Bemidji couple race to championships in world horse shows
Speed, agility and the desire to beat the clock are qualities that bring in the 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 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 the American Quarter Horse Association World Show in November in Oklahoma City.
Joe rode his golden palomino stallion, Docs Dry Ice T Bar, and Kris rode her chocolate palomino mare, Flicka Miss McCue.
"This was like the granddaddy of them all," said Joe of the AQHA World. "It was an opportunity to visit with and ride against the best of the best in the world.
We finished in the world finals in the top 10 in the world in the same event riding against each other. I finished fifth in the world and my wife, Kris Klasen, finished sixth in the world right behind me.
When we were in the finals, we ran faster than we'd ever run." They also finished in the top 10 at the Palomino World Show.
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.
Joe and Kris give credit for their successes to a team of people helping them keep their horses in top shape -- their farrier, veterinarian, equine dentist, chiropractor and massage therapist and the farmer who supplies them with quality feed.
However, they especially appreciate the work of trainer Keith Wojciechowski of Wojo's Horse Training in Greenbush, Minn.
Kris said Flicka, now 8, was Keith's roping horse since the mare was a 2-year-old.
Kris 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," Kris said.
"One winter, I had a couple of horses that nobody was using," Keith said. "I wanted her to go to someone who'd use her, and Kris looked like the rider to ride our horse."
Kris doesn't rope off Flicka, but Keith'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," Kris said. "She's too quick."
Flicka is unusual, too, because her color isn't in the standard range of palomino yellow and gold. She was born yellow in 1998, but gradually darkened to a rich reddish brown.
Because of her color, Flicka's eligibility was questioned at the Palomino World Show, Kris said. As long as they didn't win, nobody would complain, Kris said, but the protests came in as Flicka racked up the winning times.
"We DNA tested her," Kris said. "Genetically, she's a palomino." Three of Flicka's four foals also are golden.
Keith 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. Keith 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," Keith said.
Keith 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, also roped off Ice in team roping with Tylor.
Joe 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.
"I can be sitting at a horse show with 70-80 other horses and he doesn't move; he doesn't whinny," Joe said.
Kris found a picture of Ice on the Internet in 2001 and called Joe 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."
Joe, an employee of Olson-Schwartz Funeral Home 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 outdoor footing is icy.
Gold Mine Ranch also offers horse boarding and sponsors the rodeo at the Beltrami County Fair. Kris and Joe said many competitors in the world shows train their horses for a single event, but the Gold Mine Ranch horses can compete in a variety of speed contests, as well as work cattle and provide comfortable trail rides.
"We don't ride better than many of our competitors," Kris said. "We just ride more often. Our horses are not always faster than our competition. We work them to be consistent. We achieved this as Flicka Miss McCue ran nearly the same time in her four runs in pole bending at the AQHA World Show."
She also said showing at the world level requires tremendous dedication, as well as financial investment. "That has to be your only hobby, sport, everything," Kris said.
"Are we addicted?" added Joe. "We're already planning next year's Palomino World. We've already qualified for that." Gold Mine Ranch is on the Web at goldmineranch.com.