Picture three girls, 10-year-old twins and an 11-year-old sister, flying home from school, then pedaling their bikes as fast as they can to the Alamance Saddle Club to muck stalls and grab a quick horseback ride before pedaling the three miles back home in time for dinner.
That was life for three of the Schmidt sisters from 1957 to 1961. They lived horses, attended horse-related movies, watched TV shows about horses and collected miniature horse statues.
Today, some 50 years later, two of the sisters still carry their equine passion. Amy Schmidt, one of the twins, bought her own Friesian, one of the most unique horse breeds in the U.S. The older sister, Deanne Cellarosi, owns horses and raised two daughters who maintain a love of horses. The other twin, Mary Dean, gave up horses for golden retrievers. She keeps five in her home in Welcome, two hours southwest of Raleigh.
Amy Schmidt, a retired historian and archivist from the National Archives in Washington, was so smitten with her youthful horse experiences that she is writing a book about the Alamance Saddle Club. The ASC, defunct, was nestled between the city limits of Burlington and Elon. It was a hotbed for horse lovers from the 1950s to the early 1970s.
Since reviving her love of horses seven years ago, Amy Schmidt, 68, has broken eight bones and spent several days in intensive care as a result of equestrian accidents.
“Bones break easy and heal fast,” she said. “I’ve paid my dues and am very careful to practice barn safety.”
Now she and her Friesian, Mieneke, are working their way through the various levels of classical dressage at Friesian Breed shows.
“It’s a real skill and takes a lot of discipline to learn,” she said. “It’s a real commitment creating harmony between rider and horse with the slightest of touch.”
Schmidt is among a unique group riding Friesians. She describes it as almost cult-like. The Friesian originated in the Netherlands during the Middle Ages as a war horse carrying knights in armor.
Equestrian historians report the breed was almost extinct on several occasions. Sally Lawing of Summerfield, vice president of the Friesian Horse Association of North America, says 300 Friesians in North Carolina and 12,000 in the United States are registered in the KFPS Dutch studbook.
“It is an elite registry with very high standards for the approval of breeding stallions. There is no other registry like it.” Lawing said.
Most Friesians are black and rarely have white markings. They have a long thick mane and tail with feathering on the legs, arched necks and a high stepping gait.
Karen Guerra, 57, and her husband, Marc, own a 200-acre farm between Hickory and Lenoir. She says Friesians perform in many equine disciplines, including endurance, dressage, western pleasure and as carriage horses.
“They are absolutely wonderful. You almost expect them to talk,” Guerra said. “They are unique, gentle, intelligent and compassionate. It’s like they know what you are thinking. If my Friesian sees me sad, he comes over and lays his head on my shoulder. They’re also very stoic and show no pain. You’ve got to know your horse to detect something is wrong.”
Guerra’s husband, who does not ride, saw a photo of a Friesian four years ago and bought one.
“He’s a family physician, and I’m his part-time nurse. He has a winery and raises blueberries and bees on the farm,” she said.
Karen Guerra rides three time per week and shows once a month under the tutelage of a trainer and coach.
Amy Schmidt, who resides in Alexandria, Va., drives 500 miles per week to ride and train at a farm in Maryland. She recalls her first encounter with the Friesian she bought.
“She looked me in the eye and clearly said, ‘buy me’ and I knew right away she was the one,” Schmidt said. “I aspire, at best, to ride her to the third level of dressage. Then I can die happy.”