070606 horse back riding

070606 horse back riding - sports/JUNE DAN CAPPELLAZZO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Grand ISLAND, N.Y. - Inter Kelly Lovering mounts Ralphy, a 20 year old Arabian at the Sparks Trading Post, 2660 Bedell Road, Grand Island.

The only thing more potent than the stench of manure was the obvious adoration and love the Sparks family and co-workers had for their animals.

Established in 1980, Sparks Trading Post on Grand Island has offered services from horseback riding lessons to bringing ponies to birthday parties to hosting parties and horse drawn hayrides at private requests all year long. With almost 60 horses and 45 acres of land, the Sparks family has taken the business of ranching to new heights and has managed to keep the traditional appeal.

Its hard to imagine only a few acres down the road, homogenized developments crowded the once wooded thick and civilization bustled, but everything seemed to slow down the moment I pulled onto the ranch. Walking up to greet co-owner Deborah Plumeri-Sparks, I took a moment to look around in awe and appreciate the view. Beautiful horses of every size, shape and color grazing and playfully enjoying the sunny day emphasized by the untouched backdrop of green trees and open trails.

There was nothing more humbling than being face-to-face with a mighty 1,000 pound steed. I stood with Ralph, an Arabian mix and a first-choice horse, as Plumeri-Sparks saddled up her horse Rosie. Ralph regally sauntered over to the doorway of the barn without direction from anyone as he knew exactly what was going on.

On an average day, Sparks will put out anywhere from 30 to 100 rides during the summer. Certain horses rarely need direction because he or she has been on the trails so often. The course is auto-piloted. But just because the horse knew what he was doing is not to say I did. This was the first time I had ever been up-close to horse, let alone saddling up. To say I was excited was an understatement.

Tina Sparks, daughter of owner Peter Sparks, willingly took me out and gave me a brief lesson on how to ride. I stepped up on to a block of hay, swung my leg over Ralphís saddle and was momentarily paralyzed by the height. He seemed so much shorter on the ground! With one firm nudge with my heels Ralph started forward and patiently trotted for the next hour through the trails.

The sun peaked from behind trees and the barnyard dogs followed behind us. It was peaceful, serene and I did not want it to end. Sparks and her step-daughter told me stories about the ranch and the many different personalities of each horse. They detailed how much it costs to feed and board all the animals but the numbers didn’t phase them as these four-legged creatures were just as important as family.

Upon our return, I asked Plumeri-Sparks why she ever got started with horseback riding. I’ll never forget her response.

“What little girl doesnít like horses?” she said. “They are the next best thing to a Harley and if I can’t have an iron horse, I’ll have the four-legged one. The hay is cheaper than gas and they love you back.”

With that her horse Rosie followed her into the office to answer the phone, I said bye to Ralph and walked bow-legged to my car.

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