. . . they’d be right at home at the Flying S Ranch
World champion quarter horses have come and gone at the Flying S Ranch in rural Grafton.
Frank Merrill, the grandson of the founder of Gerber Baby Food Products, once boarded horses there.
Another former boarder married a trainer who introduced Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw to horses.
But the Flying S land could have just as easily been another southeastern Wisconsin farm field if Dolores Schanen hadn’t been riding past the property on her horse in 1958.
The 36-acre tract of land south of Port Washington on Highway C had an air strip, which made it a good compromise for Francis and Dolores Schanen.
“She liked her horses and I loved flying,” Francis, 83, said.
Although his wife passed away more than a decade ago, Francis continues to work on the land with his daughter-in-law Holly Schanen and her boyfriend Bill Greget.
There aren’t many quarter horses on the ranch anymore, but the Flying S, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, still boards about 25 horses and hosts dozens of Girl Scout programs, summer camps and offers riding lessons in English and Western styles.
“I had horses growing up and the biggest thing I remember is doing so many things wrong with them,” Holly said. “Our goal here is to make sure we treat horses with respect and ask respect from the horses.”
Holly, who is a teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Washington, met Francis’ son Bobby when she was 15.
The couple married and Holly has been on the ranch ever since.
When Bobby was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Holly took care of her husband and maintenance on the ranch lagged.
It was also around the time when the VK Development plans were coming into place. The ranch is “basically an island in the VK land,” Holly said.
“Our family sort of became divided on what to do with the land, whether to sell it or keep it.”
“It became such a distraction that the facilities really suffered for the last 15 years.”
Her husband died in 2010, but Holly wanted to continue operating the ranch.
Then she met her boyfriend, who was already friends with her father-in-law.
“Bill and I decided we wanted to carry the ranch on,” Holly said. “We bought it from my sister-in-law about a year and a half ago and we’ve had a really strong business plan in place since then.”
Holly manages the day-to-day operations with Debbie Quevy, who works during the week.
They teach about 45 lessons a week in addition to the camps and Girl Scout programs.
“We are so thrilled we moved forward,” Holly said. “It’s something I wanted to do for Francis. He can see that we will be here for a long time.”
Holly’s son Josey, a freshman at Port Washington High School, is prepared to carry on the ranch some day. But he won’t be riding horses.
“He loves the land, but he likes it for other things, like foraging,” Holly said. “He loves the friendships he has with some of the people he has met through horses, but he wants to someday find a wife who will carry on the horse part of this.”
As for Francis, he’s content helping Holly with bookkeeping and Bill with projects around the ranch.
“I like to cut the lawn and try to keep up with Bill,” Francis said. “I don’t mind the work if they don’t. It’s their land, so if they want to quit yesterday, that’s OK with me. I won’t let it run their life.”
Image information: Horses like Fancy, a 20-year-old painted mare, have roamed the land at Flying S Ranch in the Town of Grafton since 1964 under the eye of Francis Schanen (far right). His daughter-in-law Holly Schanen, her son Josey and boyfriend Bill Greget have been maintaining the ranch the past few years. Photo by Sam Arendt