Lexington, Ky. – Dec. 24, 2016 – Denise Waszak’s dream had been to buy a young horse to move up the levels, but one glance at a post online changed her path. In May 2014, Kelly Smith of Omega Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation posted photos of five horses at the New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania that were scheduled for slaughter. Smith had already pulled fifteen horses the previous day, and was seeking owners to give the remaining horses a home.
“I glanced at the faces and one stood out to me — he seemed so afraid. But, at 54, I had only been riding for four years and I had a dream that at 55 I would get a baby to start — a horse with no baggage. I checked back later to make sure he had been saved, but he was still standing in the pen waiting to be loaded that night to go to Mexico.”
Waszak called her husband to explain the situation and then paid $375 to save the chestnut gelding, Kyff. He remained in quarantine for a month, and when he arrived to her home in Texas he was lame and running a fever. The vet estimated that he was around 3 years old and they submitted a hair sample to determine that he was a Bashkir CurlyQuarter Horse cross.
“It took about four months to get him healthy to start ground work,” she explained. “I had no clue as to his past or if he had ever been undersaddle.” In
February 2015, Waszak decided it was time for help from her trainer at the time, Fran Kehr. Kyff was anxious and explosive, and he would rear, buck and bolt when asked something different of him. Kehr referred the pair to ErikaWest Danque, a trainer gifted with troubled horses. Together, they put in the time working on lunging, ground work and horse agility to help develop their bond.
“I will never forget the call [about Denise and Kyff],” ErikaWest Danque said. “I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of training horses that no one else knows what to do with. He needed someone to tell him ‘No, that is the wrong choice, please try again.’ Denise only had a few years of riding experience, but she had the drive and put in the work.”
Three times a week, Waszak trailered Kyff to Danque’s farm to work on ground work and their dressage training. By September, they entered their first show. Though Kyff reverted back to his nervous behavior for the first test, he settled in his second class.
“We considered that a huge success!” Waszak continued. “I was excited to try again in November but two weeks after the September show, Kyffe came down with pneumonia. He spent 10 days in the ICU, and it was uncertain if he would survive since his immune system was still compromised.”
The recovery was slow, but by January 2016 they began light training and by late spring their goal was to qualify for their regional dressage championships.
“We qualified for regionals early on and worked hard on consistency — my goal still,” she continued. “Our classes were tough with a lot of good competition at regionals. I was just thrilled to be there! Never in my wildest dreams would Kyfff and I, after just about one year of showing, only two years together and far from his original fate, would place in our class and then make it to nationals. But we did!”
The pair made the trip to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and headed down centerline in the First Level Adult Amateur Championship earning a score of 63.712 percent.
“There is no way I can express the love I have for Kyff, or the gratitude for all the people who have helped and supported us,” Waszak said. “It’s been quite a journey the past two years, but he is now happy and lovely to show. Not a lot of people would take a noname curly horse, but he has done wonders for me. He is a very special horse and we are so proud of him.”
The pair enjoyed their time in Lexington, and their goal next year is to qualify for the US Dressage Finals at First Level and to compete a freestyle. Waszak hopes that her success with Kyff inspires more people to take a chance on a rescue horse.
“I’ve only ridden horses for about six years now, but I’ve learned that they have such a soul to them,” she concluded. “None of them should be thrown away. With love, patience, and firmness but kindness, any one of them could be like Kyff and have a future. They want to work with us, and when you give your heart to them, anything could be possible. We made it to US Dressage Finals!”