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Breeders' Cup 2017

Recovering Horsewoman Runs for Rescued Horses

Fair Grounds Race Course
Photo: CDI
What a miraculous comeback year it has been for Fair Grounds-based horsewoman Carmel Heitzmann!


Severely injured when kicked by a horse in front of the Fair Grounds stands last Feb. 17, Heitzmann’s life was in jeopardy during those first critical hours and days, but following exploratory surgery that led to the removal of 24 inches of her colon, the wife of local trainer Eric Heitzmann was released from the hospital 10 days later.  


Amazingly, the British-born but Irish-raised Mrs. Heitzmann is now preparing for an upcoming run in the New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on March 4, but she’s not doing it for any self-serving reason.


“I’m going to do it to raise funds for my friends Donna and Dallas Keen, who operate Remember Me Rescue,” said the thirty-something former flight attendant for Emirates Airlines. “I was so moved by their efforts in the rescue of more than 60 starving horses from that farm in northern Louisiana last month that I wanted to do something to help, so I’m accepting pledges from friends, racing colleagues, horse lovers and anyone else who cares to donate on behalf of my upcoming run. Whatever money I get from pledges I will be donating to Remember Me Rescue.”


Along with the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association, Remember Me has been at the forefront of efforts to save those horses seized last month. The owner of the farm has been charged with animal cruelty, but the horses – those that can be saved – face a long and expensive road to recovery. Remember Me was officially founded in 2008 as a non-profit organization to rehabilitate and retrain ex-racehorses with the hope of finding them new homes, but the recent rescue operation has put an added strain on the organizations’ resources.


“Remember Me has a place on their website with my name on it,” said Heitzmann. “Anybody wishing to contribute to my run can go on the website and click under my name to make to make a donation, but I also carry pledge forms around with me when I’m in the barn area running my husband’s shed row. Some people want to make donations based on the number of miles I complete, and some want to give me a bonus later if I complete the whole marathon. Other people have just given me a contribution upfront no matter how I do in the run. But every penny I make will go to Remember Me toward the care of those horses that were rescued.”


What is remarkable, especially to those that witnessed Carmel Heitzmann’s injuries as she writhed in pain on the track in front of the winner’s circle last year, is that she is around at all, not that she has recovered enough to be training for a marathon.


“It’s still a nightmare for me to even think about,” she said of her accident. “I’m just happy that I lived to tell the tale about what happened. I’ll never be a hundred percent again after those injuries. I’ll always have issues, but I thank God everyday that I’m still alive. The doctors gave me the ‘OK’ a couple of weeks ago to run in this marathon as long as I feel up to it, so that’s what I plan to do. I ran 10 miles yesterday. I’ve been running all my life. I ran in the London Flora Marathon 10 years ago and the Mardi Gras Half-Marathon two years ago.”


What is also remarkable is Heitzmann’s late-developing career as a horsewoman. She initially met her husband on one of her Emirates flights in 2000 while he was an assistant trainer working for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum in Dubai.


“I don’t know if it was his American accent or his big blue eyes that got to me, but we connected right away,” she said. “As we quickly found out, we had some mutual friends and we had our first date at Gordon Ramsey’s Glass House Restaurant in Dubai shortly thereafter.


“Although I was born in Birmingham, England, I grew up in Ireland helping my grandparents on their milking farm in Ireland and I’d always loved animals, but I’d never been around horses until I started working with my husband in 2007,” she explained.  “I absolutely love it. I fell in love with horses right away.”


But why – considering the permanent nature of some of her injuries – would she choose to subject herself to the added pressure of training for something as grueling as a run in a marathon?


“To be honest,” she concluded when trying to further explain the relative lateness of her love of horses, “maybe I just want to give something back to this wonderful industry that has been so very good to my husband and to me.”




When JRita Young Thoroughbreds’ Leestown Doll broke her maiden with a 5 1/4-length win at Fair Grounds Jan. 20, it served as a reminder of one recent encouraging update among those horses rescued from severe neglect in northern Louisiana.


Leestown Doll, trained by Allen Milligan, is by the top Louisiana sire Leestown and is out of a Two Punch mare named Be Bop Baby, who was one of those horses saved by Remember Me Rescue.


“When we first got (Be Bop Baby), she was suffering from a severe case of rain rot,” said Donna Keen of Remember Me Rescue. “She had numerous abscesses that had formed under her hair, and when we bathed her everyday she had a horrible smell about her, even after her bath was completed.


“She’s shown some major improvement since we got her less than a month ago,” said Keen. “She’s getting better every day, and when we bathe her now she no longer has that smell of death about her. I think she’s really starting to enjoy her life once again.”




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