For Cowskin Creek Farm’s owner, Clydesdales are business, not hobby
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.”
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 email@example.com.
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.