Photos Rob Smith

While on a ride, wine, and dine trip with her mother, long-time horse enthusiast Phillips encountered a breed of horse indigenous to the island of Menorca, known as the Menorquín. These beautiful, endangered animals caught her eye with their high energy and slender athletic builds. With fewer than 3,000 in the world, their delicate numbers rely on the Menorcan breeding program. In 2021, Phillips was inspired to introduce the breed to America, and began steps to start the first breeding program outside of Europe for these magnificent horses. Zar, the Menorquín stallion, was the first of his kind to step foot in the United States after a lengthy process of veterinarian certification, transportation process, and mandatory quarantines. Zar is trained in upper-level dressage riding style, and Phillips hopes to expand her repertoire in this arena. 

Q: How do you communicate with Zar, do you even speak Spanish?  

A: I do not speak Spanish or Menorquín and when he arrived, he did not speak English. Zar and I depend on body language and non-verbal cues to bridge the language gap. Luckily, we have only had a few embarrassing moments. Who knew that the kissing sound was a false cognate (in English it means to Canter and in Menorquín it means rear up and kick your front legs) – I won’t make that mistake again!  

Q: Does he have a cute accent?  

A: Absolutely! He rolls his Rs with a feisty Spanish flair!  

 

Q: How do you cope with the knowledge that Zar carries all the talent in your partnership?  

A: I truly respect him and appreciate his patience with his novice new mom, however, I wear the pants in the family! Plus, when everyone is in awe of the black stallion, it takes the pressure off me!  

 

Q: Can all horses learn the art of dressage, or are some as rhythmically challenged as I was at 13 years old trying to smash the macarena?  

 

A: Horses are like people, not all are created equal, physically that is! Some are fast, some slow, some go sideways easily (good for dressage), and some are more coordinated than others. A lot of breeds you see showing in dressage date back to horses that were used in battle because of the maneuvers they needed during combat.  

Q: Some men in their forties turn to flashy sports cars and twenty-year-olds, you bought yourself a dancing stallion. How would you say you’re managing this mid-life crisis?  

 

A: Certainly, this is a better-than-average mid-life crisis. Just like those men who get behind the wheel of their new sports car and push all the buttons, I am testing the limits with my dancing stallion. It’s exhilarating! At first, I was totally in over my head and asked myself, what was I thinking?! Now, like a good marriage, we are past the tumultuous honeymoon phase and things are smoothing out. Luckily, my human husband doesn’t mind my midlife crisis. This is good because it would be hard to hide my Spanish boyfriend when he lives in our backyard.  

house, rome, ga, pressure, wash, cleaning, gutters

Q: Laborer exploitation and overburdened social services are just a couple of the divisive immigration issues in the country.  Did you consider hiring an American horse for your dressage ambitions?  

A: I did begin my search here but I soon realized that most dressage horses in America were imported by someone else. And since I love to complicate things, I thought: Why not try this myself? Why not go to the ends of the earth and find a rare breed of horse? Why not import the first “black pearl” of the Mediterranean Sea across an ocean by boat, then by plane, and over the road on a trailer instead?! 

Melissa Phillips and Zar

Q: I’ve heard it said you are the Menorquín Messiah. Do you really think you deserve that title? It seems a bit inflated?  

A: Ha! Certainly inflated. I really cannot think of any shared characteristics between me and the Messiah. In bringing over a Menorcan stallion, I can say that I was the first, but I am certainly not omniscient, and four others have followed suit.  


Q: He is rather dashing in his regalia, does all the attention go to his head? 

 

A: Absolutely, he loves to perform for a crowd. When he’s grazing in the pasture, he looks calm and relaxed, but add his Spanish saddle, a little chrome and flair, and he’s ready to put on a show.  

Q: How will the breeding program work? What happens if Zar isn’t into the ladies?  

 

A: Oh, that won’t be a problem at all! He loves all horses! When in Menorca, he produced eight offspring: seven colts and a filly. We hope to continue the pure breed here in the US but that requires a few lady friends which we are currently lacking.