Winnie Taylor and one of her miniature horses, Fran

By Yvette Morrissey.

Kylie Taylor, Canterbury, is using the healing power of horses to help special needs and troubled children. She recently opened Sunnyvue Lodge respite care to give special needs children and their parents a well-deserved break. 

It was a clear, sunny evening in West Melton, Canterbury, when I first met Kylie Taylor. Driving past horses in the neighbouring paddocks and the beautifully crafted sign bearing the name ‘Sunnyvue Lodge’, I was greeted by Kylie and her eight year-old daughter, Winnie Taylor.

Winnie is a special girl. She has a cheeky grin, and chatted away to me, the stranger, happily.Winnie has cerebral palsy, a special kind that even the doctors can’t put their finger on.

“The doctors have done heaps of tests on her to try and figure out what is wrong,” says Kylie. “She’s a specialists dream.”

Cerebral palsy is basically a blanket term used to describe a group of non-progressive disorders caused by damage to the areas of the brain that affect a person’s ability to control movement and posture. The difference with Winnie is her condition has worsened over time.

“She had a CT scan a while ago which showed there was more damage to her brain than there should be,” says Kylie.

Initially Winnie could walk with the assistance of a walker, but now she is refined to a wheelchair.


Sunnyvue lodge gives special needs children and parents a well-deserved break


Having a child with cerebral palsy as well as working with special needs children inspired Kylie to transform her 10 acre lifestyle block into a respite centre.

“I knew this would be a fantastic place for these children to visit.”

The respite centre gives special needs children and their parents a well-deserved break.

“We have parents that send their troubled kids out here because they need a break, and they spend a day out here and when they go home they’re completely different kids. They sleep a lot better because their brain is activated by all the different activities they can do here,” says Kylie.

Horses have always been a big part of Kylie’s life, so it made sense to incorporate equine therapy into the programme. Kylie grew up with horses; her grandfather had gallopers and her father, Warren Stapleton, owned harness racehorses. She learned to ride by “just jumping on” her father’s standardbreds.

“I was a bit of a cowboy really! Dad always said if you want to ride there are 20 horses in the paddock.”

Kylie and her siblings attended pony club as children, and like many horse mad kids, ended up riding any horses they could find.

“We ended up with a circus pony once. We would go out hacking, get halfway down the road and when he decided he wanted to go back home he would shake his bridle off!”

She evented to one metre when she was young however recently she has focused on showing and dressage for a bit of fun. She says now she is happy to go out and potter.

Kylie’s blended family of six have been living at Sunnyvue lodge for almost a year. They currently own 10 horses- six miniatures and four horses. They also have a variety of other animals, including chickens, goats, dogs, cats, pigs, and rabbits.

Visitors to the respite lodge are able to socialise with all the animals and groom, feed and ride the horses. In the warmer months Kylie takes the children on picnics, treasure hunts, and they can also play outdoor sports such as soccor or rugby. There are endless activities, and the children simply love it there.

“We’ve had a few kids that have come here and they don’t want to leave, so the parents have to bribe them to get them in the car,” she laughs.


It’s easy to think that it’s the children that need the care, but what about those caring for them?

“That’s what the respite is about, it’s giving parents a break and they can relax knowing their kids are safe and having a good time. Parents are really excited when they find out we’re a family owned business,” says Kylie.

Sending special needs kids to Sunnyvue also allows parents to spend time with their other children.

“With special needs children often requiring constant care, this can often impact a parent’s ability to spend quality time with their other children.”


Kylie demonstrating some of the activities the kids can enjoy at Sunnyvue

Sunnyvue Lodge is also comparatively cheaper than other respite centres, which Kylie says suits many parents that find it difficult to pay for care.

“Every parent deserves a break- you do have your moments. It’s not easy, but it is what it is. I wasn’t a strong person to start off with, but I’m determined. They say that we only get these kids because we’re strong, but it’s not true- Winnie’s taught me to be strong, because I have to be strong.”

Not only are horses good therapy for respite kids, they are also therapeutic for those that care for the respite kids on a daily basis.

“I’m not going to put my grief of not having a perfect child on Winnie. We need to make her the best Winnie she can be. If I mope around, or let her do the same in my mind it’s not productive. That’s why I find horses so therapeutic. When things get tough I can go out and squish my head into a horse.”

Kylie also has the support of her husband, Kevin.

“I’m really lucky. Kevin is amazing- he takes care of all the kids which means I can pop away and have a break.”

Kylie and Kevin have also transformed an old stable block into a man cave complete with saddle stools, brown leather chairs and a piano which provides a space for them to relax.


The old stable block has been transformed into a man cave


Before her condition worsened, Winnie used to ride. Now she goes in the cart. The cart was purpose built for Winnie and has a harness that she is strapped into, and while Kylie has full control, Winnie is allowed to steer at times.

“She can drive-to a point- but she gets a bit speed crazy and wants to go fast!” says Kylie. “Fran gets sick of her, and will buck, and Winnie thinks it’s hilarious. She’s been kicked out of the show ring a few times!”

Kylie says that one of the reasons she decided to start a respite centre was because Winnie had such an affinity with animals.

“They would just come up to her,” she says. “They have a sense. I don’t know how to explain it- I can just see it,” says Kylie.

Perhaps the bond between horses and special needs children doesn’t need an explanation. Kylie then told me the story when she got two wild, unhandled miniature horses.

“Winnie just went straight up to them, and buried her face in one of their manes. The horse just stood there. It was amazing.” .


Sunnyvue Lodge is currently accepting donations of animal feed to assist in the running of the respite care. If you are interested in making a donation or sponsoring an animal, contact editor@equineonline.co.nz

You can find out more about Sunnyvue Lodge by liking their Facebook page.

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