Jan Kees: Lived 15 years in a stall, then free

Jan Kees raced 101 times and worked as a track pony before retiring from racetrack life at age 17.

Jan Kees raced 101 times and worked as a track pony before retiring from racetrack life at age 17.

Jan Kees spent nearly two decades locked in a stall, leaving only to train, race, or accompany other racehorses to the starting gate.

He ground out 101 starts in the 1990s, ending one career and promptly beginning his next as a track pony, without so much as a breather in between.

And yet, despite the toll on his body, which left his knees and ankles the size of grapefruits, Jan Kees was a prize of a horse, a “real gentleman” who entered retirement with Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) board member Leslie Priggen roughly six years ago.

“He was the absolute shining example of the best of what we do … we take horses who don’t have another option, and that’s why I love the TRF,” Priggen says. “What amazed me most about this horse was his attitude. His life, in some ways, represented the worst case. I just couldn’t believe that by the time I adopted him, he was a 17-year-old horse who hadn’t had a life.”

Jan Kees
Sire: Broad Brush
Dam: Carrie’s Dream, by Stop the Music
Foal date: May 19, 1989
Earnings: $227,709 in 101 starts
It may not have been much of an existence, but it was during his waning years at Suffolk Downs that he found his strongest ally.

Older exercise rider and pony boy Filipe Sosa, who started off galloping the gelding for owner Michael Gill before eventually acquiring the horse for use as a pony, formed a strong bond with the horse over morning coffee and doughnuts.

When the 72-year-old horseman’s own health deteriorated, he approached Suffolk Downs trainer and Thoroughbred advocate Lorita Lindemann, and begged her to find the horse a home, Lindemann says.

“He came to me crying, with the pony’s lead rope in his hands,” she says. “He said he was sick himself and couldn’t pony anymore, and he knew that Jan Kees had nowhere to go.”

He rolled for three days after experiencing freedom from a stall for the first time.

He rolled and rolled and rolled after experiencing freedom from a stall.

After hearing his story, Priggen was moved to adopt the horse herself. He arrived at her Upstate New York farm on a blustery December night. Unfazed by the travel and the strange location, he calmly walked up the driveway and settled into his stall.

His new home featured a door that opened out onto a paddock. The first time Priggen opened that door to allow him to exit, she had to coax the confused horse with carrots.

“I remember how he looked at the stall door and he looked back at me, and it was as though he said to me: ‘you left that door open you know. You better close it.’ And he did come out … and then he went back in … I told him to go have a run, to go look around.”

When he finally figured it out he took off like a rocket. He galloped up to the fence, circled back to his new guardian, and raced off again.

He lived only three more years after that, dying after developing a nasal tumor. In his final years, he was indulged with warm mash and plain doughnuts and given the freedom to come and go as he pleased.

“The thing about Jan Kees is that he just deserved it so much. He deserved it. I felt so passionately that he should have a really wonderful time at the end of his life,” she says. “And he didn’t have any anger. I’ve seen a lot of horses come in who have real holdover issues from the track, but not him.

“He was just such a cool horse.”

—Off Track Thoroughbreds features occasional stories on the people and horses who make up the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. To read more about this nonprofit charity, please visit: www.trfinc.org.

11 responses to “Jan Kees: Lived 15 years in a stall, then free”

  1. Terry James McGregor

    Thats a great story and lovely horse

  2. Loren Schumacher

    Perhaps The Beatles said it best. “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
    I think it applies here and in so many rescue stories. Compassion, love and a strong sense of justice are some of man’s most redeeming and endearing traits.

    What a lovely story.

  3. Linda R. Mosslrmoss

    GREAT post Susan – It may have been later in life he got to celebrate freedom, but at least he had that!

  4. Martha.

    Those TBs that have the personality and intellect to become pony horses after their racing career, are truly special. I wouldnt trade my old guy for a million dollars.

  5. Daryl

    Freedom we take it for granted, best to him and long life I hope he has to roll in the grass.

  6. Jon

    Filipe Sosa had a big heart when it came to Jan Kees. He knew what was right and did what he had to make sure his noble mount was safe forever. May he be blessed by the horse gods.

  7. horseyjvs

    So loved this story ❤️ I have Jan Kees uncle who has the exact same personality and attitude, I call him a fine southern gentleman.

  8. Leslie M. Bliman-Kuretzky

    What a sweet story. Wish Jan could have lived longer 🙁

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