Dale Woodard Lethbridge Herald
John Wayne Yakimyshyn has spent his entire life around horses.
But a mishap with one set the longtime Hollywood horse trainer on a different career path and one that he hopes will assist people as well.
After a horrific accident with a horse a little over three years ago that nearly left him paralyzed, Yakimyshyn has gone from trainer to businessman, designing the Giddyupz, an attachment that goes on the grab handle in trucks, jeeps, semis, and other off-road vehicles to help assist people in and out of the vehicle.
“You can put this on the back of a seat rail for the backseat passenger so they can hold on,” said Yakimyshyn.
Now back in Lethbridge for the past two months, Yakimyshyn is unveiling his patented item.
“I picked Lethbridge not only because I lived here 20 years ago, but it’s kind of cowboy country,” said Yakimyshyn. “I thought with my background, the horses and the word Giddyupz, it’s also a good retirement community, so I figured a lot of people would need this.”
Yakimyshyn’s path to horse training started as a youngster on a road trip from his hometown of Vegreville to Calgary.
“In 1963 Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were in Calgary at the Stampede as the marshals,” said Yakimyshyn. “I remember sitting on the side of the road watching Roy Rogers and my parents explained to me who Roy Rogers was. I told them at that time, at five years old, ‘I can do that,’ when they explained what Trigger (Roger’s Palomino horse) did.”
Growing up in Vegreville, horses were always a part of Yakimyshyn’s upbringing.
“We had a machinery dealership and a Dodge dealership and my parents always had a couple of farms,” he said. “We worked on the farms and every weekend my brothers and I would pretend we were playing “Bonanza.” We had all the little horses and we would ride together in the fields and that’s how it started.”
In the early-1970s, Yakimyshyn started training horses on his own. The paid off in 1984 when he headed to California to work with noted trainer Glen Randall.
“One day I found an article with Glen Randall,” said Yakimyshyn. “I called him from home in Vegreville and he said ‘You know what, son? You bring me $6,000 cash and come and train with me.’ That was a lot of money back then. He didn’t know me from nothing, just some guy calling him on the phone. So I loaded up two horses, took $6,000 in cash and I went all the way down to Hollywood and I started working with him.”
Arriving in his big Dodge van that he slept in, Yakimyshyn started work the moment he drove into the yard.
“We were training Andalusian horses for some San Diego bullfights,” he said. “This was for movies, so nobody was getting hurt. But we had to teach the horses to pretend they’re going into a bullfight and dance sideways. It’s all trick stuff, nobody got hurt. I was the only one who got hurt in 60-something years.”
Yakimyshyn and Randall also worked with Black Stallion horses from Francis Ford Coppola movies.
“I knew a lot because I was self-taught, but I learned a lot from him.” Yakimyshyn also worked with actor David Hasselhoff on an episode of “Knight Rider” in 1985.
“I worked on the set and it was called ‘Knight By A Nose,’” said Yakimyshyn. “You’ll see a few black horses running around and I was dressed up as an Arab sheik. The horse was supposed to fight me and fight him and run away. But we had two horses on the set. So one was like a pussycat and the other was a fighting horse. So you had to teach them to pretend to fight.”
Yakimyshyn continued to work off and on as a Hollywood trainer.
“Anytime they needed you, you went there. There was some stuff shot in Vancouver and a little bit was done in Alberta,” he said.
Then came the accident on Oct. 12, 2017 that put Yakimyshyn on a different career path.
“I’ll never forget it, 11 in the morning,” he said. “They brought a new horse onto the set. I had been training and getting horses ready for the new season for the week and all the horses were fine. I was teaching them to drop their heads and smile and do all kinds of cute things.”
A new Palomino was brought onto the set.
“They said they were using him,” said Yakimyshyn. “I asked if he was broke for cameras and (was told) ‘No problem, he’s broken.’ So I get on him and we used him on film for four hours.”
Afterwards there was a break in the filming and Yakimyshyn went to feed the Palomino some grain.
“As I’m walking back, I’m probably three feet away from the movie star,” he said. “We’re talking and I have a loose rein. I was in an RCMP saddle from the early 1900s, which means the horn is very high and the back is very high and it’s all made of steel. So when you sit in the saddle it grips your legs so they could fight with a sword or knife and not fall out of the saddle.” Suddenly, the horse started bucking.
“I don’t what happened to the horse,” said Yakimyshyn. “He went nuts immediately, starting bucking, broke my front pelvis completely off, broke my back pelvis off my backbone, flipped over, cut me in half and knocked me out on the ground. I was knocked out while I was on the back of the horse.
“So I woke up screaming, not crying, screaming. I had no idea where the horse was. I was told he was fine. He just went crazy for some reason.”
An ambulance arrived on the scene inside of a half hour.
“I lost half my blood and I couldn’t see my legs,” said Yakimyshyn. “I asked ‘Where are my legs?’ and they said they were pulled out of the sockets. Within a half inch I would have been paralyzed.”
Yakimyshyn’s spine was crushed in the accident.
“I have eight, six-inch bolts holding me together,” he said.
Yakimyshyn spent time in a trauma centre and briefly in a senior’s home before taking up residence in a hotel room in Chilliwack.
“I laid in bed, rolled into the washroom, walked by cane and wheelchair and it took me one year to walk again,” said Yakimyshyn, who still walks with a cane when he needs it.
He also deals with nerve damage and arthritis.
As he got his mobility back, the first prototypes of the Giddyupz starting taking shape.
“How this happened with Giddyupz is a friend of mine had a brand new Ford pickup truck and he wanted to take me out for groceries when I was in a wheelchair,” said Yakimyshyn. “So I rolled up and I couldn’t reach the grab handle. He couldn’t help me because if you’re standing in the crease of a door you can’t lift somebody up with my weight – I’m 200 pounds — and safely put me in. So I said ‘I have to figure this out.’”
And so, the first grab handles started taking shape.
“I came up with the grab handle extender,” said Yakimyshyn. “It’s made of leather. But the nice thing is we graduated to synthetic with our name stamped in that can hold over 1,500 pounds. The leather one will hold hundreds of pounds, the synthetic one will hold 1,500 pounds without breaking.”
To demonstrate strength of the Giddyupz, Yakimyshyn showed a photo of the grab handle extender lifting the front end of a 1,500-pound tractor.
“It’s just a couple of bolts and some screws. This material is so strong we’re using it for different applications,” said Yakimyshyn, who has also invented the lasso and the stirrup to help the elderly get out of their chair or lift their legs up in cars.
“It took me three years and over 7,000 hours and over $70,000 invested,” said Yakimyshyn.
Given its name, the Giddyupz will follow a familiar theme.
“It’s going to be all cowboy related,” said Yakimyshyn, who is two months into his business venture and was set up at the Christmas Market last weekend. “We’ve only been selling out of the factory so far to people I have contacted.”
Some big names south of the border already own the Giddyupz.
“Jay Leno called me on March 7 at 10 a.m. and he invited me to his place in Hollywood. I sent him four Giddyupz and he absolutely loves them,” said Yakimyshyn, adding Bob Lutz, former president of Chrysler and General Motors, Warren Buffett and even Donald Trump have used the Giddyupz. “So a lot of important people in the States already have this product.”
A Giddyupz grab handle goes for $35.
“It’s made in Alberta by an Albertan and it’s patented and trademarked,” said Yakimyshyn.
For more information on The Giddyupz Corporation, visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/GiddyupzCorporation2020
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Dale Woodard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald