Story by Larissa Cox
From a desk job to racehorse adoption, Lynn Reardon has seen a lot of changes in her life since opening LOPE Texas racehorse rehabilitation and adoption center in 2003. Today, we have the privilege of discussing with Lynn how she started LOPE, the process of rehabilitation for LOPE horses, and advice she has on adopting ex-racehorses.
What has been your riding background? How did that lead to saving Thoroughbreds at Lope Texas?
I didn’t learn to ride until I was an adult, taking group riding lessons in Northern Virginia/DC metro area. Although I was a tense, nervous rider, I kept trying to improve my skills (and looking for ways to ride on my small budget). Eventually, I started riding at a polo barn, taking lessons and occasionally exercising quieter polo mounts. Most of those horses were ex-racehorses – I was immediately drawn to them and wanted to ride more Thoroughbreds (especially the more spirited ones). From there, my interest slowly grew into an obsession with ex-racehorses – by 2003, I had moved to Texas and started LOPE.
What procedures did you have to go through to set up a rescue facility? Were there any particular people or organizations that helped setting up this endeavor?
When I was still living in the Northern Virginia/DC metro area, I heard about CANTER MidAtlantic, a terrific racehorse placement organization. I volunteered there a few times, going to the racetrack and learning more about how to help the horses find new homes.
Allie Conrad, the director of CANTER MidAtlantic, is an awesome role model for anyone who wants to start a racehorse placement program. She was very encouraging and helpful to me. LOPE is very similar to the CANTER program’s model (with the exception that we also work with other breeds of racehorses, such as Quarter Horses, Arabians and Paints).
In Texas, the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership (the HBPA group here) immediately partnered with LOPE and the racetracks were welcoming as well. Sam Houston Race Park was the first to endorse LOPE, followed rapidly by Retama Park and Lone Star Park. The Texas Thoroughbred Association also has been very supportive.
Our biggest support has come from our vet sponsors (Austin Equine Associates), our Founders Circle (our special circle of annual donors of $8000 or more) and our horsemanship sponsors (Hy Court Farm). And I learned a great deal from riding in a Ray Hunt clinic – while I can’t claim to be in any way an expert, my basic horsemanship skills improved after that experience!
My “real” job in the DC area was doing financial/administrative work for nonprofit organizations. I knew quite a bit about charity accounting procedures and how to set up the appropriate paperwork for nonprofits. Although I didn’t have any experience with animal welfare charities, I was able to navigate the IRS paperwork process fairly smoothly.
The procedures in Texas to set up a nonprofit involve incorporating, setting up a board, creating bylaws, acquiring a Federal employer identification number and completing the IRS paperwork to be approved as a charity.
Can you tell us a little more about the types of horses you get at Lope Texas? Why would a racehorse be better off going through a rehabilitation center such as yourself, rather than sold straight off the track to another home?
At the LOPE Ranch, we take in horses that are still owned by people in the racing industry. We get all types of horses, from unbroken 2 year olds to sound, slow “couch potato” types to seriously injured racing “warriors.” Racing breeders have also donated older broodmares to LOPE. It’s quite a variety!
LOPE can give the horses a transition from the racetrack life to whatever their new job will be. They can have time here – time to heal injuries, to finish growing, to learn new skills, to just be a horse. We change their diets, put them in small herds and let them enjoy a slower pace of life. As a result, I can get to know their personalities and physical abilities too – which makes it easier to “match” the horses to the right homes.
What is the rehabilitation process for these Thoroughbreds? How long does it take for a Thoroughbred to become rehabilitated and well suited to go to a new home?
That’s a great question. The answer varies, depending on the horse. One horse was adopted here within a few days of arriving (he was sound, slow, well mannered and very handsome). Another was here two years (he had to have a permanent tracheotomies and two hoof surgeries). The average is usually somewhere between 2 months and 6 months.
The first step in the rehab process is to assess their physical needs. If they are injured, we make sure we have the right environment for that injury (stall rest, small pen, limited turnout or regular pasture). We change their diets (low starch pellet feed, coastal hay, sometimes alfalfa, depending on the horse), pull their shoes (so they can grow out a healthy set of hooves) and figure out their social standing (whether they are dominant or submissive). Assuming they are physically ready for turnout, we then put them into a small herd of 3-5 in a pasture. We have some permanent horses that are great herd bosses and babysitters – they keep the new horses relaxed.
When a horse is ready, I do some simple groundwork and round penning with him. Then I like to ride the horses at least a few times, to get an idea of what job they might be best suited for. My rides are simple – my goal is to show them that riding no longer is about speed Sometimes the horses get adopted before I get a chance to ride them though.
What type of careers do the Thoroughbreds normally find after going through the process of rehabilitation at Lope Texas? Is this different than if they were sold straight off the track?
We’ve had horses go into careers such as trail riding, hunter/jumper showing, playday competitions, endurance riding, dressage, eventing, breeding (for sporthorse programs), companion work (such as socializing yearlings or keeping a retired horse company), lesson work and therapeutic riding. I don’t think the LOPE horses go into different careers from the horses sold directly off the track. Maybe the transition between their racing career and new job is sometimes smoother, because of the time off they have here and the time we spend getting to know them.
I made a huge career shift myself – from office worker to racehorse adoption ranch director – so I definitely sympathize with the LOPE horses! Maybe they pick up on that a little
What type of advice can you yield to riders interested in purchasing a Thoroughbred off the racetrack?
I’d say take your time and find the horse that’s right for you. A vet check is very helpful (if possible) and can give you good information as to whether that horse will match your needs. I’d also recommend that riders try to purchase a horse from a trainer who seems to genuinely care about his/her racehorses. This can make a key difference in how the racehorse views the world in general.
Most racehorses, especially Thoroughbreds, have reputations as being difficult or high strung. My experiences have mostly been the opposite though. I’ve found that going slow with them and giving them time to be a horse makes a huge difference, both physically and mentally, to the ex-racehorses. I’m not a professional trainer or competitive rider — if I can do this, I think almost anyone can (with time, patience and good horsemanship mentors or trainers).
Lynn has also wrote a book about her experiences with the LOPE horses entitled Beyond the Homestretch. The book will be available in November at bookstores everywhere (and for pre-order now on Amazon). A portion of proceeds will directly support LOPE. For more information on Beyond the Homestretch click here: Beyond the Homestretch Book.