For Cowskin Creek Farm’s owner, Cly­des­dales are busi­ness, not hobby

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CAR­RIE RENGERS

Scott Sch­win­daman would like to clear up some­thing: He does not have a hobby breed­ing black Cly­des­dales.

It’s a busi­ness.

Part of the con­fu­sion is that peo­ple know him as the pres­i­dent and CEO of Lu­bri­ca­tion Engi­neers — a more than full­time job al­ready — so they think that Sch­win­daman sim­ply keeps horses on the side.

“They don’t rec­og­nize what we’re do­ing.”

The World Cly­des­dale Show does.

The com­pe­ti­tion re­cently named Scott and Janet Sch­win­daman’s 2-year-old stal­lion, C3 Decker’s James Madi­son, the World Cham­pion 2-year-old and the Re­serve Grand Cham­pion of the ju­nior stal­lions.

“I mean, this is the most elite show of the Cly­des­dale breed,” Scott Sch­win­daman said.

“That’s like win­ning the Ken­tucky Derby.”

It’s not the first time that the Sch­win­damans’ Cowskin Creek Farm — also known as Cowskin Creek Cly­des­dales — has pro­duced a World Cham­pion.

“This is prob­a­bly what I’m most proud of right here,” Scott Sch­win­daman said of the busi­ness. “Be­cause you’re deal­ing with ge­net­ics, and Mother Na­ture can throw you a curve every time.”

Nei­ther of the Sch­win­damans grew up rid­ing horses, but their daugh­ters, Tra­cie and Erin, wanted to ride when they were young.

“I thought it would end in six months, and we would be done with this whole horse thing,”

Scott Sch­win­daman said.

He went to shows and be­gan notic­ing black Cly­des­dales.

“They were al­ways dead last in all the classes. And I was like, you know, could I im­prove that?”

Sch­win­daman is known for niche busi­nesses, such as for­mu­lat­ing spe­cial lubri­cants with Lu­bri­ca­tion Engi­neers and us­ing mi­crobes to cre­ate healthy plants and soil for an­other com­pany.

“I take things that are very unique, and I make a busi­ness out of them.”

He said he par­tic­u­larly likes it when some­one says some­thing can’t be done.

“What started with two kids want­ing a horse has turned into a busi­ness that we’ve had now for prob­a­bly 20 years,” Sch­win­daman said.

“We’re the world leader in black Cly­des­dales.”

A BIG BOY

James Madi­son was a bit more rest­less than nor­mal on Fri­day with vis­i­tors in the 22-stall barn he calls home.

“James, me and you are gonna dance,” Scott Sch­win­daman warned. “Quit.”

In horse mea­sure­ments, James Madi­son is 18.2 hands tall. That’s just over six feet at his withers, which are his shoul­ders. But at his head, he’s about two feet taller than the 6-foot Sch­win­daman, and he still has six to eight inches to grow.

The Cly­des­dale is so big that terms such as “im­pos­ing” and “loom­ing” don’t re­ally cap­ture what his pres­ence is like, al­though James Madi­son has a docile face with eyes that are sweet and al­most a lit­tle sad.

“They’re just beau­ti­ful horses that have a lot of heart,” said equine vet­eri­nar­ian Jim Speer, who lives up the road from the Sch­win­damans.

“The moth­ers are so nur­tur­ing and a plea­sure to watch.”

Speer said hi­lar­ity gen­er­ally en­sues with new­borns, who can be 220pound ba­bies stum­bling about.

James Madi­son al­ready weighs about 1,800 pounds, but Sch­win­daman said, “He hasn’t filled out yet.”

Black Cly­des­dales, which are the re­sult of a re­ces­sive gene, are rare com­pared to the more preva­lent brown ones. They’ve al­ways been pop­u­lar, even when they weren’t win­ning com­pe­ti­tions.

“Even back then, the quality was ter­ri­ble but peo­ple paid good money just be­cause they wanted a black Cly­des­dale,” Sch­win­daman said.

He said he fig­ured with bet­ter breed­ing, it would be pos­si­ble to “re­ally get the money out of them.”

Sch­win­daman be­gan study­ing ge­net­ics and pedi­grees to see if breed­ing two pedi­grees could im­prove char­ac­ter­is­tics such as bone struc­ture and neck strength and also cre­ate big­ger feet.

“If you could imag­ine we look for big­ger feet than they al­ready have,” he said. “Most peo­ple laugh when I say that to them.”

In­stead of the typ­i­cal eight or nine inches across, James Madi­son has a 10-and-a-half-inch width, and it’ll be in ex­cess of a foot when he’s fully grown.

Be­fore the Cly­des­dales turned into a real busi­ness for the Sch­win­damans, they kept their horses four miles from their house and made at least a cou­ple of trips a day to care for them.

Then they moved a mile away.

Fi­nally, in 2004, they pur­chased 160 acres on the out­skirts of God­dard — one of the last pieces of that kind of prop­erty still avail­able near Wi­chita, Scott Sch­win­daman notes — gut­ted a house ob­scured by over­grown trees and hung a sign on a small, old red barn next to it. A busi­ness of­fi­cially was born.

For a time, the Sch­win­damans had to buy se­men from other farms to breed their mares.

To­day, they cre­ate a makeshift lab­o­ra­tory once a year just off their barn of­fice where they col­lect se­men, chill it and then ship it to peo­ple want­ing to breed mares with their stal­lions.

Barn man­ager Keith Mann, whom the Sch­win­damans hired about a decade ago, made much of that part of the busi­ness pos­si­ble.

“He brought the ex­per­tise,” Scott Sch­win­daman said.

“The breed­ing and the pro­duc­tion, that’s what we’re all about here. We just want to be known for the quality of an­i­mals we pro­duce.”

‘SIG­NIF­I­CANT MONEY’

Black Cly­des­dales bring what Sch­win­daman calls “sig­nif­i­cant money.”

James Madi­son is worth “$100,000 as he stands to­day,” he said.

“At the show, I had nu­mer­ous breed­ers that just pulled their check­book out. It’s like, ‘Tell me the num­ber. I’ll write it.’”

He’s worth more to the Sch­win­damans for breed­ing, though.

Scott Sch­win­daman won’t say much about the fi­nan­cial side of the busi­ness, but he said, “It’s rapidly be­come prof­itable now . . . . For a decade here, it’s not made a lot of money.”

Like any busi­ness, Cowskin Creek Farm has had some se­ri­ous set­backs, even some tragedy, as Sch­win­daman puts it.

A ma­jor set­back came fol­low­ing an exclusive deal for the Sch­win­damans to pro­vide Cly­des­dales for Busch Gar­dens and SeaWorld.

They be­gan build­ing ad­di­tional barns to house many more horses a year to sup­ply the parks. How­ever, fol­low­ing a highly pub­li­cized fa­tal whale at­tack at SeaWorld, there was a de-em­pha­sis on an­i­mals, and the deal was off.

The fo­cus switched ex­clu­sively to breed­ing.

The Sch­win­damans’ 2012 2-year-old All-Amer­i­can, Some­where’s Farm Black Un Decker, sud­denly died of colic last year af­ter sir­ing only 15 foals in three years of breed­ing.

Un­like ex­per­i­ment­ing with a wid­get in a typ­i­cal busi­ness, where results are fairly im­me­di­ate, the Sch­win­damans have only one breed­ing sea­son and six to eight foals a year.

“Ten times we’ve pro­duced to see what we get,” Scott Sch­win­daman said. “To do it 10 times and be at this level is quite an ac­com­plish­ment.”

Those in the in­dus­try tell him he’s done it very quickly.

“We know other breed­ers, their grand­kids are run­ning the op­er­a­tion, and they’ve never been this high, and they’ve tried for 30, 40, 50 years to do this.”

It’s a lot of trial and er­ror, he said.

It’s “go­ing to the shows and watch­ing all the dif­fer­ent pedi­grees that are out there and look­ing at what I liked about them and what I didn’t like about them.”

Now, oth­ers pay Sch­win­daman to help scout horses.

“I think that’s the knack I have,” he said.

Speer said both Sch­win­damans have a “unique eye for horse stock” and a true de­sire for the bet­ter­ment of the breed.

“Most of th­ese horses, peo­ple didn’t rec­og­nize what they had when we were buy­ing them,” Scott Sch­win­daman said. “That’s what took me so much time.”

For in­stance, he found a $4,000 mare in Canada — Sil­ver is her name now — who had been in a pas­ture her whole life.

“She had never been han­dled. Lit­er­ally, it was dif­fi­cult get­ting her in the trailer,” Sch­win­daman said.

“If you looked at her, you’d think, well, that’s not go­ing to pro­duce any­thing, but she had the things we were look­ing for.”

He was right, be­cause Sil­ver went on to be­come James Madi­son’s mother.

“I could see it in her.”

A GOOD LAUGH

The Sch­win­damans laugh about where they started, such as hav­ing a grand cham­pion mare, Lady Iris of Grand­view, at the Ok­la­homa State Fair in 2002.

“We thought that was a big deal,” Janet Sch­win­daman said.

“We laugh at Iris be­cause she’s got lit­tle-bitty legs, and she’s kind of fat. She just doesn’t have any­thing we look for to­day, but we were so proud of her,” Scott Sch­win­daman said.

Now, he said, “We love her to death, but we wouldn’t give her a sec­ond look.”

The Sch­win­damans say it was their first con­fir­ma­tion that they were on the right path.

“I think we’ve ex­ceeded where we thought we’d get to,” Scott Sch­win­daman said.

Be­fore the Sch­win­damans hired Mann, Scott Sch­win­daman used to rise at 5 or 6 a.m. daily to do the morn­ing barn chores and then do them again when he got home. Janet Sch­win­daman would take the noon shift, and they both would make rounds at 9 or 10 p.m.

“It’s con­stant,” Scott Sch­win­daman said. “You never es­cape that.”

Now, Janet Sch­win­daman and Mann han­dle the op­er­a­tion dur­ing the week, but Scott Sch­win­daman does week­end chores. He also spends some re­lax­ation time with James Madi­son and their other 27 horses.

“I love com­ing home,” he said.

“That guy’s al­ways go­ing to love me when I walk in the barn. He’s never go­ing to com­plain to me. He’s not go­ing to get mean with me or call me names. All I gotta do is feed him and groom him and take care of him, and he has un­con­di­tional love.”

There’s also, of course, the thrill of win­ning.

“The judge, he was pan­ick­ing me. Giv­ing me heart at­tacks,” Scott Sch­win­daman said of the Oct. 27 World Cly­des­dale Show.

There were al­most 20 2-year-old stal­lions.

“He’d look at James then he’d walk down the line. And we’d go, OK, he’s not go­ing to pick him. Then he’d come back, and he’d look at James and he walked off again.” It hap­pened three times. “He started to walk away, and I was like, aghh, he’s not go­ing to take him. Then he turned back around and pointed at the han­dler for No. 1.”

Sch­win­daman said he and his wife “had a nice good hug.”

“You get a mo­ment of glory for many, many years of work.”

Reach Car­rie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wi­chi­taea­gle.com.

TRAVIS HEYING The Wi­chita Ea­gle

Cly­des­dale breeder Scott Sch­win­daman looks at his award-win­ning 2-year-old James Madi­son, who was re­cently named the best of his breed in a na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Madi­son, Wis.

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