Photos courtesy of LOPE
When Lynn Reardon and her husband decided to moved to Texas to get away from the hustle of Washington, D.C., Reardon had no idea the path she was putting herself on.
Reardon had started riding as an adult at a polo barn and quickly fell in love with the ex-racehorses there. After moving to Texas, she realized there was a need for an organization to find new homes for retired racehorses in the state, leading her to create LOPE.
“I moved to Texas and ended up starting LOPE - in spite of my complete lack of qualifications. The reason was because I had fallen in love with ex-racehorses and couldn't believe that I could actually be helpful to them! So I started LOPE. Because we had such a shoestring budget, I ended up riding and working with the horses myself — and learned a ton about horsemanship as a result,” Reardon said.
The lessons she learned from retraining the horses led to Reardon write a book titled “Beyond the Homestretch: What Saving Racehorses Taught Me About Starting Over, Facing Fear and Finding My Inner Cowgirl.” Reardon’s book became a best seller in Texas and sat on the top of Amazon’s horse books list for a short period.
LOPE has placed more than 1,000 horses since it began. The program doesn’t keep count of the horses it has placed anymore as the program has helped racehorses find new homes in many different ways.
“While this may sound a little odd, we basically stopped counting at 1,000 horses. Many trainers and breeders kept telling us that they had placed horses through people who had come to them through LOPE — horses that had never even been officially listed on our website or social media sites — and we realized that it was nearly impossible to quantify all of the horses that had been helped through LOPE's networking services alone,” she said.
“It's pretty humbling to realize that one post on our Facebook page can create such a large ripple effect!”
Anyone wanting to adopt a horse straight from the LOPE program must fill out an application on its website. After the applicant’s references are checked and the adopter finds a horse they want to take home, they must fill out a contract.
Like many retirement programs, the contract has clauses such as the horse must not be sold at auction and LOPE has first right of refusal on the horse.
Nearly every horse that is ready for adoption on the LOPE site has been given at least a month off. Each horse’s retraining program is catered to what the animal needs, with some horses only getting a few rides before being adopted out while others undergo a few months of retraining. No matter what the timetable is, all horses are retrained through the horsemanship teachings of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt.
“These two master horsemen are now deceased, but there are several excellent clinicians who studied with them — such as Buck Brannaman, Peter Campbell and Tom Curtin. If you would like to get a better sense of this horsemanship, you might want to check out the documentary called ‘Buck’ — it is about Buck Brannaman. … The movie won the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival and made the long list for an Oscar nomination,” she said.
LOPE is different than other retired racehorse programs because it gears its horses more toward amateur adult riders who may not compete as seriously in one discipline as others who ride Thoroughbreds.
“We think these folks make the best homes for [off-the-track Thoroughbreds] because they appreciate the kind, vivid personalities of the breed, don't mind if the horse has some minor limitations, are committed to good horsemanship and are very loyal to their horses,” Reardon said.
“To the more serious competitor, this type of home is sometimes considered to be ‘just’ a pleasure-riding home. But to us, quality pleasure riding is a wonderful job for [off-the-track Thoroughbreds].”
For those looking to purchase a retired racehorse, Reardon suggests not getting caught up in the off-the-track title. Approaching the purchase just like one would with a normal horse is a sound idea, for example getting veterinary checks and doing research if one has any questions about how racehorses are handled. She also suggests not rushing into any purchases. Once the horse is home, she recommends taking time to get to know the horse.
“Try not to be overly tense or anxious about it all,” she said. “Approach your horse as an individual horse, rather than a collection of quirks you read that all [off-the-track Thoroughbreds] have. Follow good horsemanship principles and enjoy your horse. Take your time getting to know each other and just relax and enjoy the process of transitioning a wonderful horse into a new job.”
For those looking to help, LOPE accepts monetary donations as well as supplies. The organization is run by volunteers, and all the money the program receives goes to the care of the horses.
More information about LOPE and Reardon’s book plus DVDs about the program and its methods can be found at Lopetx.com.
If you know of a Thoroughbred Aftercare program that you think should be covered in America’s Best Racing’s Aftercare Program Spotlight, email Melissa Bauer-Herzog (email@example.com) with the program’s name and website.