Paige DePonte with her daughter, Maurissa DePonte. / Courtesy Paige DePonte

Paige DePonte empowers local youth through equine-assisted services.

From a globe-trotting career as an award-winning documentarian and high-fashion photographer to a mixed-media artist who owns and operates Triple L Ranch and Bully’s Burgers in Kula, Paige DePonte has experienced myriad lifetimes in one.

However, the roots of this success story trace back to a childhood marked by adversity. Alcoholism, divorce, drugs, sexual assault and other types of abuse tarnished her formative years while growing up on Oʻahu — energies that carried into her adult life.

“I hate the word survivor. I don’t like the word victim. I like the word warrior,” DePonte said, pointing to tattoos on her arm of “warrior” in script alongside a symbol that represents the sexual assaults she’s endured.

As someone who started going through complex trauma at a young age, DePonte knows how impactful it can be for children’s trauma to be acknowledged and to be given tools to cope with triggers and heal.

“Often with childhood abuse, the individual seeks out unconsciously repetitive trauma or self-harm, and that’s usually because they don’t get the help that they need,” she explained, noting she didn’t fully understand the depth of her trauma until she was 50 years old.

After choosing sobriety over 10 years ago, DePonte has gone through recovery and multiple types of therapy, but the most impactful part of her healing journey has been equine-assisted services.

“During the pandemic, I was around my horses the whole time and I noticed a significant shift,” said DePonte, who equated this recognition to an epiphany. She then set out to make this healing modality accessible to those who need it most.

Courtesy Paige DePonte

Though the Healing Hearts experiential learning program exists through her other venture, Triple L Ranch, DePonte wanted to create something specifically for children ages 11 to 17, which she said is an underserved demographic.

“It’s a very interesting age, 11 to 17 — that very important stage where you’re building that platform to become an adult,” DePonte said. “If trauma has not been dealt with in a real-time sense, meaning dealing with triggers … it’s just gonna be a snowball effect.”

And, thus, Spirit Horse Ranch was born.

Officially opened in June with her daughter, the nonprofit organization intends to offer its services to local keiki for free. The program employs Equine Assisted Learning-certified professionals who have been trained in trauma-informed care.

These facilitators apply Natural Lifemanship principles to their equine-assisted services, which are monitored using HeartMath, a sensor-based technology that helps improve heart coherence.

During a session, participants are guided through a breathing exercise to help regulate their heart rate and, in turn, their emotions. This is paired with EAL-specific and other calming activities like brushing, walking and speaking to one of the ranch’s “healing horses.”

DePonte has a special bond with each horse, but especially Sugar, who has helped her through many heavy experiences. “She was my confidant, and she really helped me,” DePonte said, noting that Sugar’s expertise is in challenging clients to try harder.

Aside from her horses, a few other things in DePonte’s life that provide a sense of peace are spending time with her family, surfing, painting and writing.

Her debut memoir, “Nobody’s Girl: An Incredible Story About Finding Freedom,” details her journey out of addiction and into recovery. The story serves as an inspiring testament to her resilience and determination to shine a guiding light for others seeking their own path to healing. (