Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Even When Times Are Tough, Keens Do Right By Their Horses by Tom Pedulla|02.24.202102.24.2021|2:54pm6:58pm Donna and Dallas Keen wit one of their horses at Santa Anita Dallas Keen found himself inextricably drawn to a woman riding a dappled gray pony one morning at Lone Star Park in 2004. He had to know her name. “You don't want to know,” an outrider replied. “She's high maintenance.” Three years later, Dallas and Donna were married, forming one of racing's most passionate couples when it comes to training Thoroughbreds and providing for their aftercare. As for the high-maintenance tag applied to Donna? “I found out she's not high maintenance other than she likes to collect horses because she wants to save every horse there is,” Dallas said. “That's her mission.” That noble mission has led the couple to live life at warp speed since they met. They oversee 12 runners in a racing stable they are working to re-build after they relocated to Texas from California last year. They operate Keen Farms, a 20-acre breeding, breaking and training facility in Burleson, Texas. And they have spared scores of horses from grim ends since founding Remember Me Rescue in 2008. Remember Me Rescue prepared more than 40 horses for adoption in 2020. It says everything about Donna's hard-driving nature that she is determined to find new homes for more than 50 horses this year. “This really became a priority for me when I saw these horses with good owners ending up in bad places,” Donna said. “We have the place, we have enough acreage, we have the help that we could re-train these horses for these folks straight from the racetrack.” The Keens have built professional lives from which there is no real escape, given horses' incessant needs. And that is fine with them. “We find time for our personal time,” Donna said, “but we still talk about horses because that's our passion.” They were having lunch some time ago when someone texted Donna a photo of a terribly neglected horse that looked more like a skeleton and asked if anything could be done. They never finished their meal. Donna headed to the site. Dallas picked up a trailer to meet her there. Even then, they did not arrive in time. But the call to help one horse that could not hang on another hour led them to successfully rescue another that was clinging to life. “When you get those calls, you hate them,” Dallas said. “It gives you a real sick feeling that someone can let a horse get into that situation.” Dallas on the pony, Donna on the racehorse It happens, of course, far too often. And there is the reality that only so much can be done. Horses will perish from neglect. Horses will face the terror of the slaughterhouse. “That is the hardest thing I have to do, decide which horses you can help and which horses you can't,” Donna said. “We try to put a priority on horses we know we can re-home the quickest because we know when those horses get homes, we can go and help more horses.” The Keens do not have easy lives. Donna had to carry much of the load after Dallas sustained major injuries in a riding accident at Sam Houston Race Park early last year. He was hospitalized for five days while a dangerous buildup of fluid was drained from his lungs. Ten screws and a plate were required to surgically repair a badly-broken ankle. For all of the work they do, the return on their labor is hardly financially rewarding. “Half of the time, you're robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Dallas said. “You get into a situation where somebody can't pay a training bill, it's money you've already paid out of your pocket. If I could have all of the money that I've lost over the years from not getting paid, I'd be sitting real good right now. That's part of the business. Some people have bigger ambitions than they've got wallets.” While the Keens are optimistic about their future in Texas and their ability to attract new owners, their numbers suffered after they decided to relocate there from California. They had conditioned as many as 55 horses and know they must fill more than the 12 stalls they currently have occupied. According to Equibase, the stable was still looking for its first victory this year after eight starts brought three second-place finishes and one third for earnings of $17,356 in action at Sam Houston and Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Their runners made only 56 starts last year but won at an 18 percent clip while finishing in the money 41 percent of the time for $251,672 in purses. Dallas and Donna Keen “You've got to watch everything you do,” Dallas said of their spending. “But one thing we've never done is cut our horses short. That's where sometimes you get caught a little upside down because you're spending more money than you're bringing in. But the first priority is the horses got to get the best of everything.” It helps that Remember Me Rescue is accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and benefits from TAA grants as well as its own fundraising efforts. The organization also is bolstered by devoted volunteers who follow up on adopted horses to make sure they are in good hands. The Keens admit there are some horses that become so beloved they cannot possibly part with them. Bee Bop Baby is among those. “She came from skin and bones and now she's a big, fat, happy mare. She's what we call a lifer,” Dallas said, sounding very much like a man who has everything he needs. Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications. If you wish to suggest a backstretch worker as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the employee's background.