When Kate Miller was just 6 years old, a gray Standardbred named Keystone Wallis was the horse of her dreams. Twenty years later, Miller still remembered her dream horse, and came to the mare's rescue when she was facing the killers at auction.
Miller's family became involved in Standardbred racing when they responded to an ad looking for new racehorse owners. Watching the horses race at The Meadows, Keystone Wallis attracted her attention because she was gray, and because she was a champion.
"Quite honestly, it was just her color. I was six years old at the time and she stood out just because of that," Miller said. "When I was six I had no concept of how good of a racehorse she was. As I got older, I realized that when I saw her name in pedigrees of horses in sales catalogs."
Growing up, Miller rode hunter/jumpers. Currently she is living in Crafton, PA and working in Pittsburgh as assistant director of admissions for Argosy University Online Programs. Her income is not at a level right now where she can afford to support a horse, but that has not changed her love for the animals. Through her family she is still in touch with the racing world, and she tends to look through the sales catalogs to see if there are familiar names.
"Having been in the business since I was born, I know a lot of horses and pedigrees and I just like to see what's selling. For example, I'd like to know if one of our old horses was selling," Miller said, explaining that she normally looks for broodmares they have sold over the years or race horses that were clamed from them.
Barren Mare Age 23
Late last year, Miller saw the name of now 23-year-old Keystone Wallis, and the memories came back. A champion and stakes winner of $600,000, the mare went on to produce 14 foals that sold for a total of over $300,000. Now she was listed as a "barren mare" and considering her age, was unlikely to be bought, except by the killers.
"Open broodmares usually sell cheap, really cheap. A mare like Wallis, 23 and open, really represents no upside as a purchase," Miller said.
With that in mind, and help from her friend Ellen Harvey, Director of Harness Racing Communications for the US Trotting Association, to line up contacts, Miller gathered up what money she could, added donations from friends and drove to the sale in Delaware, Ohio on Nov. 19 intending to buy the horse. "I went with that purpose. I got up at 5 and drove the three-plus hours over to the sale. I had already arranged transport and everything for her to get back to Pennsylvania," Miller said. "I didn't really have too much of a game plan beyond that, though."
White With Age
When she got there, she found her dream horse, white with age, thin and stressed. "I talked to the consignor who indicated she was almost entirely deaf, had a bad knee and hock and she didn't seem all that people-oriented at the sale," Miller said. "I was really worried. I had had hopes that if she was sound and pleasant she could have a chance at being a trail horse but it was pretty apparent that wouldn't be a great situation for her.
A bid of $150 bought the mare, and Miller's friend Terry Milhoan hauled her at no charge to a stable in Washington County, PA. "I knew she wouldn't bring much money and I thought a worst-case scenario situation in which I brought her home and euthanized her would be a kinder end than the alternative, so I bought her with that in the back of my mind," Miller said.
As it turned out, the mare was suffering from a uterine infection. That and having foaled within the year contributed to her apparent poor condition. Miller thanks Heather Wilder, who helped cover the veterinary costs to have her problems treated and Greg Wright, who kept her free-of-charge at his farm when she returned to PA.
The cost of board was something that Miller could not afford on a long-term basis, but Keystone Wallis has other fans. A story about the rescue appeared in a Standardbred trade magazine, and readers responded. "The sad reality is, the only thing this mare had going for her, honestly, was her fame and maybe her color," Miller notes. "If Wallis had been a 23-year old nobody, I would still be looking for a home for her."
Miller received many calls and e-mails, and the biggest help of all from New Jersey veterinarian Dr. Patricia Hogan, who offered Keystone Wallis a new home. "She was a world champion, she made a lot of money for people along the way and she can end up in a slaughter auction," Hogan said. She understands the unfortunate circumstances could apply to many horses.
"I had heard of Dr. Hogan prior to this just by being in the racing business. When she contacted me, she described what was essentially the perfect situation for the mare. I couldn't have been more pleased and relieved. It was an extremely kind offer on her part and hands-down the best case scenario for the mare," Miller said.
"I see lots of horses every day and I do a lot of work with rescues, but I had never taken one myself," Hogan said. "I love the fact that a young person who was in no financial position to do this stepped in. We need more young people like this."
Hogan has provided a permanent home for Keystone Wallis in Cream Ridge, NJ, where she will live out her days in a pasture by the clinic, which happens to be on a very large Standardbred farm.
Miller handed the halter to Wayne Shaffer, who shipped Keystone Wallis to her new home on December 6 at no charge. Because of the distance, Miller has not visited her since then, but she has gotten pictures of her progress from Dr. Hogan, and hopes to visit in person over the summer.
For now, Keystone Wallis is making herself comfortable in her new home, and was even included in the veterinary clinic's Christmas card photo this year. "She's really something. She has a presence about her. She's just a doll," Hogan said.
Even though saving Keystone Wallis was a big undertaking, Miller would do it all over again. "People were so willing to help out, and I cannot express how grateful I am for that; quite honestly, I couldn't have done this without everyone's help," she said. "Unfortunately, if you don't have the ability to sink consistent money into a rescue, you can end up in a tight spot. There just simply aren't enough homes for these. So, when I do it again, I will either have to look for that champion that tugs at the heartstrings, or make sure what I bring home has the ability for a viable second career."