TABER, Alta. — Ed Sparks’ voice warms as he holds photos of some special quarter horses. He and his wife, Pat, have been breeding, raising and training horses since 1965, and as Ed cradles the photographs, it’s obvious that horses are a lifetime love.
Others in the quarter horse realm know it.
Ed and Pat were recipients of the American Quarter Horse Association Legacy Breeder award for 2017. Though ill health now prevents either of them from riding or training, the couple still own 19 quarter horses that live on their farm northeast of Taber, Alta.
Pat, a former champion barrel racer, is now in a wheelchair and lives in town, but Ed and his nephew, Shaun Rombough, look after the daily feeding of animals on the farm — the horses as well as Pat’s many cats.
“I knew it was coming,” Ed said about the legacy award.
“We got a big plaque at 40 years and then we knew this was coming so we just kept breeding mares and carrying on as long as we could and finally we made it, so that’s a milestone. A lifetime achievement award, is what it amounts to.”
Ed began breaking and training horses in the 1940s and1950s. Then he saw Sleepy Cat, one of the first quarter horse stallions to be shown in Canada. He was impressed.
“I got kind of liking them,” he said about the breed.
Both Ed and Pat were on the rodeo circuit for a time, using quarter horses in calf roping and barrel racing. Ed also tried his skills at bull riding and saddle bronc but those were short-lived.
“I got carried out of the arena in 1952 at Edmonton Gardens” after one bull-riding event. “That finished my rodeo bull-riding career right there. And I got packed out of the arena with saddle broncs, so what do you do? The smart thing was to try something else.”
Training and breeding became the focus. Ed and Pat have registered at least one foal every year since 1965, for a total of 372.
Some of the treasured photos show Skedadle Chick, a foal sired by an AQHA champion that also became champion and superior halter horse. Then there’s Till I Win, a horse sired by Peppy’s Tiller, which Ed trained and rode in calf-roping events.
A photo of Pat astride Flashy One, also sired by Peppy’s Tiller, is among the favourites, as is a photo of the couple with Diamond Dictator and a shot of Peppy’s Tiller himself, a product of the famed King Ranch breeding program in Texas and the first stallion the couple ever owned.
Do they have a favourite horse?
“A few hundred of them,” said Ed. He described his perfect quarter horse as one of about 15 hands, with a short back, long hip and long shoulder, a clean neck and a big soft eye.
Good feet and legs are crucial, and Ed has a preference for dark hoofs.
“A lot of people like these stocking legs and I’ve never cared much for a lot of stocking legs. We’ve had some, but white feet were hard to take care of. I like the solid dark ones.”
The Sparks travelled around North America watching and buying horses, Ed more so than Pat because she had to look after the stock back at home. She was also manager and secretary for the Taber Quarter Horse Show when it was still operating, and looked after registrations for their animals.
Meeting people in the AQHA and horse industry is a lasting pleasure.
“There’s very few strangers in the world of a horse,” said Ed.
He and Pat agree that horse training methods have changed over the years. At one time, it involved bending a horse to the trainer’s will.
Now, “you have to think like a horse,” said Ed. “You make your ideas their ideas.”
And there are no bad horses, a point on which the couple also agrees.
“Most horse problems are man problems. People create the problems with their horses,” said Pat.
Declining health has created a worry for them about the future of their remaining horses.
“I’m hoping to stimulate some interest, maybe, through this, and maybe somebody will be interested in buying some foundation quarter horses. Perhaps someone will be interested in foundation breeding.”