Day At The Track

It’s just a good feeling!

06:00 AM 22 Dec 2016 NZDT
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Sam Cohen
Sam Cohen has become the face of Halters for Hope.
Andrew Cohen

Sam Cohen isn’t your typical high school student when it comes to working a part-time job. He’s not flipping burgers or selling movie tickets at the Multiplex. Actually, he isn’t even making any money, though the work he does is priceless. He’s loving every minute of it and a lot of harness racing horses in need are getting a huge boost thanks to his effort.

Cohen has become the face of Halters for Hope, a non-profit organization that supports Standardbred adoption groups through the buying and selling of halters once worn by famous horses.

“It’s been really awesome,” Cohen said. “I’ve been meeting a lot of new people that basically have the same goal as me, wanting to help horses and people that love horses. I just love interacting with people like that.”

Halters for Hope was started in 2009 by Sam’s father, Standardbred owner Andrew Cohen, and Moira Fanning of the Hambletonian Society. With Sam’s help, they ask for donations of used halters from famous horses and sell them. The purchasers then write out a check that goes directly to a rotating list of Standardbred adoption groups.

“My dad just wanted to figure out a way to rescue Standardbreds and help the ones that had been rescued,” Cohen said. “He came up with the idea when he had some old halters from his dad (Edward), and he thought, ‘Wow these are really cool, maybe I can do something with this,’ and it just kind of came to him.

“He’s always been interested in horses, he grew up in Montreal. His dad owned racehorses. I think he wanted to do it because my mom (Laura Riese) has owned horses. I think horses really run in the family and he really cares about them.”

The Cohens live in Greenwood Village, Colo., a mere 10 minutes from Denver. When the program began, Sam was just 10, so his dad laid most of the foundation. But he asked Sam to come with him when he was making his pitch.

“He showed me the ropes, basically,” Cohen said. “I was confused because I didn’t understand why people would want so much for halters of horses. All these halters were so much money, I was really amazed. As I’ve gotten older and gotten more into the harness racing scene I thought ‘Wow this is really cool.’”

When Sam entered Cherry Creek High School as a freshman, Andrew began to give him more responsibility. Now a senior, Cohen is in charge of maintaining the Halters for Hope Facebook page, while also writing letters to the trainers, owners and breeders to see if they would be interested in selling halters.

“I started typing them up in ninth grade,” said Cohen, who is a member of the CCHS chess team and tennis team. “I get good grades in English; I can write.”

In his correspondence, Sam introduces the organization as a good cause, promising to get the money from the sales into the right hands.

“We just give a lot of background on ourselves and on our cause,” he said. “Most trainers and owners really like it, so they’ll contribute in any way they can.”

Cohen sends the actual letters or e-mails, and each one is personalized. Andrew and Sam both research whom they might want to contact.

“Some of the people he knows, and he can get me some information on them,” Cohen said. “But if there’s a really nice halter out there, I’ll research that person, research that area and just see if I can get to know anything about them before I write to them.”

Cohen also handles follow up thank you notes to donors.

And who are the main targets?

“Horses that are finished racing and have had an outstanding career,” Cohen said. “Those are more profitable for the non-profits.”

Since the program began, Halters for Hope has sold approximately 50 halters and raised around $10,000. The halters have ranged in price between $150 and $400.

Some of the more famous halters that have been sold or are available for sale belonged to Matt's Scooter, Loyal Opposition, Continentalvictory, Father Patrick, Somebeachsomewhere, Bettor's Delight, Mr Muscleman, Forrest Skipper, Camtastic, See You At Peelers, Bunny Lake and broodmares D Train, Rich N Elegant and Hattie. The full list of what halters are available can be found on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/haltersforhope/.

Cohen said they try to spread the funding around with the charities, and do some due diligence to ensure the money is well spent.

“We’ve been working with a bunch of people to make sure these are legitimate organizations that we’re donating to. We’ve worked with the USTA and with Moira to make sure we are sending money to the right organizations.”

Cohen said that in the future, they might expand the inventory, but for now they are happy to stick with halters.

“It’s definitely going better than we could have hoped,” Cohen said. “We didn’t know how passionate people were who want collectible halters, how much they’re willing to pay and how much the horses in need, need that money. It’s just a good feeling.”

Sam’s duties may be curtailed slightly by next fall, as he is currently applying to colleges in Colorado and on the West Coast, and hopes to end up in Oregon.

“I like the rain,” he said.

And although his endeavors in harness racing right now are limited to fundraising and operations for Halters for Hope, Cohen is not completely ruling it out for stepped-up involvement later in life.

“My dad has been trying to get me interested all my life,” he said. “It kind of runs in the family. I don’t want to say I won’t be interested. You never know. Doing this definitely piques my interest because I love horses and I see all the good that this does. And I like watching the races with my dad, especially when he gets into it, it’s really funny.”

by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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