is how much joy animals bring to people—adults and children.” Prior to buying the stables in 2008, Summers found herself frequently driving by with her children thinking, “I could do a little better.” As she renewed and renovated the facility into the gorgeous community-centric place it is today, Summers created a much-improved home for the animals; committing herself and her resources to the care and keeping of the menagerie entrusted to her and her team.

Summers described the Lawton Stables herd of trail horses as tremendously, amazing animals. “They are all independent, sweet horses.” During the summer season the horses are kept plenty busy providing hour-long trail rides for guests through the 600+ acres of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Summers credits their overall good-naturedness with careful selection, experienced trail guides, consistent expectations, and getting well-deserved breaks in the winter at the stable’s “holiday” farm in Bluffton. “They have a great life. We’re very consistent with the way we bring them home. None of them are barn sour (see sidebar). We teach everyone how to pull on the reigns, and we watch them all the time they’re riding to make sure the horses are treated well. Also, if a horse doesn’t work out for us we pass them on to other farms; no qualms. We give them away to someone who will give them a good home.”

From the beginning Summers planned to bring Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) to Lawton Stables. “I was looking for a project. It made a lot of sense because we have this wonderful trail herd. They needed something to do in the winter, and the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), has evidence-based research showing that EAL programs improve motor coordination and create positive outlooks in its participants.”

“We have families who come to our resort community who have special needs children,” Summers said. “There should be a place for those children where they can have their own activities; where they can have fun, grow and learn.” The EAL program at Lawton Stables is operated through Wish Upon a Horse, a non-profit founded by Summers. “We’re having more and more families who come to Hilton Head just because of this program.” In addition to the programs offered to island visitors, 8-week EAL sessions are scheduled free of charge to local special needs children during the off-season.

The Wish Upon a Horse EAL program at Lawton Stables relies on donations and lots of volunteers. “Depending on the severity of the child’s condition or their needs, we have one to three volunteers per child along with a head instructor,” Summers said. PATH certified head instructor Erin Sullivan interacts with the families prior to scheduling a visit to determine if they fit the program’s mission, and if there are any contraindications to riding.

Wish Upon a Horse is always looking for volunteers; no experience required. “Most volunteers have an affinity for horses and like to be around stables,” Summers said. “However, they do need to be in reasonable shape because if they’re leading a horse or being a side-walker for a child, they may need to have their arms above their head for 20 or 30 minutes. That can be very tiring.” Lawton Stables is also hosting a series of informative sessions through the months of October and November for individuals wanting to learn more about Wish Upon a Horse. “We’re having small local events to let people actually experience the program and possibly give us some help with fundraising.”

In addition to its working herd, Lawton Stables is home to a family of boarded horses where unparalleled care and keeping is standard operating procedure; providing security and peace of mind for both local horse owners and those who are not in the area on a full-time basis. “We’re pretty unparalleled in what we offer. We have proper footing in the arenas. We keep them watered and they are crowned in order to drain properly, so when a horse’s hoof lands it is protected with not too much sinking,” Summers said.

Under the direction of boarding barn manager Haley Zimmerman and the stable’s professional trainers, all the horses are turned out every day, are supplied with highly nutritious Timothy Hay brought in from Pennsylvania, and receive highly skilled veterinary care. “This is a lifestyle; it’s a beautiful environment,” Summers said. “Haley has a degree in equine management. She really pays attention and knows about all the horses. She’s really hands-on
, lives right across the street, and is with them seven days a week.”
“We have happy people here all the time,” Summers said. Much of that joy is generated by Lawton Stables small animal farm, where everyone is welcome to interact with the residents free-of-charge; deer, goats, mini cattle and mini donkeys, pigs, alpacas, chickens. But no resident of Lawton Stables has captured more hearts or received more fan mail than Harley the Clydesdale, found strolling the pasture daily; interacting with both four-legged and two-legged friends. “The first time we brought Harley in, I think to see the farrier, we got twenty calls. Where’s Harley? What happened to Harley?” Harley and all his mates are doing just fine. After all, it’s a very happy barnyard at Lawton Stables.

Lawton Stables is located in Sea Pines Resort at 190 Greenwood Drive, Hilton Head Island. For more information about programs and opportunities or to make reservations, please call (843) 671-2586 or visit lawtonstables.com.

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