While most students are on their way to school or work, Ka’ainoa Fernandez is preparing for his first horse ride of the day.
By 8 a.m., he’s grooming and saddling his first mount. One of his three jobs is to exercise and help train horses.
A 2016 WCC graduate, Fernandez, 22, has been riding horses since he was six. The youngest of seven siblings, he grew up in Waimānalo. He said many people knew of his house as the Jackson Chameleon house because his father sold chameleons for many years.
His parents, Manny and Lorna Fernandez, met as teachers at Seagull Preschool in Kailua. He inherited his love for animals from his dad.
“We always had the best pets growing up from dogs to turtles to parrots,” he said. “We even had a pet goat.”
When he was six, he lost his mother to a long battle with cancer. His father was left to raise two young children. While working various jobs like a painter, janitor, outreach worker and school security, his father lived paycheck to paycheck to provide for the family.
“It was not easy for me, but I had to do what I had to to provide for my children,” his father said.
Around that time, Fernandez discovered horses. “I was introduced to horses and immediately knew I loved being around them,” Fernandez said.
Forcing his dad to take him to the stables, Fernandez grew up riding horses at a ranch known as Giddy Up in Waimānalo.
“I loved being at the ranch. I learned everything I could from whoever was around,” he said.
He spent almost every day after school and on the weekends at the ranch. He was able to learn a lot just by observing how other people worked with their horses.
“I got on anything I could get my hands on,” he said. “I always felt like I had this weird connection with horses. I just loved being around them.”
When he was thirteen, he got his first horse. “I was given the best thing I could have imagined, a horse named Pride of Royal Rose,” he said.
Knowing his father could not afford a horse, Fernandez did everything he could to keep Pride. He cleaned stalls, groomed horses, taught kids to ride to pay for horse feed and shoes. He dropped feed for all the horses at Giddy Up every day in trade for a space to keep his horse.
When he was in high school, Fernandez was introduced to local shows. “I won my first and second year end award in Western pleasure and equitation,” he said.
Western pleasure and equitation is a competition at horse shows. Western pleasure evaluates horses on manners and suitability. Equitation is a competition where the rider is evaluated on horsemanship and the rider’s ability to correctly ride a horse.
Throughout high school, he rode and showed a friend’s horse in show jumping while taking lessons when he could.
He graduated in 2012 from Kailua High School and went away to further his education, attending Notre Dame College in Ohio.
After his freshmen year, he decided to return to Hawaiʻi because he missed home too much–and he wasn’t able to ride.
He now rides at A-tri-k, a barn owned by Princess Abigail Kawananakoa.
“I’m super excited and appreciative for this opportunity to be riding for an amazing horseman and trainer, Wayne Shizuro,” he said.
“Kaʻai’s worked hard doing what he loves,” his father said. “And he’s been given a great opportunity to get even better.”
Although Fernandez is a full-time student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and does not know where he will be in ten years, he is certain riding horses will always be a part of his life.
“I will always love riding horses, and I hope one day my kids will too,” he said.
by Taylor James Kipapa, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter