Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi
Kentucky transplant hits her stride at Maui stables
Sunday, June 4, 2006
|Sparky Perry hails from Kentucky -- "horse country," as
she calls it -- but after moving to Maui 2 1/2 years ago with her
then-husband, she's been riding more than she ever did before.
"It's funny: I came from Kentucky, where there are horses everywhere, to this speck of a tropical island, and I'm riding every day, three times a day if I want to," she says.
At her "dream job," as a guide for Lahaina Stables, Perry helps care for 20 horses, grooms and saddles them for tours, and accompanies visitors on scenic rides in the foothills of the West Maui Mountains.
She's met people from all over the world and thoroughly enjoys showing them beautiful areas that "99 percent of the people who come to Maui don't get to see."
The Stables' Historical Early Ride ambles about 1.5 miles up Launiupoko Hill, revealing magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean; Lahaina town and harbor; the islands of Kahoolawe, Lanai and Molokai; and thick stands of koa haole, kiawe, wiliwili and wild sugar cane.
For 150 years, cane was grown here, fed by water from numerous mountain reservoirs. Old flumes that once transported millions of gallons of water daily to the thirsty fields can be seen from the trail (1 million gallons of water a day is needed to irrigate 100 acres of sugar cane).
Most of the tour is done at a leisurely pace, allowing participants to take advantage of great photo opportunities. If the group is game, Perry will lead them in a fast trot. Rainbow and pueo (owls) sightings provide added thrills.
Throughout the ride, she shares intriguing tidbits about Hawaii; the information varies each time, depending on her inclination and guests' interests. One day, she might tell legends about Hawaiian gods and goddesses, including Maui, who in one popular tale lassoed the sun as it passed over Haleakala Volcano, slowing its movement across the sky so villagers would have more light during the day to do their work.
Another time, Perry might focus on the significance of sugar in local history, explaining how immigrant workers came to Hawaii from faraway lands to work on plantations, creating the melting pot that characterizes the Aloha State today.
On yet another ride, she might talk about Lahaina town, which, during its heyday as the whaling capital of the Pacific in the mid-1800s, drew as many as 400 tall ships annually.
Near the top of 800-foot Launiupoko, riders dismount and take a break in the shade of a thatched hale (hut) beside a reservoir. Although Perry has done this ride dozens of times, she insists she never gets bored.
"I love it!" she says. "Different people with different backgrounds go with me each time, which makes it interesting. It's fun talking story with them and seeing them bond with their horse."
"We work hard to make sure people have a good time, especially if they haven't ridden before," says Perry.
"Our horses are well trained and really mellow, Maui style. They like people, and they're happy to go out on rides. Sometimes they're so excited, they seem to be saying, 'Please take me! Can I go?'"
In her opinion, "Horses are everything! They're great companions and they're so intuitive. When they sense you're upset, they rally around you and want you to feel better. They're amazing, wonderful creatures!"
Ray Fuqua, owner and operator of Lahaina Stables, shares Perry's passion for horses. A former high school social studies and geography teacher in New Orleans, he came to Maui on vacation in 1980, fell in love with it and moved there the following year.
Through a mutual friend, he became acquainted with the family of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and for three years he managed their land and organic banana and papaya farm in remote Kipahulu on Maui's east side.
"I've always been an outdoors person, and they knew I had experience with horses, so they asked me to buy a couple of them to keep on their property," he said.
In April 2004 he moved the business to West Maui, recognizing there was a bigger market there near the bustling resorts of Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua.
"I was looking for a location that also had a lot of history, natural beauty and easy accessibility," he says.
"This is it! I still hold an active real estate broker's license, but much prefer the horse business."
Fuqua secured a long-term lease on a 25-acre parcel that runs right to the foot of the majestic West Maui Mountains. He hiked old cane haul roads to map out the best spots for trail rides, set up fencing, built office and barn facilities, and installed underground sprinklers to irrigate the pasture land.
"It's been hard work; this project has not happened overnight," he says. "The exciting thing is it's evolving. We recently changed some of our routes, and in the next year we'll probably build a couple more trails that will go higher into the mountains.
"We're positioned to be here a long time and to share a great experience not only with visitors, but with the local community."
He ranks horses among life's greatest instructors. "They teach you self-confidence," he says. "We all have fears that keep us from moving forward in our lives. One of the real pleasures of my job is seeing how being around horses can have a positive effect on people."
Many of Lahaina Stables' guests sign up for a ride just because their husband, wife or kids want to do it.
"They get on the horse and it's obvious they're petrified," Fuqua says.
"But by the time they get back from the ride, they've got big smiles on their faces, and they look like they've conquered the world. Not only did they accomplish something they never thought they could do, they discovered it was a whole lot of fun!"