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Breeders' Cup 2017

Ponies of the Track - Wyatt: The Bridleless Pony

Photo: Terri Cage Photography


There are many forgotten heroes at the racetrack of the human variety: grooms, hotwalkers, EMTs, veterinarians, and jockey valets among them. But there are also equine heroes outside of the obvious racehorses: the outrider horses and lead ponies. They are kicked, they are bit, they are slammed into, and they are pushed around. They tolerate the immature two-year-old, the testy mare, and the lazy gelding. Their riders often endure the same difficulties. But these horses also provide guidance and comfort for many racehorses, as well as a best friend for many young children and loyal racetrackers that visit the track.

For racing enthusiasts that frequently watch racing on television or visit the track regularly, a pony horse may become familiar in appearance, but it is rather unusual for a pony horse’s name to be known. The name of the racehorse alongside the pony is in the program, on the television monitor, and in pedigree databases, but the pony is largely anonymous. But for hours upon hours – whether it be in the morning or afternoon – the pony works tirelessly, often encountering unruly racehorses and unpredictable weather. It is time to shine a light upon these hard workers.

Please enjoy my second installment of a new series featuring these horses, called “Ponies of the Track.”

Wyatt: The Bridleless Pony

Not many horses have their own Twitter, but Wyatt does (@BridlelessWyatt). On the popular social media site, his bio reads, “My official job is chaperone for the racehorses for my mom and dad, my unofficial job is as a celebrity.”

















Photo by Donna Keen 

Wyatt’s “mom and dad” are Donna and Dallas Keen, a Texas-based wife and husband duo who train racehorses and also operate Remember Me Rescue. Alongside the Keens, Wyatt has traveled to many tracks: Lone Star Park, Sam Houston Race Park, Fair Grounds, Keeneland, Del Mar, and Santa Anita Park among them.

Although he now holds a place in many hearts, it was Donna’s heart that he captured first. Several years before Remember Me Rescue was ever launched, Donna came to Wyatt’s rescue. At a horse sale in Weatherford, Texas that is frequented kill buyers, Donna laid her eyes upon a young unbroken two-year-old Paint. Much to her dismay, the gray horse had been sold to a kill buyer for $300. She knew she had to step in. For the price of $500, Wyatt’s fate had changed. Instead of traveling to a slaughter house, he moved to his new home with Donna, where he would soon prove to be a special horse.

“I broke Wyatt at my farm and even taught a few lessons on him,” Donna states. “Soon, he was showing in walk-trot classes at local shows with my students and I was also using him to break young Thoroughbreds to pony. I took him to the track shortly after.”















Wyatt and Donna Keen
Photo by Terri Cage 

Wyatt quickly established himself as a superb pony horse. Since his ponying career began, he has become the perfect partner for Donna to have on the track, exhibiting every characteristic a good track pony needs – and then some.

“Wyatt is very tough,” Donna says. “He is absolutely fearless and is not frightened of the racehorses when they jump or kick. He also will watch the track, scanning back and forth. If there is a loose horse or a rider off, he will almost point like a hunting dog, just staring intensely until we notice what he is looking at. He will also go right to a loose horse, [which] we have caught plenty of over our years together.”

During Wyatt’s ponying career, he has formed bonds with many racehorses, but one of his favorites is Deputiformer, a hard-knocking eight-year-old gelding that has won an astounding eight times in 2013.

“Every day before Deputiformer trains, Wyatt walks him to the track and then they hang out for twenty minutes or so before Deputy starts off,” Donna states. “Deputy takes a nap, standing on the track while Wyatt diligently watches the other horses, pinning his ears at anyone who gets too close to Deputiformer.”
















Deputiformer and Wyatt
Photo by Donna Keen  

Wyatt’s willingness and intelligence are two of his best qualities when it comes to ponying. These characteristics have played an important role in his career as a pony.

“Wyatt is a great pony,” Donna states. “He can go any direction at any time I ask, which comes in handy when ponying unpredictable racehorses. He side-passes and half-passes forward and backward. He sticks to a horse like glue and they cannot get away from us.”

Donna vividly remembers an incident that occurred at the gap at Santa Anita one morning during the week of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup in which Wyatt saved the day without a single cue.

“There was a group of people standing at the gap of the track,” Donna recalls. “There was a racehorse coming off the track with a pony escort. The horse suddenly jerked back and jumped around the back of the pony, bolting sideways right towards the crowd. I actually missed the initial incident, but Wyatt didn’t. Before I could turn my head, we were right there to catch the horse before he could crash into the crowd. Wyatt got a round of applause and I had a little whiplash.”
















Wyatt, Donna Keen, and Mary Cage at the gap during 2012 Breeders' Cup week
Photo by Terri Cage 


Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Wyatt’s ponying skills is his ability to pony bridleless – which he does more often than ponying with a bridle on.

“Any horse can be trained to be ridden bridleless, but it takes one that really wants to be your helper to be good at it,” Donna says. “I like riding bridleless because I think it lets a horse move more naturally and also express itself better. Wyatt has been going bridleless for about seven or eight years. He loves it. I trust him completely and couldn’t imagine being on a different horse if I was ever in a dangerous spot.”

Although many have now grown accustomed to it, Donna likes to play a trick on riders that are not familiar with the Keens’ bridleless ponying. Several times, an exercise rider has asked where Wyatt’s bridle is in panic, to which Donna replies, “Oh man, I knew I forgot something!”

But it is Wyatt who is the master at playing tricks. One of Donna’s favorite stories to tell about her beloved gelding is about a time when Dallas rode Wyatt out with the first set one morning at Louisiana Downs when Wyatt was feeling fresh.

“A rider had fallen off his horse but held onto the reins, so Dallas stepped off Wyatt and walked over to leg-up the rider,” Donna recalls. “After the rider was safely back on his horse, Dallas headed back to get on Wyatt, who was about twenty feet away. Wyatt was watching Dallas, but all of a sudden, he looked down the racetrack, looked back at Dallas, then turned and took off bucking and kicking so hard that the saddles’ stirrups were clicking into each other over his back. At that moment, the ‘loose horse’ siren went off. Wyatt skid to a stop, turned, and made a beeline for the outriders’ shed to hide. He knew the siren was for him, and he went to hide like an ostrich with its head in the ground.”

Clearly, it is not only Wyatt’s outstanding abilities as a track pony that has carved himself a special place into Donna’s heart. The twelve-year-old gelding possesses an incomparable personality that is evident to any person that has ever met him.

“Wyatt is hysterical,” Donna states. “He nickers when he hears you say his name. He can undo any gate, lock, and has even mastered double-ended snaps. He can crawl under webbing, too. When he does get loose, he goes straight for the trash cans to rummage for people food, primarily donut boxes.”










Don't leave food too close...
Photo by Donna Keen 











Or get caught with Dr Pepper
Photo by Terri Cage


This personality has made Wyatt incredibly popular around not only the track, but social media. On Twitter, the handsome gray gelding boasts more than 370 followers. At the track, he is continuously attracting the attention of fans and horsemen – who certainly have his attention as well.

“Wyatt is famous,” Donna says. “Every track we go to, you can hear his name being called by the jockeys and gallop people as they go by. He nickers to them. He also knows which trainers keep mints in their pockets; he can spot them from across the track and nickers as soon as they get close.”

Ever since that fateful day on which Donna rescued a young, unproven two-year-old from certain death, she has developed a special friendship with the horse of a lifetime. Wyatt is not only a skillful pony to have around the barn; he is Donna’s best friend.

“Wyatt has been my partner for a long time,” Donna states. “I couldn’t imagine having a horse that I love or trust any more than him. I’m very blessed to have him and it makes me sad to think he would have been slaughtered if I hadn’t been in the right place at the right time."













Wyatt and Donna Keen
Photo by Terri Cage 


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Older Comments about Ponies of the Track - Wyatt: The Bridleless Pony...

Lead rider at Hastings was a standardbred. A beutiful beast who took her job, it appeared, seriously. Only sad thing was that she had to be retired and demoted to a lead pony. BUT still was around all the excitement I guess.
What an amazing story....I wish these incredible ponies received more of the spotlight....they work so hard and take so much from their the stakes winners and they do so with so much patience..Please continue to share Wyatt's story!
Awesome post, Mary. These kind of amazing horses deserve the same spotlight enjoyed by graded stakes winners. After reading I feel as if I know Wyatt...very well written.
  • grandstand · Thank you for your very kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed my article about Wyatt and hope you continue to enjoy my series about ponies. - Mary Cage · 1412 days ago
I saw Wyatt at Clockers Cornor one morning at the 2012 Breeders Cup. So glad to read his story here. Thankyou. What a wonderful horse and friend for you. Makes me so sad to think he could have been slaughtered.
  • grandstand · He is a wonderful horse! I love Wyatt! It's been a blessing to know him for special years. We get along well, especially because I spoil him every time I see him, usually with his favorite cereal :) - Mary Cage · 1412 days ago
great series! thanks for good pr!
great series! thanks for good pr!
love it theres more than jockeys and trainers..out riders-grooms-exercise riders-hot walkers-all future trainers.etc
Really enjoying your latest series, Mary. Nice story!
  • grandstand · Thank you! I am happy to hear you are enjoying it. I am certainly enjoying writing these stories! · 1421 days ago
Fantastic story of a young horse saved from slaughter and his exploits while travelling with the remarkable Donna Keen! (of Remember Me Rescue)
  • grandstand · I am glad you enjoyed it! Wyatt and Donna are both wonderful and, together, they make an awesome team! · 1421 days ago

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