Couple's devotion to horses pays off
By Molly Miron Forum Communications BEMIDJI, Minn. - Speed, agility and the desire to beat the clock are qualities that bring in trophies from competitive horse show speed events. And these are the characteristics that also excite the competitive...
By Molly Miron
BEMIDJI, Minn. - Speed, agility and the desire to beat the clock are qualities that bring in trophies from competitive horse show speed events.
And these are the characteristics that also excite the competitive spirits of Kris Klasen and Joe Waslaski, owners of Bemidji's Gold Mine Ranch.
For many years, they have shown horses locally and around Minnesota in timed speed events, such as barrel racing and pole bending.
But this year they hit the big-time with a string of championships at the 2006 Palomino World Show in July in Tulsa, Okla., and at the American Quarter Horse Association World Show in November in Oklahoma City. Waslaski rode his golden palomino stallion, Docs Dry Ice T Bar, and Klasen rode her chocolate palomino mare, Flicka Miss McCue.
"This was like the granddaddy of them all," said Waslaski of the AQHA World. "It was an opportunity to visit with and ride against the best of the best in the world.
"When we were in the finals, we ran faster than we'd ever run."
They finished in the top 10 at both the Palomino World Show and AQHA.
The couple was among 3,000 entries in the AQHA show, with competitors from
49 states, six Canadian provinces and the United Kingdom. Horses and riders qualify to compete in the world shows by earning points for winning events at state and regional AQHA-sanctioned shows.
Waslaski and Klasen credit their successes to a team of people that help keep their horses in top shape: their farrier, veterinarian, equine dentist, chiropractor and massage therapist, and the farmer who supplies them with quality feed. They especially appreciate the work of trainer Keith Wojciechowski of Wojo's Horse Training in Greenbush.
Klasen said Flicka, now 8, was Wojciechowski's roping horse since the mare was 2 years old. Klasen saw Flicka standing in a stall and recognized how special the little mare, who is almost pony-sized, is.
"Those little legs move really, really fast," Klasen said.
"One winter, I had a couple of horses that nobody was using," Wojciechowski said. "I wanted her to go to someone who'd use her, and Kris looked like the rider to ride our horse."
Klasen doesn't rope off Flicka, but Wojciechowski's son, Tylor, successfully competed in steer roping and team roping off the mare at the world shows.
"She's too good of a rope horse for me," Klasen said. "She's too quick."
Wojciechowski also taught Ice, now 7, how to use his speed. Trained originally as a show pleasure horse, he learned to walk, trot and lope in slow, relaxed gaits easy on the rider. Wojciechowski said he spent some time on back roads letting Ice run fast to learn to balance himself and his rider at a gallop.
"He just had to learn to be free enough to stretch out," Wojciechowski said.
He also roped off Ice at the Palomino World Show, putting in winning performances after a few practices in the Wojo pen. Another Greenbush horseman, Adam Langaas, 15, roped off Ice in team roping with Tylor.
Waslaski said the pleasure horse training, along with an inborn gentle nature, contributes to Ice's calm demeanor among other horses. Some stallions become too excited and unruly.
Klasen found a picture of Ice on the Internet in 2001 and called Waslaski at work. "He had the bloodlines I wanted and the color," she recalled. "I said, " 'We've got to buy him,' and by night, we owned him."
Waslaski, an employee of Olson-Schwartz Funeral Home in Bemidji for 24 years, had horses as a boy until he was 17. He returned to his horse interest in the 1980s and began showing horses locally in 1989.
Kris has worked for the Bemidji School District for 24 years. She has ridden horses her whole life and began showing them when she was about 10. The couple named Gold Mine Ranch for their love of golden palomino horses.
They said they didn't plan for their ranch to become a business, but they had a stallion and some mares and started breeding horses. They also started buying horses that needed trail experience, riding them and selling them as safe for any rider.
In 2003, they built a heated indoor arena, originally just for themselves to ride all winter and keep their horses in competitive shape. Since then, other riders have taken advantage of the facility to work their horses and hold events when it's icy outdoors.
Klasen said that showing at the world level requires tremendous dedication, as well as financial investment.
"That has to be your only hobby, sport, everything," Klasen said.
"Are we addicted?" asked Waslaski. "We're already planning next year's Palomino World. We've already qualified for that."
Molly Miron is a writer for the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper