Back in the Saddle 8-4-2006

Lahaina Stables lets clients play cowgirl

By: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

I’m an avid equestrienne. From the time I could hold crayons, I was drawing horses on every piece of paper I could find and begging my parents to take me on weekend pony rides.

These days I’m mastering the fine points of dressage, but whenever I get the chance, I also enjoy settling in a Western saddle and playing “cowgirl.” Happiness for me is being on a horse.

On a recent trip to Maui I mounted up for Lahaina Stables’ Historical Early Ride, which ambles 1½ miles up Launiupoko Hill in the foothills of the West Maui Mountains. Tour highlights include magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean; Lahaina town and harbor; the islands of Kahoolawe, Lanai and Molokai; wild sugarcane; and thick stands of koa haole, kiawe and wiliwili trees.

My group’s guide was Sparky Perry, a spunky gal who considers working for Lahaina Stables her “dream job.” She moved to Maui from Kentucky 2½ years ago, fell in love with the island and has since learned a good deal about Hawaiian culture and history, which she weaves into her narration for the tour.

The tidbits Perry shares vary with each ride, depending on her inclination and guests’ interests. Usually, she’ll include a story or two about Hawaii’s sugar history.

For 150 years, she told us, cane was grown in this part of West Maui, nourished by water from numerous reservoirs in the mountains. Old flumes that once transported millions of gallons of water each day to the thirsty fields can be seen from the trail.

Perry also explained how immigrant workers came to Hawaii from faraway lands, such as China, Japan, Portugal and the Philippines to work on the plantations, creating the melting pot that characterizes the islands’ population today.

Near the top of 800-foot Launiupoko, we dismounted for a break in the shade of a thatched hale (hut) beside a reservoir. Between sips of chilled water and bites of cookies and granola bars, we “talked story” about our homes, hobbies and what inspired us to go horseback riding that day.

Two middle-aged women in our group, visitors from the Mainland, had never been on a horse before.

“We’ve hiked, snorkeled, kayaked, gone to a luau, done pretty much everything else,” one of them said. “We thought since we’re on vacation, we ought to get out of the box and try something different.”

According to Perry, Lahaina Stables has taken out many greenhorns.

“We work hard to make sure people have a good time, especially if they haven’t ridden before,” she said. “Our horses are well trained and really mellow Maui style.”

Most of the tour is done at a walk, allowing even first-time riders to relax in the saddle, bond with their horse and take advantage of great photo opportunities, which may include rainbows and pueo, Hawaiian short-eared owls. (Perry recently saw a white pueo every day for a month straight.)

Although she has led the Historical Early Ride dozens of times, Perry said she never gets tired of it. What’s the best part of her job?

“Showing visitors from all over the world beautiful areas that 99 percent of the people who come to Maui don’t get to see.”


Lahaina Stables
Historical Early Ride
333 Dairy Rd.
Kahului, Hawaii 96732
Commission: 20 percent

Price is $110 per person, including snacks and bottled water. The tour is offered daily from 9-11 a.m. Clients should check in at 8:30 a.m. at Lahaina Stables’ office, above the Makila subdivision 1½ miles south of Lahaina town. Directions will be given when the ride is booked.

Riders must be at least 8 years old (the guide may grant exceptions) and weigh no more than 275 pounds. Long pants and closed-toe shoes are required. The sun can be brutal in this part of Maui, so it’s a good idea to wear a hat, sunglasses and a liberal dose of sunscreen.

The ride goes nose to tail on a well-marked trail. Tours may include both greenhorns and seasoned equestrians; horses are matched to riders’ ability. Most of the ride is done at a walk, but trotting is allowed in certain spots if the group is game. The pace is determined by the comfort level of the least experienced rider. For this reason, serious horsemen may find this ride to be a bit tame.

Lahaina Stables also offers a 3½-hour Lunch Ride and a two-hour Sunset Ride. Call or check the Web site for details.