It’s not just a scholarship that Emily Daignault-Salvaggio launched, with the intention of refunding one 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover trainer’s entry fee through her family’s Daignault Family Foundation. The Give Back to Go Scholarship may just have launched a movement — of paying it forward, looking outside of one’s own experience and raising awareness of off-track Thoroughbreds in new and creative ways.
Always a lifelong believer in the concept of “paying it forward,” Emily had enjoyed great success at the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America. Believing wholeheartedly in the mission of the Retired Racehorse Project, she wanted to provide a scholarship opportunity that would refund an applying trainer’s entry fee — with a twist. In applying for the Give Back to Go Scholarship, each trainer had to make a donation, however large or small, to a horse-related charity of their choice.
Twenty-four applicants donated over $1,000 to a total of 19 different 501(c)3 charities across the United States and Canada, surpassing Emily’s hopes for the inaugural year of the scholarship.
“The applicants really did embrace the concept of giving back to their communities,” she said. “Through this scholarship I’ve been privileged to be introduced to some truly amazing horsemen who are already walking the walk and giving back.”
In their applications, trainers had to describe — either in writing or in video — what it would mean to them to receive the scholarship. A first round of judges, consisting of Tik Maynard, Isabela de Sousa, Kasey Evans, Sarah Hepler, Lindsey Partridge and Nicole Valeri, had their work cut out for them, narrowing the pool of 24 applicants to a final round of three. A final round of celebrity judges, including retired champion jockey Ramon Dominguez, award-winning Thoroughbred photographer Barbara D. Livingston and Olympic eventer Boyd Martin, placed the top three.
The winner of the 2019 Give Back to Go Scholarship is Ali Dacher, founder of CANTER’s California division. “Ali is a testament to anyone who believes that with some hard work, determination and belief in yourself that anything can be accomplished,” Emily said. “She truly does embody the spirit of giving back to go.”
Judge Barbara D. Livingston said, “Ali has obviously put so much of her heart, and no doubt resources, into the care and placement of OTTBs for more than a decade now. Imagine the number of Thoroughbreds who now have good and productive lives, partly or largely due to Ali’s efforts.”
“She also recognizes that, regardless of receiving recognition for her efforts, her life will be spent in this pursuit,” Barbara added. “Paying it forward seems only right, in granting her this scholarship.”
With such a pool of deserving applicants who embraced the “give back to go” spirit, however, Emily couldn’t stop at awarding just one scholarship. “This idea, this result, these people and their stories touched me quite a lot. Because of this I have made the decision to give my own entry fee to our runner-up Megan Waelti.”
Megan described how she would use her scholarship to attend more eventing competitions in her equestrian community and displayed a strong commitment to raising awareness of off-track Thoroughbreds as sport horses. Ramon Dominguez was impressed by Megan’s story: “I, as well as anyone who loves horses and riding, can relate to the way she beautifully describes her experiences with her horse.”
Lauren Nethery stepped forward to donate an additional $300 to the Retired Racehorse Project as part of the Give Back to Go Scholarship, ensuring that all three trainers in the final round would have their entry fees refunded. This allowed third-place applicant Kallie Zeinstra to receive her entry fee back.
Emily said, “Kallie’s story — she runs an equine non-profit and uses horses to provide therapy for seniors and youth — is inspiring enough but adding to it her mother who is fighting breast cancer and who attended the 2018 Makeover one week after being diagnosed, well that’s an awful lot of stuff that a little bit of good karma could help give back to!”
Ali Dacher said, “I love that this experience of applying for the scholarship encourages others to pay it forward, keeping the roots of the Retired Racehorse Project in the forefront of our minds. I found the experience to be both inspirational and motivating!”
Meagan Waelti said, “I’m really proud to be a part of all of this. I’m grateful for the reminder to keep paying it forward when you can!”
Kallie Zeinstra said, “I think it is easy at times for us equestrians to lose perspective on what or why we are doing something when faced with unexpected challenges. Writing my essay to apply for this scholarship encouraged me take a step back and look at the larger picture.”
Emily added, “We cannot thank the RRP staff and board enough for listening to and being receptive to this idea. Our hope is that the path we have cut this year will lead others to want to give back with their own efforts, funds or items in their sphere of the horse world in the future. I look forward to being at the Makeover and cheering on all who applied to this scholarship. I hope that in 2020 we can do this again and look forward to seeing what those applicants look like and what they have done to give back in their own lives.”
For more information about the Give Back to Go Scholarship, please visit the website.