From Poland With Love: Winifred SmithBy Scott B. Smith, Major General, United States Army (Retired)
On a cool morning in September 1999, Wendy Smith steps out of her pickup truck, moves to one of the barns of her farm in southeastern Wyoming, opens two stalls from the outside, and watches her horses canter out into the brisk fall air. As she observes with quiet delight, her thoughts flash back to her youth.
Her family traces its origin to the year 941, to the bishopric of Utrecht, in Middle Francia, then ruled by Emperor Lothar, one of Charlemagne's grandsons. In 1206, two of Winifred’s ancestors followed a call to present-day Poland, where they served as engineers and warrior knights. In the 17th century, the family received a land grant frounding the estate of Bierzglin, in the province of Poznań, Greater Poland.
Bierzglin’s manor house was surrounded by formal gardens, mighty chestnut trees, and graveled walkways. By the 1930’s, the house had running water, but no electricity. It was heated by large tiled stoves that nearly reached the twelve-foot ceilings and had oak parquet floors, a series of entertainment rooms including a ballroom, and a vaulted wine cellar.
All light work on the estate ran on horsepower. The heavy work was accomplished by a steam-plow, but Hanoverian-Trakehner six-horse hitches were needed to move the plow to the field. The light work consisted of pulling farm wagons and other conveyances. The elegant carriages and sleds, in turn, were pulled by purebred Trakehners, driven by the head coachman, Roman Pietrzak.
The foals were the darlings of the Nehring family children. All foals were kept on the estate until age five. Until the beginning of World War II, all those not needed for estate use were sold to the military. Cavalry officers almost exclusively selected Trakehners for their own use. They enjoyed the breed's beauty, movement, good nature, endurance, and versatility.
Winifred Smith was born in October 1940 at Bierzglin as the fifth of six children (fourth daughter) of Fredrick and Ruth Nehring. She was born slightly more than a year after the Nazis had invaded Poland, crushed its military, and seized control of the country. Readers are familiar with the trauma inflicted on the Trakehner breed during World War II, including the famous “Trek.”
In January 1945, after miraculously surviving the terror of six years of occupation, the Nehring family fled Poland. They were mounted on and accompanied by many of their horses, including the purebred Trakehner stallion Maksymilian. The horses were used by the family as payment for food and shelter and were extorted from them at border crossings and by roving bands. Some were shot by low-flying Russian planes. By the time the family’s four-month flight to safety in US-occupied Bavaria was complete, no Trakehners remained in the family’s possession.
During the post-war years, the family reconstituted itself in Canada, the United States, and Uruguay. In the 1970’s, Winifred, engaged in Washington, DC in a career as a science policy analyst, met and married a US Army officer and began another period of extensive moves. During the mid- and late 1980s, she (now Wendy Smith) and her husband were assigned in the Federal Republic of Germany where her long-suppressed love for the magnificent Trakehner breed re-emerged.
After her husband’s retirement in 1989, they moved to Wyoming and began to establish a horse farm. Their first Trakehner acquisition, Highbrow, a 1995 gelding by Luneur, out of Hürde II by Tarim, a 2000 Futurity dressage winner, was courtesy of Dick and Barbara Barker of Moose, Wyoming.
Wendy has since established her Fox Hill Farm as a small, distinctive producer of the Trakehner breed. She’s created, in the style of her forebears, an ambiance conducive to the development of the loyal, sound-minded, and perfectly conformed Trakehners.