$1 million stable started with $50 horse

Starting with a $50 horse back in 1986, the equestrian world of Julie Schweiss has stepped up to a different level of involvement today.

Magister Equitum Stables, the magnificent new facility built by RAM Buildings Inc., Winsted, Minn., for Mike and Julie Schweiss of rural Fairfax, Minn., earned a Building of the Year Award at the annual convention of the National Frame Building Association earlier this year.

Already this new gem has hosted a horse show that drew in 20 horses, plus a weekend horse training class with accredited horse trainer Peggy Gomez doing the teaching.

Then, on July 4, Mary Beth William and Marija Trieschman held a “top shelf” dressage clinic at Magister Equitum Stables. Trieschman, originally from Sweden, has worked with many top trainers including the Olympic rider Jan Brinks, as well as Herbert Rhebein in Germany. Mary Beth has ridden with Marija for almost 20 years.

The facility, whose Latin name translates as horse master or horse authority, boasts dimensions of 80×200 feet for the riding arena; 80×80 feet for the stable area for a total of 22,400 square feet plus the raised upstairs quarters with another 30×30 foot living area.

Equestrian facilities have become a specialty of RAM Buildings, even though RAM does construction work in a variety of other areas including agricultural, commercial and warehouse projects.

“We’ve always done well in the equestrian market,” says Greg Machemehl, co-owner with Rollie Radtke of the 10-year old firm.  RAM’s location only about 40 miles west of the Twin Cities also is key to its growth.

“There seems to be a growing horse industry coming this direction.  We enjoy doing this type of building.  We’ve gotten very good at it and now have a very good reputation in the equestrian market,” Machemehl said.

Turnkey construction adds to their market value within the equestrian world.

“Horse people appreciate when you can do the total project rather than sublet portions to other contractors.  We can do the whole package and that seems to be a real plus,” notes Machemehl.

Marriage of form, function

Using post-frame construction with columns and trusses provided by Littfin Truss, Winsted, Minn., created a wide open center area in the stall barn that facilitated numerous design changes during the construction process, while maintaining the lowest possible cost to the owners.  This dream project for Julie and Mike Schweiss melds form and function into a riding arena and stall barn that is beautiful to see and a joy to use.

“RAM has been great to work with.  We did make numerous changes as the building progressed and I really appreciate their hard work,” comments Julie Schweiss.

This complex includes a combination riding arena and nine-stall barn plus a second-floor living area for horse owners who bring their horses for a week or weekend of special horse training classes.

The unique building features an arched entryway, arched windows, wrapped colonial columns with an elevated center roof area, and two Schweiss 50×16 foot insulated, bi-fold doors and a Schweiss hydraulic door.  Stamped concrete floors, custom ornamental stall grills and an exquisite office and living space provide country charm appeal to the stall barn area.

Success with hangars

Working with bi-fold doors is old hat for RAM Buildings. Machemehl says they’ve done lots of airport hangars “….and the Schweiss bi-fold is almost always the choice of airplane owners building new hangars.

“Plus using bi-folds in their new horse barn is a very unique way of opening virtually an entire wall providing a special ‘indoor-outdoor’ look for both horses and riders inside the arena.”

Machemehl says the Schweiss project was a particular challenge because the objective was to construct a first class structure incorporating a variety of architectural ideas assembled into a single building.

“But I give lots of credit to Julie and Mike for the unusual and unique ideas they presented for the stable and the raised living quarters.  They turned that portion of the building into something really fantastic.”

The unique stalls were designed and built by Schweiss and include artistic metal work cut by computer-driven laser technology.

Materials incorporated into the structure include R19 values in wall insulation, R40 in the ceilings with LP heat for both the arena and stall area. A special 29-gauge corrugated steel liner package for both walls and ceilings provides a maintenance free situation.

Painted a bright white, this liner enhances the size and sparkling clean look of the stable. Specially stained wood in the stalls also gives a unique look. Exterior pre-painted skin is also 29-gauge corrugated steel.  Both interior and exterior metals were manufactured by Metal Sales of Rogers, Minn.

No recession here

The “high end” equestrian market continues to grow for RAM.  Thanks to strong prices in agriculture, that market too looks good for the immediate future.  But the cost of construction materials is ramping up.

“We used to project about 5 percent yearly increases in goods and labor. This year with steel especially taking off, materials are more like 30% more.

“But the equestrian market continues upward and that’s a good buffer against other potential soft spots,” sums up Machemehl.  “And when people see what bi-fold doors can do to completely open the environment of a riding arena, I think we’ll see a steady trend towards bi-fold window walls in more arenas.”

He’s particularly complimentary about the service of the Schweiss team from start to finish, noting the installers are exceptionally good to work with, plus proposals are quick and simple to understand.

“The product itself is very good. It’s well built and offers the extras like remote control, auto latch and the lift-strap system that is absolutely the best device.  And of course the real beauty of a bi-fold is that weather is never an obstacle.”

RAM Buildings employs about 45 full-time people but also uses additional seasonal labor.  The company recently developed an excavation division with their own equipment to prepare sites, both for RAM projects or other contractors in the area.  RAM also inventories the special footing material for the arena floor surface for horses to both run and jump.  This material is specially installed in the manner that suits the type of riding activities in a particular arena.

Footings are a combination of ag lime, special sand and other materials to generate a dust free environment that also provides the right surface for the horses.

Some horse history on the Schweiss family:

The first horse barn for Julie Schweiss dates back to 1987. It was an add-on shed on the back side of the office of her husband Mike, who was then in the early stages of developing Schweiss Manufacturing which later evolved into Schweiss Bi-folds, today the largest builder of bi-fold doors in North America.

Her first real horse barn was built in May, 1995.  However, after their house burned this new stable facility temporarily became living quarters for the Schweiss family until their new home was finished.  So once again Julie and her horses were without a stable.

About five years ago, Julie and daughters got into the Akhal-Teke horse, an ancient breed from Central Asia that gradually evolved into the lean and graceful but hardy horses that today inhabit Turkmenistan.

 “Once we decided the Akhal-Teke horse was going to be our future in the horse business, we knew we needed a new barn to house and train this rare breed of horses,” says Julie.

Rare indeed.

Four-footed royalty
The Akhal-Teke breed descended from Russian war horses, of which there are only a few hundred in existence in the world today.

“This horse is so special its image graces the state seal of Turkmenistan.  In fact, the horse is so highly regarded it is often found directly in the homes of the Turkmen,” says Schweiss.

Some Akhal-Tekes gained notoriety as well. In 1956 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev presented Melekush, an already famous horse, to Queen Elizabeth II of England. This particular horse was described by the Royal Equerry as Britain’s “best horse.”

With recognition comes value.  Dancing Brave, winner of the 1986 Arc de Triomphe Race, holds the record for the highest price ever paid for a horse: US $50 million.

It’s the look, the color and the appearance of the Akhal-Teke horses that flavored the overall design of Magister Equitum Stables.

Comments Julie, “We wanted a special facility that reflected the uniqueness of the breed, plus an arena and outdoor cross-country complex that readily permits the entire equestrian sport of riding, jumping and dressage.  The Akhal-Teke is perfect for this type of equestrian activity.  They are mild, yet have remarkable endurance.

“Our activities in the equestrian world have drawn us together as a family. And that really is what family is all about.  A common activity enjoyed by all, yet enough challenges so that you always want to do just a bit better. This keeps the family together,” is the way Julie sums it up.

For a woman who prefers to deal in perfection, she perhaps paid the ultimate compliment to RAM Builders and the interior finishing crew by saying there isn’t a thing she would change.  She chuckles, however, that it took a little “coaxing” to get approval of the exquisite chandelier gracing the arched entryway.

Daughter Brook is “staging manager” for the various events that already are working into the agenda of Magister Equitum Stables. Daughters Autumn and Lark work closely with Brook on the many details involved in putting together horse shows and other equestrian events.

Brother Sky provides the “grunt power” for moving the jumps and other special equipment needed to properly set up for a horse show.

Strangely, it was Autumn’s rambunctious pony that eventually led the Schweiss family into their remarkable new adventure in family living.

But a lowly $50 horse 22 years ago was the critter that hitched Julie Schweiss’s dream into a million dollar stable.

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