March 2, 2007 -- Three people will share the 2006 Standardbred Retirement Foundation (SRF) Humanity Award presented annually to individuals or organizations that have demonstrated exceptional care and compassion for Standardbred horses. The award is given in honor of the memory of trainer and owner James E. Burke, who had a lifelong love of and passion for Standardbreds.
This year's recipients are Peter Kleinhans and his farm manager Randy McCown of Flemington, N.J., and Lisa Staten of Fort Washington, Md. The award was presented at the annual U.S. Harness Writers Association's annual Night Of Stars awards banquet on February 25 in Atlantic City, N.J.
In June of 2006, the Foundation received a call about five Standardbreds headed for a slaughter auction in Pennsylvania, and reached out to their network of supporters to purchase the "Pennsylvania Five" as the horses came to be known. Two were eventually adopted, but three were unadoptable due to chronic injuries and would join the growing herd of horses supported by SRF for life. Kleinhans and McCown stepped forward to offer permanent homes for all three, sparing SRF significant expense and making room in the SRF program for the next equine hardship cases.
Like many Standardbred trainers and owners, in October of 2006, Lisa Staten found herself in the position of owning a horse that was just too slow, Elite Soul Man.
"He wasn't physically able to go fast miles," said Staten, of the gelding who'd raced 122 times, never once for her.
For three months, Staten cared for the seven-year-old gelding, while trying to find a home for him. Finally, Staten saw a brochure in the race office at Rosecroft Raceway, seeking horses to be donated to the Caisson Unit of the Old Guard at Fort Myer, Va.
Staten called Chief Warrant Officer Jeremy Light to offer Elite Soul Man for the job, for which 20 other horses had also been offered. Light came to inspect Elite Soul Man and choose him for the job.
"This is the first time a horse has left my barn that I didn't cry, because I knew he was going to such a good place," Staten said.
The Caisson Unit consists of dozens of horses and soldiers who perform a highly visible, honorable task of carrying deceased members of the military to their final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. Horses in the unit must be black or gray geldings, possess unflappable manners and a handsome appearance. They undergo nearly a year's training before their first funeral.
Elite Soul Man serves as second in command to Sgt. York, who serves his country as the "riderless horse" in the Caisson Platoon. Sgt. York served in that position for the funeral of the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan and appeared on national television, as well as virtually every newspaper in the country and much of the world. Elite Soul Man will serve as backup to Sgt. York and eventually be the lead horse when Sgt. York retires.
Lisa Staten's steadfast refusal to throw away one horse and her determination to find an alternative career for a race-weary pacer provides the world with a Standardbred ambassador that might ultimately save the lives of many others through his role in the Caisson Platoon.