In the world of Thoroughbred racing and equine welfare, you won't find two people who work harder and are more committed than Dallas and Donna Keen. The two work seamlessly together at the racetrack, sending out and overseeing set after set during morning training hours, running horses in the afternoons, traveling the country to some of racing's premier venues, and managing their full-service breeding, breaking and training facility, Keen Farms, in Burleson, Texas.
For Team Keen, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
They are also some of the most active and influential advocates for equine welfare in the country. Through their non-profit equine rescue and adoption organization, Remember Me Rescue, the Keens provide a safe-haven for their clients' retiring racehorses, as well as numerous horses in dire straits whose owners have failed them.
That seems like more than enough to keep even the largest of plates full, but the Keens are eager to do more.
This Saturday, Dallas and Donna will host their first-ever clinic for those new to or considering retired racehorse ownership.
“Dallas and I have had more than a few people ask us over the years to do a clinic to teach those new to Thoroughbred ownership the right way to do things,” said Donna. “With all of the new kill pen rescues and people getting Thoroughbreds that they just aren't equipped to handle, we thought it was time to start doing clinics to teach people how to handle and train ex-racehorses.”
The clinic will be a foray into uncharted territory for the Keens. They decided to start small, offering just ten spots for this one-day audit-only clinic.
“We aren't having people bring their horses and ride this time, and we've limited the number to just ten so we can make sure everyone's questions are answered. This is going to be a learning process for us too,” Donna said. “We will do demonstrations on several of the Remember Me Rescue horses and will show people some of the common issues many horses will need untrained from their racetrack days and retrained the right way.”
Another horse on hand for demonstrations of what retired racehorses can become with proper training will be Tortuga Straits, a stakes performer each year from ages two through eight who earned $831,573 in 61 starts. The gelding is now the Keen's stable pony and has also been trained to jump and be ridden bridleless.
The clinic will start at 9:00 a.m. with demonstrations and discussions on key topics pertinent to first-time Thoroughbred owners, including feeding, handling, blacksmith, groundwork and basic flat work. The group will break for lunch, with Dallas in charge of the grill, and the afternoon will consist of one-on-one conversations and individualized training with attendees about topics of interest to them.
Most of those scheduled to attend are either in the process of exploring the adoption of their first off-track Thoroughbred or have recently adopted a retired racehorse.
The cost of this initial clinic is $50, which includes lunch, and proceeds will be split between Remember Me Rescue and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. The process to reserve a spot in the clinic was first come, first served, though Donna says there is much more demand than they could accommodate.
“A big part of what we're hoping to achieve with these clinics is to dispel rumors and misconceptions people have about Thoroughbreds being rude or crazy or difficult to handle,” said Donna. “Thoroughbreds are very trainable and love to learn, but you have to understand how to communicate with them and what they've learned – both on purpose and unintentionally – on the racetrack.”
If all goes well, the Keens hope to expand their clinic offerings to include riding clinics both in Texas and at facilities around the country.
There has been a steady decline in horsemanship on the racetrack in the past several decades, according to the Keens.
“We want people to learn good horsemanship and to teach people to understand their Thoroughbreds,” said Dallas. “There are still good horsemen out there, but we've lost a lot of them too, and over the years people on the racetrack have learned to do things the wrong way and overall horsemanship has deteriorated. You have to respect a horse's size and strength, understand the root of the bad habits they've picked up, and learn how to effectively communicate with them to reverse it.”
To learn more about Dallas and Donna's methodology behind racehorse retraining and Remember Me Rescue, go to www.teamkeen.com.
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of Thoroughbred racing, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others, and she is the go-to food source for two dogs and one off-track Thoroughbred.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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