Outgoing Kelly DeSaye honored with sportsmanship award

By Nancy Jaffer
January 15, 2018

Kelly DeSaye nearly hung up on the person who notified her that she had won the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Amateur Sportsmanship award.

“She said, `Hi Kelly, this is Cheryl Rubenstein from the awards program,’” Kelly recalled.

“I was having a crazy day and you’re thinking, `the hotel points, a free resort vacation’, you know, the calls you get. I was just saying to her, `Listen, I’m really not interested’ and she said, `Kelly, don’t hang up. I’m from USHJA.’ I was laughing so hard, but when she told me, I literally cried,” the Farmingdale resident recalled.

“I was so shocked. There were people out there who recognized what I did.

Kelly DeSaye, center, receiving her USHJA amateur sportsmanship award from Marla Holt and Marianne Kutner. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

“I love horse showing,” said Kelly, who competes in the adult amateur hunters and rides six days a week. But the award wasn’t given because she’s an enthusiastic participant. It was about the way she treats people, and animals.

“In Kelly’s world, there are no strangers—just people she hasn’t met,” said her trainer, Mary Babick.

And Kelly is always up for making new friends.

“I love meeting people. I want to know what they’re about,” said Kelly, whose engaging approach puts people at ease and helped earn her the award.

“She is always ready to lend a hand, a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on. She’s someone that you want to have on your team,” observed Mary. Although Mary is president of USHJA, she noted Kelly’s award was a “pleasant surprise” to her and she did not even know of the nomination until she saw the materials from the awards committee.

One of the stories that defines what Kelly is about involves the time she handed over her down coat and gloves to a chilly concierge at HITS Ocala on an unseasonably cold day.

“Please stay warm,” she told the woman.

Kelly explained, “Everybody in this world struggles for something. I had no idea if this person had everything or anything, or if she was just unprepared.” Whatever it was,Kelly wanted to help.

Her inspiration in the show world is Betty Oare, the wonderful hunter rider and consummate volunteer who is still going strong at age 76.

Kelly and Betty met when they were both riding thoroughbreds at a show and compared notes.

“She’s a lot of fun and really has a good heart,” Betty said of Kelly.

“She’s a very generous kind of lady with an upbeat kind of manner.”

Off-the-track thoroughbreds are Kelly’s mount of choice. “I love that second chance,” she explained.

A determined Kelly in action.

Kelly, who characterizes herself as “an animal person” is into rescue, with pigs a specialty.

“There’s no such thing as a micro-pig,” said Kelly, but unfortunately, people who buy a piglet as a pet don’t necessarily realize that, she pointed out. When the animal gets too big, they often don’t want anything to do with it.

Kelly rents a farm in Colts Neck where she keeps rescue pigs.

“Some were abused, some were abandoned, some were just dropped off,” said Kelly, who also has two pigs living in her house.”

“It’s just like having a dog,” she maintains about the pigs she nurtures and loves. “They are so smart.”

Kelly at home with one of her adopted pigs.

As a shelter volunteer, she also raises money for animals that need rescue, getting particularly involved with canine refugees who came north after Hurricane Irma.

She also raises money for a variety of causes in the horse world and beyond. Whether it’s running a raffle or donating for a charity auction, she’s all in.

Kelly’s equestrian involvement began when she was growing up in Colts Neck, where she rode western in 4H. Then she discovered boys, went to college, had a daughter, Brittany, now 30,  and didn’t begin riding again until she was 45. After her daughter went to college, the empty nest syndrome hit her and she decided to get involved with horses to fill the void.

She said her husband, Michael, “supports me 100 percent,” and notes he also has been part of the horse world. Polo was his game, and he also has been a successful racehorse breeder.

All was going well for Kelly on the show circuit until three years ago, when her horse started bucking wildly after finishing a round. “He catapulted me 30 feet out of the ring,” remembers Kelly, who broke her neck when she fell.

She stopped riding for six months, then started taking lessons with Mary. Kelly returned to the ring with a titanium neck and a determination to improve herself and continue competing.

“Mary opened my eyes to a new world,” said Kelly, who is still jumping at age 54 and enjoys competing those thoroughbreds.

“If I have the worst round in the world, I still come out of the ring smiling,” she said. “Now I know what to do next time.”


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