Photos courtesy of Remember Me Rescue
Dallas and Donna Keen had been placing their own retired racehorses for years, but when Lights On Broadway came into their lives they were inspired to do something more.
The 2001 Texas horse of the year, Lights On Broadway was headed to slaughter when he was identified. The Keens, who had been thinking of starting a program for off-the-track Thoroughbreds, brought Lights On Broadway to their farm in order to rehabilitate him. Soon after, an article was written about the situation titled “Remember Me” giving them the name for their new program.
“I taught him to ride without a bridle and do a lot of neat things and just really show people that Thoroughbreds can do anything - that they don’t have to be jumpers and dressage horses and how smart they are,” Donna Keen said. “If you can teach a horse of the year to ride without a bridle, you can teach a Thoroughbred to do anything. So he’s kind of what started our program and how we got our name ‘Remember Me Rescue,’ because so many horses are forgotten.”
DONNA KEEN WITH LIGHTS ON BROADWAY
Since the Keens started Remember Me Rescue in 2008, they have placed nearly 400 horses and currently have 20 horses in the program with an average of 10-15 horses at any time. Donna spends time getting the ex-racehorses prepared for a new career, including teaching them to walk over tarps and go up and down stairs.
Many of the Remember Me Rescue graduates have moved on to mounted patrol and search-and-rescue programs when they are ready for adoption. Showing the popularity of the program, the Keens have a waiting list of people ready to adopt Thoroughbreds when they are ready to leave Remember Me Rescue.
“I have more phone calls than I do horses a lot of times,” Donna said. “I have a waiting list of people that want certain things: tall, sound, clean legged. Unfortunately, off the racetrack we don’t get enough of those, but if we did I think I could place them all day long. We’ve had so many people call every day looking for Thoroughbred racehorses, and I do think they have become more popular because of the work that we’re doing and other people are doing to make people aware that they’re not just jumpers. When they leave the racetrack, they can do anything.”
People who want to adopt a horse from Remember Me Rescue have to fill out an application that can be found on the program’s website. After an application is approved and the potential adopter finds a horse they want from the program, they have to fill out an adoption contract before they can take the horse home.
DONNA KEEN RIDING LIGHTS ON BROADWAY
Donna Keen recommends that people adopting an off-the-track Thoroughbred for the first time go through an organization that retrains the horses. But if the horse comes straight off the track, she recommends that they find a clinician or trainer experienced working with Thoroughbreds to get the horse restarted right.
“Sometimes [retraining Thoroughbreds] can be tricky, they learn a lot of bad habits from the racetrack,” she said. “There’s lots of little tricks we can do to un-train them from the things they learn on the racetrack such as walking off when you’re trying to get on them and pinning their ears when you’re brushing them. These things are so simple and so easy to un-train from the racehorses, but if you can find someone that has had experience working with them and understands kind of how they work and why they do the things they do, it makes it a lot easier to un-train them and retrain them.”
She also suggests working on the horse’s groundwork when they first come off of the track as Thoroughbreds are used to doing something every day. After doing some preliminary groundwork then the horse can be turned out for a few months to enjoy some time off.
“I want people to be aware of how smart the horses are and how easy they are to retrain,” Keen said. “Don’t think that just because they were on the racetrack that they’re crazy or that they’re not trainable because that’s the biggest myth about retired racehorses. They’re very smart and they love to learn new things.”
DALLAS KEEN WITH A THOROUGHBRED AND YOUNG FAN
Those who want to help Remember Me Rescue but can’t afford to adopt a horse can either donate to the program or sponsor a horse. Some of the horses Remember Me Rescue gets off the track either can’t be adopted or will take longer to prepare for adoption due to injuries and other issues. Donations by fans help support those horses.
Keen says that small donations help pay for the everyday costs such as feed and bedding and are the lifeblood of programs around the country.
Remember Me Rescue has also created a special fund called the “Monzante Memorial Fund” to retire higher-profile horses. The fund allows Remember Me Rescue to contact owners of horses who have earned more than $500,000 in their lifetime but have moved down to the lower claiming levels to offer a new home for the horse.
Remember Me Rescue worked with Beyond the Roses Thoroughbred Rescue to retire Skippy Due from the track and get him ready for a new career. For those interested in donating to that fund, there is a donation button on this page <http://www.teamkeen.com/monzantememorialfund.html>.
Keen has seen the thought process of owners and trainers shift in the right direction over the years, with more people paying attention to where racehorses go after they are retired.
“Without trainers and owners, we couldn’t do what we do. They do love the horses and over the last five years, [they’ve started to] understand it a lot more. Before people didn’t really understand what happens to the horses and they thought ‘they all get good homes when we give them to people,’ ” she said. “But people have become a lot more aware of what happens to horses when they come out of racing training and retire, and they make a big effort to place the horses in good homes.
“Not everybody, but the majority of them are very careful of where their horses go now and that makes me proud, I’m glad our industry is starting to change the way they think about the racehorses.”
Remember Me Rescue will be hosting the “Battle of the X’s” in March 2014 during the rescue’s second annual All-Thoroughbred Horse Show.
For those interested in more information on both Remember Me Rescue and the “Battle of the X’s,” visit Remember Me Rescue’s website. <http://www.teamkeen.com/theremembermeprogram.html>
If you know of a Thoroughbred Aftercare program that you think should be covered in America’s Best Racing’s Aftercare Program Spotlight, email Melissa Bauer-Herzog (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the program’s name and website.