Couple fall in love with rare breed of horses

Date posted: 23rd February 2009

Tomé Horses arent exactly a rarity in Valencia County, especially in the grassy, sweeping Tomé valley. However, its probably safe to say that youve never seen horses like these.

Couple Kendall Schneringer and Sonya Swing are the owners of Camelot Friesians. The business is family owned and operated and selects and refines Friesian breeding stock as well as showing them in the Friesian circuit and dressage world.

Horses are bred all the time, right? But what makes the couples business so unique is that they are owners of six of the 4,000 Friesians in the U.S.

One of Europes oldest breeds, the Friesian horse hails from Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Friesians arent as commonly recognized as other breeds of horses because there arent as many. Currently, there are 45,000 registered Friesians worldwide.

The Friesian breed is typically smaller in quantity than other breeds because true Friesians are strictly and meticulously bred under the Friesian Horse Association of America (FHANA) in order to maintain the highest quality bloodline.

The couples beginning with Friesian horses started when Swing first saw the 1985 film “Ladyhawke,” starring Michelle Pfeiffer, which ignited a worldwide interest in the breed.

“When I saw the movie, I said whatever that is I want one,” Swing said.

The couple was living in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque at the time and moved to Los Lunas shortly after and purchased their first Friesian, which they, rightfully, named Ladyhawke.

The couple currently has six horses, including a stallion named Warlock that lives apart from the other horses. The other mares are Mysti, Cat, Jessica and Q.

“They are like Lays Potato Chips,” Swing said. “You cant just have one.”

To be registered by the FHANA, the Friesian in question must possess an array of characteristics known only to the breed. For example, a true Friesian can only possess a black coat. There can be no white expect for, in some cases, a white star on the horses forehead. Friesians are also known for their long, thick manes and tails and for their eyecatching high step.

Apart from its black coat, graceful trot and majestic stance, the Friesian breed is also greatly known for its gentle, docile temper.

It can be quite daunting and intimidating to stand in front of one of these creatures, which on average stand at about 63 inches, but Schneringer, while in the stables petting Ladyhawke, assures that they are the gentlest of horses.

“Even the stallion is gentle,” he said of Warlock, who must live apart from the mares because of his size and the space the family would need to adequately and safely live.

“They are just such wonderful horses,” Swing agreed. “They have such kind eyes and a gentle soul.”

The couple hopes to breed their horses, and Ladyhawke is currently pregnant by their stallion. This will be the first colt that the family will have.

Jessica, the couples youngest horse and the newest member of the family, was inseminated but failed to conceive. Since there are a limited amount of registered Friesian stallions in the world, its been a little difficult for Swing and Schneringer to breed their girls.

“The Friesian (breed) has so many rules. Their breed is so specific,” said Sean Cunningham, owner and CEO of STC Dressage and the familys horse trainer.

Cunningham is talking about the FHANA registration and studbook, which requires numerous and very specific traits from its horses, especially the males. In fact, to be placed in the Friesian studbook and approved for breeding, a stallion must go through a rigorous and long process.

The stallion is examined on his walk, trot and canter, trailed and judged for performance under saddle, evaluated for manners during training, in the stable and for overall character and disposition. The stallions that pass these tests are granted a place in the studbook and given provisional breeding approval.

The stallions offspring are evaluated when they are 3 years old. If the offspring doesnt show sufficient quality, the stallion is no longer allowed to breed. All approved breeding stallions are rejudged annually, and their breeding privilege can be withdrawn at anytime if the health of their offspring declines.

Because of the strict breeding guidelines, the lack of approved stallions and the rule that one mare and one stallion can only breed once with each other, the couple havent bred their horses as much as they would have liked.

“The baby already has a name,” Swing said excitedly. And that she does. The little Friesian, due June 20, will be named Isabeau Mavarre, after another character in the film “Ladyhawke.”

Since this will be the first bred horse that the family has had, they have decided not to sell it. After Isabeau is born, the family said that they would start breeding with the intent to sell.

“We are trying to make a name for Camelot Friesians in dressage, so this will help sell the offspring,” Swing said. “We have also been maturing out carefully selected mares, and two of the three will be showing for ster status this September.”

“Ster” (pronounced star) is a classification that means that the mares, stallions or geldings are within the top 25 percent of its breed. Only the most exceptional animals are given this honor.

Currently, one of the couples mares is already a premie ster, which indicates that she is in the top 5 to 10 percent of all mares for that showing.

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