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Team #648 Frances Keller and La Donna

Team #648: Frances Keller and La Donna
From: Chester Heights, Pennsylvania
Ages: 83 & 17
Combined Age: 100
Test: Third Level Test 3
Date: June 3, 2023

The first time my dad took me for a trail ride at the age of three, I was hooked. Even when a pony sat on me, I was delighted and not afraid. Unfortunately, the Second World War started, and my father was a Naval Officer. We never stayed in one place long enough to have a horse or pony, but that never deterred me. We moved to Miami, Florida, and my dreams came true. I was able to ride and show Saddlebreds in the Sunshine Circuit. After two years my dreams were shattered. We moved back to Ft. Myers Beach on the west coast of Florida. My Dad once again came through and bought me my first horse. She was a Palomino Tennessee Walker. There were no shows, farriers, or vets on the West Coast at that time, so we had to order shots from our small animal vet, and I was the farrier. She lived under our house. Swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and running on the beach bareback agreed with her. During this time, my mother fell in love with horses. She loved Midgey even when the sheriff called to say Midgey had let herself and two of my friend's horses out. Together they galloped through the trailer parks terrorizing the tourists down for the winter. I gave my horse to a friend in my second year of college since school and Philadelphia was a long way from Florida.

I married in 1960 and began my motherhood journey. I still rode and taught riding in New York’s southern tier. I was interested in the Appaloosa horse and their story so when we moved to Wenonah, New Jersey, I bought my first App. This started a 10-year journey of breeding and riding Western. The Fox and Hounds Pony Club was where I boarded, so I changed my discipline from Western to combined training. The Appaloosas I bred were wonderful and I loved breeding. Unfortunately, the judges and the general opinion was that they were not Thoroughbreds and therefore not as suitable for competing. 

I moved again to Pennsylvania with my remaining App and stopped competing. My tenant was riding dressage in West Grove where Phillip Dutton is located. I went to look at a Dutch Warmblood gelding. He was imported from Germany and was perfect for me. I would ride every morning before work and had the wonderful experience of riding with Reiner Klimke, Herbert Rehbein, and Lars Peterson. The equestrians who came to the clinics became some of our Olympic riders. Stravinsky was the last horse I bought from Five Star Farm, and he was a superstar. I became interested again in breeding and was able to breed for about 10 years. My love of mares is well known. My mare J’Y Suis won every breed show starting at six months of age and continued until she was Grand Champion mare at Dressage at Devon. I was successful with J’Y Suis but my work as an engineer had me traveling the world, traveling so often that I couldn’t show. My best friend, however, was very successful with her and loved her. They became a team.

I saw an interesting mare advertised at Hilltop Farm, named La Donna, and went down a couple of times to try her. She is the love of my life. She is everything you could want, kind, intelligent, talented, and beautiful. I had her at home for 10 years and was able to ride her as much as possible with travel and work. I retired when Covid hit, and it was the best thing for me as I could spend full time with her. I started working with Megan Mendenhall now Huf, and it was the best decision I could have made. She has pushed me forward like I was a teenager always expecting the best from me. She is why I am still working towards my USDF silver medal at 83 years young.