Ukrainian War Horse Finds Refuge at WEF

February 3. 2024

There is a horse showing at the Winter Equestrian Festival [WEF] with a movie-script back story. S&L Zelenskyy is living his best life at Beacon Hill Show Stables but it is a far cry from two years ago when he found himself in a war zone as Russia invaded Ukraine.

Sam Edelman and his business partner Vincent Lambrecht were behind the importation of Zelenskyy to the US, where he is now owned and shown by Sophia DeLellis, her first ever jumper – together they have already moved up to the 1.10m. 

S&L Zelenskyy has found his forever home with Sophia DeLellis. ⓒChelsea Lothrop Photography

“Vincent called me from Belgium,” said Sam. “He said I’ve found this very, very lovely horse, I think it would be great. And then he told me the story.”

A contact of the Belgian trainer wanted to get two horses out of Ukraine to safety – Zelenskyy being one of them. A long and dangerous escapade ensued involving driving six hours each way to find transport for the horses, before taking a convoluted route to the border to avoid danger. “It took a really, really long time from the Ukraine to get to our stable,” said Vincent, who is based near Bruges in Belgium. “They had to go round the bombings. Then they were stuck for a week at the border and they ran out of food for the horses.”

Zelenskyy, whose name at the time was Lentini, weighed 900 pounds by the time he reached Stal Lambrecht. Vincent was able to ride him and jump him – and immediately saw the potential. “My son, who was 12 or 13 at that time, was still very scared to ride,” he said. “I was 200% sure this horse was super safe so I put him on. After he rode him, he said ‘Oh dad it’s so easy with this horse, it’s so much fun.’ So I called Sam – and said you need this horse there.”

Once housed at Sam’s stables in Wellington, Zelenskyy, with his dark eyes and dark shiny coat endeared himself to everyone. “No matter what you asked him to do, he was perfect,” Sam said. “There was nothing you could teach him.” Kit Miller, Sam’s vet, proposed a program to get the horse healthy. “He ate a bale of hay a day for 60 days,” said Sam. “He got really beautiful. He was lovely to have in the barn.” 

Sophia found a special horse to be her first jumper. ⓒChelsea Lothrop Photography

Initially at Heritage Stables, Sophia’s trainer Stacia Madden had the young rider try the horse at the end of last year’s WEF. “We tried a bunch of horses,” Sophia’s mother Danielle DeLellis recalled. “Then Zelenskyy came and everybody fell in love with him very quickly. Sophia knew there was something unique about the horse. They had an immediate bond. I don’t think she will ever want to sell him.” 

Sam, who has imported hundreds of horses from Europe since he began 28 years ago, has a special fondness for Zelenskyy. “I always say now that I’m a grandfather – certain horses that if my grandchildren were older – I would keep them. And Zelenskyy was one of them,” he said. “There’s something about him. Maybe it’s being saved.”

Written by Sarah Eakin for Paper Horse.