2008-09-06 / Columnists

Stingels Continue Friesian Tradition With Filiphus and Anton

In 1994, Jay

and Janet Stingel introduced Mackinac Island to the Friesian horse, and in turn, the breed to Islanders and visitors. Jay and Janet had purchased the old Arnold cottage on Main Street, across from the Island's marina. The Queen Anne-style cottage home has been known for years as "Brigadoon," and it still is today. The dwelling was completely renovated by the Stingels in the early 1990s, and winterized. The large, impressive barn, adjacent to the cottage, was also refurbished, as well as the paddocks. Like the original owners, the Arnolds, Jay and Janet Stingel embraced the idea of having their own horses, as well as carriages, on Mackinac.

Jay Stingel, however, did not grow up as a young man used to hitching up a horse to a cart, let alone four such animals to a carriage. Because the high-traffic location of Brigadoon is in the thick of things downtown, even the most seasoned of drivers have to be wary in negotiating pedestrian, bicycle, and horsedrawn traffic. That holds true all the more with each passing year. But Jay knew he wanted to have horses, and so he went about it one step at a time. He progressed, he regressed, and he concentrated on learning a skill and an art. He continues to work hard with his horses.

This year, the Stingels returned with two new Friesians, direct from the Netherlands. They are named Filiphus and Anton. (Photograph courtesy of Jay Stingel) This year, the Stingels returned with two new Friesians, direct from the Netherlands. They are named Filiphus and Anton. (Photograph courtesy of Jay Stingel) First, Jay learned how to drive and handle a team. He practiced both at his winter home, as well as on Mackinac, being coaxed and taught by seasoned teamsters who took him at his word. Eventually, like a pilot with his first flight, he flew solo; and it seemed he was hooked all the more. The Stingels purchased a team for driving, as well as a few Saddlebreds for riding. He also began to understand the components of securing, as well as restoring, authentic "rolling stock" (carriages). It became a serious hobby.

The Friesian horse idea on Mackinac came into play when he first saw an article on

them in a coaching-trade magazine. They caught his eye, as well as that of his wife. Wanting to find out more, the Stingels ventured to see carriage shows, such as the Royal Winter Fair, held annually every November in Toronto, Ontario. Eventually, Jay and Janet fell in love with the breed, and its presence and demeanor. Then in the summer of 1994, Mackinac saw not only the Stingel's first Friesian, but four of them, with Jay driving the quartet "four-in-hand." (The term literally means holding the four reins with one hand.) Mackinac also saw the beautiful, custom-made Freedman harnesses. Freedman Harness Works also are represented on Mackinac with Grand Hotel's stables. They typify just about the finest harness craftsmanship in the states, and the world. The Budweiser Clydesdale teamsters would also agree.

Jay, with the aid of an assistant groom, would harness the Friesians, and away they would drive, with Janet and one of the family Boxer dogs along for a ride. Four horses take a lot of time to get ready, and Jay's horses and carriage were always immaculate. Four-in-hand coaches take immense preparation any way you look at it.

It was quite a treat to see this, as those horses were so unusual to Mackinac. These horses, and the Stingels, were even featured in a former national equine publication entitled Spur. The horses aged, however, and were eventually retired. They began new careers with a mounted unit in North Carolina. One has since died, while the other three have been used in ceremonial events.

A few years later, the Stingels replaced that team with a new set of Friesians, only to find that, like any horse, no matter how beautiful, well bred, or perfect it may seem, not all horses are right for the Island. These were not.

This year, the Stingels returned with two new Friesians, direct from the Netherlands. They are named Filiphus and Anton. They're young (ages 7 and 8), and as a working unit, they could be clones under harness. The two horses were first presented to Jay as a wonderful pair, with just one minor caveat, they were both still stallions. Not wanting to deal with any ramifications that owning, handling, or driving stallions would present, Jay had them gelded. There is an old horse maxim that holds true, "A good stallion, makes a good gelding, makes a great horse."

Filiphus and Anton could be brothers, twin brothers, in how they work together. Their necks match, their steps match, as well as their stride and head carriage. The breed is known for their arched necks, robust shoulders, and regal bearing, best seen in a carriage class, or in our case, on the road. Filiphus and Anton stand at 16 hands, which is considered to be an ideal height.

Since their 1994 debut, this breed has been on the "asendancy." Three more families, who now own homes on the West and East Bluffs, have now purchased Friesians. The breed can also be seen on Mackinac being ridden, shown in halter, and under harness. These owners are passionate about them, the "big black horse with the furry feet," as one little visitor told me, when he saw one being ridden.

Jay has been driving his spectacular pair all summer, and enjoying them with his wife, daughter, grandchildren, and family. He often takes them for long drives. The beauty of his two horses is that they can each be driven in single harness and in what is called "switch." Jay also has been able to interchange the horses, having Anton left or right, and vice versa for Filiphus. When I asked Jay what he likes best about these two youngsters (who stood quietly in their corrals), he replied that it was their quiet dignity and natural pride. I think Filiphus and Anton nodded in agreement, and were eyeing me, making sure I agreed, and was getting those comments down right.

These horses will spend a few more weeks on Mackinac, and will then spend the winter at Dragstra Stables in North Carolina, being driven and schooled by the renowned coaching master, Weibbe Dragstra, who also, like these horses, happens to hail from Holland. Pretty wonderful - that about sums it up.

Candice Dunnigan is an active member of the American Equestrian Association, the Waterloo Hunt, and the Mackinac Horsemen's Association. Seasonally she resides at Easterly Cottage.

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