We are indebted to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star of Virginia USA for permission to reproduce their article about the Cleveland Bays of Epiphany Bay Farm. This delightful and inspiring story appeared in the 17th August 2009 edition of the paper and was written by Laura Moyer with pictures by photographer Robert A. Martin.
In the cool of an August evening, three rambunctious fillies romp around a fenced pasture at Epiphany Bay Farm in Hartwood in Stafford County, their mothers watching nearby. It's a pretty scene, but to Mike and Carlene Kerr it represents much more than bucolic charm. It's their contribution to the future of an ancient breed of horse now considered critically endangered.
The three fillies were all born on the farm in July. And two of them are purebred Cleveland Bays, a sleek, big-boned and gentle-natured breed that originated in the north of England in the 1600s. Because of their strength and the fact that they so reliably passed on their stylish bay coloring - deep brown bodies, black manes, tails and lower legs, and black-trimmed ears - Cleveland Bays were ideal carriage horses, easy to pair in size and appearance. But by the mid-20th century, motorized transportation had reduced the need for such horses, and the breed had nearly vanished before associations were formed to preserve it.
Today there are fewer than 700 purebred Cleveland Bays in the world, and four of them, including little Independence and Constance, belong to the Kerrs of Hartwood.
"Our goal is to promote the Cleveland Bay, to put more purebreds on the ground," Carlene Kerr said.
A MATCH OF INTERESTS
It isn't as simple as it might sound. To understand the couple's passion for Cleveland Bays and the time, effort and money they've devoted to the breed, it helps to know something about the Kerrs themselves. They grew up in Prince William County, graduated just a few years apart from rival high schools and ran with many of the same friends, but they never met until after each had been married and had two grown children.
Mike was divorced and Carlene widowed when they met on a blind date in Fredericksburg in 2001. At that time, Mike, a career firefighter at Fort Belvoir, owned a farmhouse and a little bit of land in Hartwood but had no horses. He knew Carlene had one, though, a beloved quarterhorse she'd bought as a colt while in high school. On that first date, he
brought her a neatly wrapped bouquet - of carrots. As their relationship blossomed, the couple explored each other's hobbies. Mike rode a Harley-Davidson, and one day he and Carlene went for a motorcycle ride to a horse show in Orange county. That's where they met their first Cleveland Bays." And we kind of fell in love with them then," Mike recalled. The horses weren't frightened by motorcycle noise, which impressed Mike. Carlene was instantly drawn to their appearance, smarts and temperament. "A horse has to have a sound mind. That, to me, is more important than perfect conformation," she said. "Cleveland Bays are so sensible, and they're gorgeous horses. I just couldn't see not working to preserve them."
AN EPIPHANY AND A FARM
The couple married in 2003, seized an opportunity to buy more land behind Mike's farmhouse in 2004, and built an airy, light-filled barn and outbuildings in 2005. The farm name, Epiphany Bay, came from the couple's joint realization that breeding and selling Cleveland Bays could be a business as well as a labor of love. They fenced in acres of pastureland on their own, digging endless postholes and using up bags and bags of concrete.
That's not to say the Kerrs haven't accepted a degree of risk. Breeding Cleveland Bays has been a costly endeavor, especially because the Kerrs chose to invest in an embryo-transplant procedure for one of the three foals born this summer.
Using an embryo from the Kerrs' purebred Cleveland Bay mare Epona and a purebred Cleveland Bay stallion, a surrogate procedure was performed to allow the purebred foal to be carried and reared by a Thoroughbred mother named Princess. It was a success; the baby born July 4 to the surrogate mother is little Independence, called Penny. She's the genetic full sister of Constance, who was born to Epona on July 11. The third filly, Abigail, born July 14, is the offspring of a Thoroughbred mare named Kisses, owned by the Kerrs, and a purebred Cleveland Bay sire.
Mike Kerr visits (from left) Lady Leone, a Cleveland Bay -Thoroughbred, and Belladonna Mahogany, a purebred Bay.
Fillies (from left) Abigail, a Cleveland Bay-Thoroughbred, and Constance, a purebred Cleveland Bay, romp at Epiphany Bay Farm.
Mike and Carlene Kerr play with dog Ruby at their Stafford farm's horse stable.
The first two Cleveland Bays joined Carlene's quarterhorse, a 35-year-old gelding named Netami, on the farm in 2006. Since then, the Kerrs have bred both purebred Cleveland Bays and Cleveland-Thoroughbred crosses, work-ing toward a goal of selling select animals for riding, showing, dressage and future breeding.
Mike retired from his firefighting career earlier this year to care full time for farm and horses - a job he describes as "manure transportation specialist." "I work harder now, physically, than I did before," he said. It's not a complaint; at his last doctor's appointment, he said, he'd lost weight and kept his blood pressure in check.
Mike Kerr, 55, said he and Carlene, 52, are "spending our children's inheritance" on the endeavor, but have every expectation that the business will be a success. They don't plan to sell horses to just anyone - they're seeking buyers who will promote Cleveland Bays through breeding and showing. "We're optimistic to sell one or two this year, either yearlings or foals," Mike said. "But not every horse is meant for every person."
Laura Moyer: 540/374-5417
Email: [email protected]
Internet link to original publication: http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2009/082009/08172009/486646