- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - King Richard III of England, who had a spine shaped like a question mark and a short-lived grip on the reins of his reign, sure knew the value of a good steed.

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Shakespeare has him lamenting in the 1594 play “Richard III” as the king awaits death on the battlefield after being unseated from “Surrey,” his trusty ride.

Fast forward 400 years, and we meet Jim and Lynette Knierim of Decatur, a husband and wife with ramrod-straight spines (although Jim Knierim does admit his knees have been replaced) and a couple who have built their personal kingdom around the horse.

Horses have in fact been ruling their lives since they were kids: Lynette Knierim started riding and showing at the tender age of 7. Her husband had to wait until he was 13, saving up his Herald & Review paper route earnings to buy his first steed, “Lady,” for $12.

And now, here they are, stabling some 18 horses at Knierim Farms set amid the lush prairie on the edge of Decatur.

The couple met later in life through their mutual equine affection and have only been galloping down the same track as man and wife for the past two years.

But it was clearly a union made in a stable heaven, as their new joint horse breeding venture is already winning the kind of glory Richard III would have coveted.

“Our horse Red Solo Cup by Kid, but we call him Red, won the amateur class and the open class for yearlings at the American Paint Horse Association World Championship in Fort Worth, Texas,” says Lynette Knierim. “And, yes, that’s competing against horses from all over the world.”

How big a deal is that? “I’ll tell ya, there are a lot of people who have been going to this championship for a lot of years,” says her 77-year-old husband. “And they’ve never won.”

The Knierims specialize in breeding the paint horse breed (whose physique bears a striking resemblance to artists’ renderings of Richard’s Surrey) and mixing their parentage with another type called quarter horses in a bid to elevate the alchemy of genetics into a bloodline hallmarked by superior traits.

And their horses are shown, not ridden, which means they are paraded before discerning judges who critique their musculature, stance and general appearance down to the set of their swishing tails.

The judges are looking for the kind of equine perfection God might have designed if he’d had more time. Once a foal is born with the building blocks of greatness in place, the Knierims begin sculpting.

“I am like a bodybuilder for horses,” explains Lynette Knierim. “The goal is make them as muscled-up as you can, so they can present as good as they can. You’ve got to look at horses when they are babies and choose the one that has the most potential; if the horse has got it, I can get them in shape in about 60 to 90 days.”

Horses that go out to conquer the showing world are good for business when it comes time to breed and sell what you’ve created. But the Knierims say there is way more to the world of horses than that, and success is only the icing on the hoof.

“Every time we go to a show, it’s like we’re with family,” says Lynette Knierim. “There are lots of people we know, and we all love horses and, well, once all this gets into your blood, you can’t get rid of it.”

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