Barn Aisle Chats is a series where we meet equestrians from all walks of life and disciplines. Today, we chat with Donna Keen, founder of the Remember Me Retired Racehorse Program.
Formed by racehorse trainers and volunteers to assist retired and injured racehorses after their careers at the track are over, Remember Me rehabilitates and retrains horses at their home stable near Fort Worth, Texas. Remember Me has been a 501(c)3 since 2008 and accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance since 2014.
Amanda: How did you get started in horse rescue?
Donna: I have been going to auctions and re-training horses for new homes since the 1990s, but the inspiration for Remember Me came from my experience with a single horse, Lights on Broadway. After being found on a truck bound for slaughter, Lights was bought by an Oklahoma-based Quarter Horse trainer before eventually finding his way to me. I immediately fell in love with the 17-hand horse with the flaxen mane and tail. Lights on Broadway lived with us for several years and he was the inspiration for Remember Me.
A: When was the program founded?
D: Remember Me was founded in 2008. We’ve re-homed hundreds of horses since the beginning of our program.
A: And what drew you to rescue ex-racehorses specifically?
D: My husband and I, Dallas Keen, are racehorse trainers. Racehorses are the horses that we have the most access to, although we are willing to help any horse in need. Thoroughbreds have so much potential for second careers after their racing career is over. They can do anything, from dressage to ranch work, and we have a unique perspective as racehorse trainers. Since we train them to race, we can also “un-train” them to race. Thoroughbred racehorses can often be thought of as high strung and temperamental but with training, they can do anything.
A: Tell us a little bit about the accreditation process with the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the GFAS, and EQUUS.
D: The accreditation, at the end of the day, is transparency. It is an oversight that allows donors to know that we are adhering to the strictest policies for our horses’ care and adoptions.
A: Tell us all about your rehabilitation and retraining process.
D: The majority of our horses are donated to the program by their racing connections, directly from the track. When the horses arrive, they are evaluated for any medical issues. Once cleared, they begin the re-training program. They are taught the foundations of being good equine citizens. All our horses that are rideable are ridden Western and English and we spend a lot of time with our horses in our obstacle course. Most racehorses have never had to pick up their feet or walk over a bridge. These are all things that are important to helping the horse find a home. Trained horses are much less likely to end up in bad situations than unruly horses. Once their training is completed, we share their story and pictures on Facebook. Many of our horses have gone on to do extraordinary things like eventing. Others are trail horses or even family pets. No matter what, they are loved by their new owners.
A: You also just received a grant from the North Texas Community Foundation to build a mounted patrol training course. How will that be incorporated into your program?
D: The obstacle course is a crucial part of our re-training program. Every horse in our program goes through the obstacle course numerous times as part of their training. There are invaluable skills that the horse learns such as picking up their feet, walking over bridges and learning to trust the rider. We are working towards getting as many of our horses as possible certified as mounted patrol horses. Thoroughbreds excel in this discipline, and we want to be able to support law enforcement. Our obstacle course will be available to all local police, mounted patrol and sheriff departments and their horses. We are also hoping to host desensitization clinics.
A: What’s the best thing about your job?
D: The best thing about my job is getting to work with horses. It’s a dream come true. For many years, every day at the racetrack, it was me and Wyatt. He was my pony horse and he travelled all over the country with us. Wyatt had his own following and he was an amazing pony horse. He passed last year and we miss him every day. I am truly blessed to be able to work around these magnificent creatures.
A: And what’s the worst?
D: Barn chores!
A: What can people do to help RMR?
D: We have plenty of volunteer opportunities every Saturday for people who want to come out and help! If you can’t, please consider sponsoring one of our six permanent residents. Our permanent residents are horses that need special care and are not eligible for adoption. They will live at Remember Me for the rest of their lives. We also have specific funds, such as the Mare Society and Farrier Fund, for people wishing to donate to specific causes. Any donation towards our program is extremely appreciated!
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.