Hawaiian Pāʻū Riders are Hawaiian women horseback riders who wear long, colorful Hawaiian print skirts and characteristically ride astride, rather than sidesaddle. Both pāʻū rider and horse are adorned with beautiful Hawaiian lei and foliage.

Wahine Pāʻū Rider History

The Hawaiian pāʻū rider equestrian tradition dates back to the early 19th century when horses were introduced to Hawai’i by ship captain Richard J. Cleveland in 1803. It started when King Kamehameha The Great received gifts from foreigners; in the form of horses. Kamehameha wasn’t fond of these horses, partially on account of the amount of food they required. Western sailors began riding horses along the beaches to demonstrate their capabilities and usabilities.

The Hawaiian men and women quickly took to riding, establishing a long equestrian tradition that also includes the paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboy. Because the visiting sailors were men rather than women who might have introduced sidesaddle riding, Hawaiian women joined the men in learning to ride astride. It is said that the acquired traditions started on the ground of Parker Ranch on Big Island of Hawai’i.

Women wore pāʻū to cover and protect their clothing while in route to formal parties and occasions. Royal Aliʻi women dressed and rode horses to formal occasions. Queen Emma was known to ride horseback.

Pāʻū – woman’s skirt, sarong; skirt worn by women horseback riders

The royal tradition declined after the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, but was revitalized in the early 20th century with the establishment of formal riding organizations. Lizzie Puahi organized the first association of women riders for a floral auto parade in 1906. Puahi began the Pāʻū Rider’s Club from her residence in Waikiki, Oahu, and began holding monthly gatherings. They recruited other women and practiced equestrianism. Soon afterwards, Theresa Wilcox began a riding society.

Over time, as the riders took part in performances and displays, their outfits became more elaborate and elegant. Today, pa’u riders participate in parades and festivals throughout the Hawaiian Islands such as the Kamehameha Day, Aloha Festival, and Merrie Monarch floral parades.

Pāʻū Riders at Kapiolani Park early 1900s